20 Free Things to Do in Cedar Rapids, IA

Free Things to Do in Cedar Rapids, IA
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Are you spending time in Cedar Rapids, a city rich with culture and teeming with activities?

In this comprehensive guide, we've melded insights from locals and travelers to present you with a mosaic of experiences that define this remarkable place. While we've highlighted some must-visit spots, it's imperative to understand that these recommendations are shaped by personal opinions and experiences.

There are countless other wonderful places awaiting your discovery. Our goal isn't just to point you to the well-trodden paths, but to inspire you to explore and truly immerse yourself in the city's essence.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this article: Joy Crowley, Harold Bell, Rhea Wiley, Esteban Cook, Mary Hand, Susan Wright and Erin Hill.

Discover the Grant Wood Stained Glass at the Veterans Memorial Building

Exterior of the Veterans Memorial Building
David Harmantas / Shutterstock.com

Just the other day, I found myself standing in awe at the Veterans Memorial Building, admiring the grandeur of the Grant Wood stained glass window.

It's not my first time seeing it, but each visit still takes my breath away.

The sheer size and beauty of the window are nothing short of stunning.

Every time I visit this historical monument in my hometown, I pick up one of their little brochures that explain the meaning behind all the intricate details on the window.

It feels like holding a treasure map in my hands as I reveal historical fact after fact, packed tightly into the scene depicted on the glass.

View of the Veterans Memorial Building at night
David Harmantas / Shutterstock.com

What's great about this place is that it doesn't cost anything to experience.

Apart from the parking fee, the beauty of the window and the building are free to admire.

It's a testament to the building's beautiful architecture and intriguing location that bring visitors from near and far.

So, the next time you're in Cedar Rapids, do yourself a favor and visit this gem in our city.

Discover the Charms of Noelridge Greenhouse

It was just another chilly Easter morning when I decided to shake up my routine and swing by the Noelridge Greenhouse, a local gem revered by those in the know.

The moment I stepped onto the lush greenhouse grounds, the chill in the air gave way to a tropical warmth that invited exploration.

I was greeted by the sight of lemon and orange trees, their fruits like tiny suns hanging from the branches.

Then, I made my way past the flowering trees, their blooms adding pops of color to the sea of green.

The desert section was a pleasant surprise, with its array of exotic cacti and succulents making me feel like I'd entered a different ecosystem.

Likewise, the sound of peaceful, flowing water from a couple of displays added to the serene ambiance of the place.

The greenhouse is run by the city and The Friends of Noelridge, a nonprofit organization that does an excellent job of maintaining the place.

I even got some tips on better managing my home garden!

Aside from the plants, the greenhouse also hosts various events throughout the year, a fact I discovered when I casually checked their online calendar.

Easter is one of their showcase days, and they sell plants on Mother’s Day, although you'd want to get there early to beat the crowd.

They also accept volunteers if you have some free time and a soft spot for plants.

You don’t need any plant experience, just a willingness to help with tasks like repotting seedlings and making cuttings.

It's a no-commitment-required kind of deal.

Just show up on the days they need volunteers and lend a hand.

The Noelridge Greenhouse is a tropical haven smack in the middle of the city where you can momentarily escape the ordinary, learn about plants, and maybe even give back by volunteering.

Hang Out at Old MacDonald's Farm

It was sunny when I decided to take my children out for a fun-filled day at Old MacDonald's Farm.

The moment we stepped foot on the farm, their eyes lit up at the sight of the bustling duck pond, filled with the most vibrant and playful ducks you could imagine.

As we strolled towards the pens filled with farm animals, I watched my child's face beamed with innocence and curiosity.

The children were thrilled at this opportunity to interact with the animals they had only previously seen in their storybooks.

Aside from the animals, the farm also had these cute little toy tractors my kids could ride on.

Amidst their laughter and giggles, I could see they were having the time of their lives. It was a fantastic experience for me, too.

Old MacDonald's Farm is more than just a farm.

It's a place for families to bond, relax, and break from city life's usual hustle and bustle.

If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend a visit.

Explore the Grand Lodge of Iowa AF&AM

You know when you've lived in a place for so long, and yet you keep discovering hidden gems?

That happened when I stumbled upon the Grand Lodge of Iowa AF&AM.

It's like unearthing a part of history right in my backyard!

Upon entering, I was greeted by a beautiful building that has impressively retained its historical charm.

The architecture is awe-inspiring, with a level of detail that adds to its grandeur. It's easy to lose track of time admiring the building alone!

But the real treasure lies within.

There's a private library that's open to the public.

It offers a rare glimpse into our rich history, with shelves filled with volumes that transport you to a different time. It's a paradise for bibliophiles like me!

Adjacent to the library is a museum that houses numerous historical artifacts.

Walking through it felt like walking through time.

Each artifact has a story to tell, offering insights into the life and times of our ancestors.

I strongly urge you to take a guided tour if you can.

It's a phenomenal way to appreciate the place in all its glory. Trust me, the Grand Lodge of Iowa AF&AM is not just a historical building. It's an experience.

Spend the Day at Mount Trashmore Hiking and Flow Trails

I'll never forget the first time I stepped onto the trails of Mount Trashmore.

There's something remarkable about turning a trash heap into a beautiful hiking spot, and the Solid Waste Agency has done an excellent job transforming this place.

The longer switchback walking trail is my favorite, and it's roughly about 5000 steps.

It's a decent walk that leaves you feeling accomplished and refreshed.

The reward at the end is the breathtaking view from the top.

I've always found it the perfect spot for a picnic; I've also cycled this trail a few times.

The fact that a place like this exists and continues to offer recreational activities is nothing short of extraordinary.

It's a fantastic little gem.

