Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do with Kids in Waterloo, IA

  • Published 2022/11/15

Along the Cedar River in Black Hawk County, a medium-sized city is recognized as one of Iowa’s significant historic sites.

Formerly known as Prairie Rapids Crossing, Waterloo, despite its small size, is home to some of the best attractions.

The city is home to many museums, sports facilities, trails, and entertainment venues that value and focuses on American agriculture.

This small city was not only recognized for being family-oriented but also because of the many activities designed specifically for families and children.

Here are some of the best things to do with kids in Waterloo, Iowa:

Go Hiking and Camping at George Wyth State Park

A lake at George Wyth State Park

Melissa L Oltman /

Known as the urban sanctuary of Waterloo, this park, named after a well-known Cedar Falls businessman, is a good place to go, especially for kids who want to experience hiking and camping.

George Wyth State Park on Wyth Road has over 10 miles of trails for hiking and biking.

If you want to travel during winter, this is the place for you.

Besides skiing and snowshoeing, you can enjoy plenty of other winter activities.

Snow-covered bench at George Wyth State Park

Melissa L Oltman /

You’ll also enjoy the beautiful scenery and have the chance to see any of over 200 species of birds.

The park’s facilities include onsite showers, restrooms, and dump stations.

If you’re looking for additional activities, the park also offers fishing and boating at its four lakes.

Picnics are also available as the park has picnic shelters close to the river and is best for gatherings like family reunions.

Trail lined with snow at George Wyth State Park

Melissa L Oltman /

Expand Your Knowledge about Science at Bluedorn Science Imaginarium

Bluedorn Science Imaginarium, at Washington Street, is described as a “Playground for the Imagination,” which is one of the best places to visit in Waterloo, especially if you want kids to learn about science.

This museum was established in 1993 and headed by Carl and Peggy Bluedorn.

Carl and his wife, Peggy, were well-known for being lifelong supporters of Iowa.

The donations they provided for this science Imaginarium made it possible for the establishment to flourish until now.

The three-floor interactive center at the Imaginarium offers at least 91 hands-on exhibits, including those that explain the value of science.

Bluedorn Science Imaginarium also allows kids to participate in exciting science experiments involving light, electricity, liquids, gases, and other elements.

Discover the History of Waterloo and Iowa in the Grout Museum of History & Science

If you want to understand the history of Waterloo, culturally and economically, the Grout Museum of History & Science on South Street is a good place to start.

This non-profit museum, established in 1956, is named after the local businessman, politician, and collector Henry Whittemore Grout.

Grout’s curiosity and passion for traveling and collecting led him to acquire 2,000 items, which can be found in this museum.

Along with Grout’s collection are the largest genealogical reference library of James, Robert, and Dick McKinstry that houses over 21,000 Cedar Valley archives, including photographs, tapes, clippings, and other important documents.

The Grout Museum of History & Science uncovers Waterloo’s cultural and economic history, featuring exhibits such as Engine of the Heartland, which tackles the history of Waterloo as an industrial center, and Pioneer Hall, which is about life in Iowa in 1846.

Witness the Evolution of John Deere’s Tractor Business at the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum

Have you ever visited a museum dedicated to tractors and engines?

If you haven’t, check out John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum on Westfield Avenue!

John Deere, an American agricultural machinery company, created the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum and established it in 2014 to showcase the evolution of agricultural machinery.

Inside this museum are the classic machines and artifacts that John Deere designed and developed.

One of them is the D tractor, the company’s first and iconic tractor.

John Deere’s museum also has various interactive exhibits where visitors, especially children, can try various agricultural tools and equipment.

This includes the steel flow, which will put your gripping toughness to the test.

John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum is more than just about the hard work that goes into making and designing John Deere tractors and engines.

It also helps every visitor understand what life is like in the agricultural world and why we need tractors and engines.

Try Fun and Exciting Activities at Phelps Youth Pavilion

Located inside the Waterloo Center for the Arts on Commercial Street, Phelps Youth Pavilion is where children can channel their inner artists through artistic projects such as drawing, painting, and more.

Over 40 interactive exhibits inside this facility will encourage your kids to learn about math, earth science, arts, and culture.

Kids love the Pavillion because they can do fun activities, like riding a tractor or milking life-size animals; they can also see real fossils!

At Phelps Youth Pavilion, kids also experience what it’s like being an actor or singer and wear different costumes based on their liking.

Have Fun with the Animals at Hartman Reserve Nature Center

Surrounded by the cities of Waterloo and Cedar Falls, the 340-acre woodland of Hartman Reserve Nature Center at Reserve Drive is home to various animals.

As you visit the center, you will see a lot of bird species, including the Pileated Woodpeckers and Indigo Buntings.

They also have deer, foxes, raccoons, frogs, salamanders, and more.

Hartman Reserve Nature Center is home to many habitats, providing visitors with the opportunity to explore upland timber, 100-year-old Oaks, and lowlands full of Hawthorne trees and Cottonwood trees, which are known for their ability to tolerate floods.

With its vision to protect natural areas, Hartman provided recreational activities where it could raise public awareness and encourage people to appreciate the environment.

Hartman Reserve Nature Center provides education, field trips for children, and programs such as youth camps where kids can enjoy nature while learning how to contribute to environmental protection.

Jump through the Air at Get Air Trampoline Park

This attraction is perfect for active kids who want to experience flying and bouncing in the air.

