Food, fun at Iowa State Fair

Things to do at the Iowa State Fair
The Big Slide – a regular at the Iowa State Fair

I’ve never been to a state fair. Lisa is sure she went as a kid but doesn’t remember. So, we ventured out to Des Moines to check out the Iowa State Fair. We weren’t disappointed. The state fair is just like a county fair…multiplied by about 1 million gazillion times. Or, at least the Iowa State Fair is.

Man, there was so much to see and do. I’m not a Midway ride guy, so neither of us wanted to ride the Ferris wheel or the Ring of Fire. The midway wasn’t as large as I thought it would be at a state fair. I guess I imagined there would be a few dozen rides.

Rides at the Iowa State Fair
Ring of Fire ride

We did take a couple of “mild” rides. We tried the gondola ride at the Ye Old Sawmill and the Sky Glider (a ski lift). The Sky Glider takes you from the fair’s main area to other attractions. You can easily walk the distance, but since it was our first time at the fair, we tried the glider.

Ye Old Sawmill ride at the Iowa State Fair
Gondola ride through dark tunnels

The view was great. You could see large groups of the thousands of people attending that day. It was also a nice relaxing break from all the walking we did during the day. We may be The Walking Tourists, but even our feet need a rest once in a while.

Crowds at the Iowa State Fair
More than 115,000 people attended the fair during our visit

The Iowa State Fair – one of the top five or 10 in the United States – has so many attractions. From a cow made from butter to the hot air of politicians, you can see it all here. More than 1 million people typically visit during the fair’s 11 days (Aug. 8-18).

We stood in line for several minutes to see the Butter Cow. The sculpture is made 100 percent from butter. I asked Lisa if we could pick up a couple of corns cobs on a stick and use the cow to butter them. She said no.

Butter cow at the Iowa State Fair
The Butter Cow

The Butter Cow has been an annual attraction since 1911. It takes about 600 pounds of butter to create the cow. The artist spends about 16 hours creating the sculpture. Butter Cows are frozen and stored and can be used for a few state fairs before a new one is created.

Joining the Butter Cow was a display celebrating the 80th anniversary of Monopoly. Several pieces were sculpted from butter and on display.

All things butter at the Iowa State Fair
Celebrating 80 years of Monopoly with a butter display

In addition to the butter displays, the Iowa State Fair is celebrating 25 years of the “Ice Man.” Bill Cordish has designed several ice sculptures over the years.

The Ice Man at the Iowa State Fair
Ice sculptures

We later saw him outdoors creating a motorcycle from a block of ice. The people in attendance enjoyed the show. The kids loved it when ice shavings flew from his work on to them, about 10 feet away.

Ice carvings at the Iowa State Fair
The Ice Man carveth

If you’re interested in live animals, you can see the Big Bull, the Big Boar, the Big Ram and even the Big Elk. All of these animals are on display, along with more regular-sized animals. “Big Mac,” this year’s Big Boar, weighs in at more than 1100 lbs. the record is more than 1300 lbs.

Animals at the Iowa State Fair
The Big Boar

This year’s Big Bull hails from Atlantic, about an hour east of Omaha. The bull weighs more than 2800 lbs.

Animals on display at the Iowa State Fair
Big Bull is from near Omaha

We checked out other attractions. Since we enjoy botanical gardens, we stopped and scoped out some roses on display. They all looked so beautiful. I’m glad I wasn’t a judge, as it would have been difficult to pick a winner among the crop.

Flowers on display at the Iowa State Fair

In the past couple of years, we’ve seen some really good corn husk art. The Iowa State Fair offered some great items to look at. A first-place winner was an antique car made. It was quite impressive.

Things to expect to see at the Iowa State Fair
Corn husk art

Iowa can grow themselves some good veggies. Some of the vegetables in the competition were truly grand. I’m not an eggplant-liking person, but there were some stellar ones on display.

What to see at the Iowa State Fair
Vegetable entry

I really liked a display featuring sports with vegetables. A football helmet and baseball glove were used to accent the display.