Get Air Trampoline Park on University Avenue is an indoor trampoline park every family should visit to have a great time.

Dodgeball, Slamball, and Slackline are just a few of the activities available at Get Air Trampoline Park.

Children can enjoy Kiddie Court, Fidget Ladder, and Foam Fit.

They also have massage chairs, which everyone will want to try.

This trampoline park also hosts group events, such as birthday parties, sporting events, reunions, and other gatherings.

The park provides endless fun for people of all ages.

Whether you are a kid or a kid at heart, there is a place for you here.

Meet Iowa’s Heroic Soldiers at Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum

Exterior of the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum

RifeIdeas, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located next to The Grout Museum of History & Science and also part of the Grout Museum District is the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum.

This museum on South Street was funded and later established in 2008 to provide a place where Iowans can honor the services and sacrifices of these soldiers who spend most of their lives fighting for their country.

You’ll see the electronic Wall of Honor as you enter the museum.

There are also at least 35 traditional and interactive exhibits.

The artifacts and over 1500 interview collections from the Voices of Iowa Oral History Project tell stories of heroism, adventure, and sacrifices.

Visit Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum to learn about the Five Sullivan Brothers and other veterans who served the country during the Civil War.

Enjoy Outdoor Activities at Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park on 4th Street offers outdoor activities such as picnics and walking.

It also serves as a venue for many Waterloo events, such as Friday Loo and the Iowa Irish Fest, and holiday celebrations, such as Halloween and Christmas.

Who wouldn’t be fascinated by its tall trees and wide-open green fields?

Lincoln Park also offers facilities such as a fountain, picnic area, and a large play area.

Skate and Play Hockey at Young Arena

Established in 1994, Young Arena on Commercial Street, which was built to be part of Waterloo’s Leisure Department, is one of the city’s attractions where you can try ice sports.

Since its opening, this arena has hosted over 850 events, including wrestling and concerts.

The arena offers five unique programs, one being public skating available to groups of all ages.

You can also take private or group ice skating lessons.

There is also a figure skating club that kids can join.

Young Arena also offers House League hockey for ages 4 to 14 and Open Hockey for ages 18 and above.

Spend Quality Time with Your Family at Palmer’s Family Fun

Looking for an amusement park where you can bring all your family members?

Palmer’s Family Fun at West Airline Highwayis what you are looking for.

There are six attractions or activities in Palmer’s Family Fun that the family, especially kids, will enjoy.

You can try the 18-hole miniature golf courses, intense laser, archery tag, and a Batting Cage.

Kids will also have fun in a large inflatable jumping pillow, or you can accompany them in the driving range.

Palmer’s Family Fun also hosts birthday parties, family reunions, picnics, and school field trips.

Enjoy Watching Theatrical Plays at Waterloo Community Playhouse and Black Hawk Children’s Theatre

There is a theatre in Waterloo that is made especially for kids—the Waterloo Community Playhouse and Black Hawk Children’s Theatre!

This children’s theater at Commercial Street is Iowa’s oldest community theater.

Waterloo Drama League organized it in 1916 to create an amateur theatre.

Throughout the years, the Waterloo Community Playhouse and BlackHawk Children’s Theatre has been devoted to producing high-quality entertainment and contributing to improving literature and arts.

The theatre is not merely a place for entertainment; it’s also a haven for people who want to fulfill their full potential in the dramatic arts.

Waterloo Community Playhouse and Black Hawk Children’s Theatre showcases theatrical plays for children, which are mostly based on popular children’s books.

Learn about the Agricultural History of America at Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area at West Park Avenue is one of Waterloo’s attractions that aims to preserve and tell stories about American agriculture and its global significance.

This attraction is significant because it illustrates America’s cultural history and how the nation has developed its agriculture industry to sustain itself and the rest of the world.

You can explore various sites and attractions at Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area, including prairies and wild places, agriculture and industry, and Iowa’s Heritage.

There are also picnic spots, restaurants, and group tours to dairy farms, vineyards, and tractor assembly.

Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area also offers summer workshops and other educational opportunities for the youth focusing on American agriculture.

Try the Wood-Fired Pizza at Basal Wood-Fired Pizza

Basal Wood Fired Pizza on West 4th Street is one of the most well-known restaurants in Waterloo for its wine, beer, salad, and specialty, wood-fired pizza.

With so many options, deciding which is the best pizza here will be difficult, as everything on the menu is incredibly tasty and worth trying.

Not only will you return to Basal Pizza because of the food but also because of the excellent customer service.

The waiters are attentive, you can enjoy great music while eating, and the decor is eye-catching.

Basal Wood Fired Pizza is the perfect dining spot for the whole family!

Appreciate the Beauty of Nature at Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens

Rose garden at Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens

Cedarvalleyarboretum, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens on Orange Road opened in 1996 to serve as a place that connects people with nature.

Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens is a 40-acre oasis with 20 gardens that will make you feel like you’ve been transported to another world.

Here, you can experience gardening and learn about different plant species.

This attraction allows you and your kids to explore extensive gardens with various themes teeming with beautiful flowers, herbs, and Iowa prairies.

You can also have a picnic or explore the Children’s Garden, where you can feed fish and dig for fossils.

Final Thoughts

Waterloo is a great place to bring your family for a vacation as it offers many activities that the entire family will enjoy.

Whether you’re interested in exploring museums or watching theatrical plays, Waterloo has something for everyone in the family.

Try these best things to do with kids in Waterloo, Iowa, on your trip!

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