So, the weather was warm during our visit. The humidity wasn’t high, so it made for some fairly comfortable weather for the middle of August. However, the air seemed to heat up fairly suddenly. What was causing it? What could it be? Oh wait, it’s presidential campaigning season, so politicians were out and about at the state fair.

Since we don’t get to see presidential candidates up close at home (Nebraska’s primary is in May, so the presidential nomination is decided by then), we thought we’d catch the speech at the Des Moines Register’s “Soap Box” – a hay bale stage. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was the speaker. We listened for a little while and took in the sight of people reaching up to a block or so deep. Then, we moved on to other attractions.

what will I see at the Iowa State Fair
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders

NOTE: The Walking Tourists will not make a public endorsement of any political candidate. Thank you. And we approve this message.

One thing we learned when planning a trip to the Iowa State Fair, be ready to eat…lots and lots of food. OMG! The food! The food! You want something on a stick? They have it. If they don’t, my guess if they could make it for you, and stick it on a stick.

Vendors offer 75 items on a stick – from the traditional corn dog to a pork chop on a stick. You can have bacon-wrapped ribs on a stick, fried apple pie on a stick…even a deep-fried snickers on a stick. You can also eat healthy at the fair; though, we didn’t see many people with the salads on a stick walking around. We did try an egg on a stick, with some Cajun seasoning.

Things on a stick at Iowa State Fair
Iowa State Fair offers 75 items on a stick

We used our noggins when we first arrived. Lisa wanted to meet up with some blogger friends, so we started our journey at a baking demonstration. Cristen from led a presentation on baking, sponsored by the Iowa Egg Council. We tried a delicious bread roll with nicely flavored butter.

Cooking demonstrations at the Iowa State Fair
Iowa bloggers demonstrating baking at the Iowa Egg Council booth

She had Katy from Flint & Co. join her and help in preparing lemon zest curd. The curd is more like a jam. It was delicious atop a slice of angel food cake (or by itself). We also tried a piece of chocolate cake.

Things to eat at the Iowa State Fair
Cake. Mmmmmm…

We met up with a couple more bloggers from the area. Shannon Latham from Latham Hi-Tech Seeds and the blog –  in North Iowa – was at a display booth. Jody Halstead  ( and her family were at the fair. She actually helped us with our dinner decision.

I originally wanted to try a pork chop on a stick for dinner but was persuaded to go with a hot beef sundae. Good call! The scoop of mashed potatoes topped with hot beef and cheese was delicious and filling. It’s topped with a cherry tomato. At the Cattleman’s grill, you could even get a prime rib dinner for $18 (12-oz prime rib, salad, baked potato and coleslaw). I was tempted but went with the sundae.

Hot Beef Sundae at the Iowa State Fair
Can’t get this sundae at Dairy Queen

For dessert, Lisa and I decided to throw diets to the wind and try some fried things. She had an order of deep-fried Oreo cookies. She liked them.

Fried foods at the Iowa State Fair
Fried Oreos

I tried the fried apple pie on a stick. The breading was nice and soft. The apples were soft. But, overall, it was an average item to me. I should have gone with the Snickers on a stick or fried Twinkies.

Everything on a stick at the Iowa State Fair
Deep-fried apple pie on a stick

After spending more than nine hours at the state fair, we decided it was time to hit the road and get to the hotel for a nice rest.

If I had a suggestion, it would be arriving early and beat the crowds. We exited the interstate at 9 a.m. and finally pulled into our parking slot on the firs grounds about 10 a.m. It was a two-mile drive from the exit. Other people parked off the property and walked. But, I would guess their feet were sore by the time they walked back if they stayed as long as we did.

Also, bring water. Stay hydrated during the day.

We had a great time at the Iowa State Fair. We’ve discussed adding future visits, along with the Nebraska State Fair. It’d only be fair to check out our state’s fair, right?

Tips for attending the Iowa State Fair
State fair has to have farm equipment, right?

Regardless of where you live, if you haven’t, think about checking out your state fair. It will likely be a fun time.

For more information on the Iowa State Fair, please visit