Whether you're looking for a quick 20-minute hike to the top, a new cycling route, or just a place to relax and enjoy a picnic, Mount Trashmore Hiking and Flow Trails has got you covered.

Enjoy the Weekend at the African American Museum of Iowa

Exterior of the African American Museum of Iowa
Griot2012, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Walking into the African American Museum of Iowa, I felt a sense of pride and curiosity.

I've lived here all my life, but this place always reminds me of our state's rich and diverse history.

The unsung heroes and their fascinating stories are celebrated here, offering a perfect blend of enlightenment and education.

It was a regular weekend, but I decided to change the routine.

Instead of my usual coffee and backyard relaxation, I immersed myself in the heritage of African Americans in Iowa.

The exhibits were thought-provoking, and the events were engaging.

I even attended a workshop that allowed me to dive deeper into the history and contributions of African Americans in Iowa.

This exciting part about the museum is that you can spend as much or as little time as you want and still take away a wealth of knowledge.

Interior of the African American Museum of Iowa
Griot2012, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The museum is more about sharing stories and less about business, which is refreshing.

One of my favorite parts of the visit was learning about our local legend, Viola Gibson, among other influential figures from our area.

Their stories are inspiring and remind us to celebrate our local heroes.

I've driven past this museum a thousand times but decided to step in this weekend, which was undoubtedly worth it.

Next time you find a free weekend, consider visiting the African American Museum of Iowa.

It's a journey through our state's rich African-American heritage.

Unwind at Morgan Creek Park

There's a hidden gem in our city, Morgan Creek Park.

This tranquil haven is more than just a park; it's a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

My favorite spot is this old quarry in the park's southeast corner.

Sitting there, soaking in the silence, truly refreshes the soul.

It's the epitome of tranquility - just the sights, sounds, and the blissful lack of them.

The park also houses a kids' playground that stands out.

Future-forward in design, the playground is both fun-filled and safety-conscious.

Imagine a ground cushioned with rubber!

Kids can tumble, trip, or fall and still have a giggle.

The structures, too, are thoughtfully designed; they're accessible, inviting special needs individuals to explore and enjoy.

Another highlight is the well-maintained equipment.

The park authorities have done a phenomenal job keeping the park clean and the equipment in shape.

Though it might be tricky to locate, plenty of signs along the main roads guide you even with GPS.

Getting lost on the way to Morgan Creek Park only adds to the adventure.

It's a beautiful place, worth every bit of the journey.

Discover the Genius of Grant Wood at the Grant Wood Studio and Visitor Center

You wouldn't believe the treasure that sits nestled into the heart of Cedar Rapids.

Grant Wood, one of America's most renowned painters, transformed a humble hay loft into a creative haven.

I've been lucky enough to explore the Grant Wood Studio and Visitor Center countless times, and every visit uncovers a new aspect of this brilliant artist's life.

Stepping inside Wood's studio feels like stepping into the man's mind.

The way he ingeniously converted this simple space into a functional art studio and home is a testament to his innovative spirit.

It's a physical representation of the man behind the iconic American Gothic painting.

I've gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of Wood's life and work here.

The Grant Wood Studio and Visitor Center is a source of inspiration.

And the best part? Admission is free, making it accessible for everyone to enjoy.

The studio is conveniently located behind the Future History Center in the John B. Turner Home.

A visit here provides insights into Grant Wood's life and a glimpse into Cedar Rapids' rich history.

It's a must-visit spot in the city, a place I'm proud to have right in my backyard.

Enjoy the Cedar Rapids Farmer's Market

I feel like stepping into a vibrant community hub whenever I visit the Cedar Rapids Farmer's Market.

The market is chock full of amazing vendors offering incredible goods.

Each time I go, I discover something new and delightful, making every visit a unique experience in its own right.

One of the many things I love about the market is its layout, designed to allow visitors to navigate smoothly through the vibrant stalls.

Just follow the path, and you'll find a cornucopia of local shops and vendors, many of which I hadn't encountered before I visited the market.

Each time I attend, I'm struck by the range of products.

This market caters to everyone's needs and tastes, from delicious food to pet supplies, home goods, and more.

I've picked up everything from freshly baked bread to beautiful bouquets of sunflowers.

You'll find that the market is a place of unexpected kindness and community spirit.

Strangers have gifted me sunflowers, bringing joy to my day.

For those of you who love to bring your four-legged friends out and about, you'll be glad to know the Cedar Rapids Farmer's Market is dog-friendly.

The dogs I've seen there are always well-behaved and under control, making it a pleasurable experience for everyone.

Whether you're a lifelong resident or just visiting, I can't recommend the Cedar Rapids Farmer's Market enough.

I'm looking forward to my next visit - maybe I'll see you there!

Enjoy the Summers at Ellis Park

My summers wouldn't be the same without Ellis Park. For years, it's been my sanctuary, playground, lap pool, and walking trail.

I'd start with a refreshing pool swim, often enjoying the adult lap swims perfect for exercise.

Not so far from the pool is a path that I would walk with my dog.

Seeing her run around, tail-wagging, and enjoying the fresh air is always a treat.

Ellis Park has always had a certain charm about it.

They have water shows and boat shows that draw quite a crowd.

It's an exciting time, with people coming together and the energy being electric.

The park is also home to a playground that's a hit with kids and picnic areas that are perfect for a relaxing day out.

I also love the quiet areas in the park.

These spots are my retreat, where I can sit and reflect or enjoy nature.

Moreover, the park is beautifully maintained, with large, flat landscapes overlooking the river and the gold fields.

It's a sight that never gets old.

One of the unique offerings of Ellis Park is the garden plots that the city of Cedar Rapids rents out every spring.

It's on a first-come-first-serve basis, but it's worth the effort.

There's something special about tending to your plot of land, watching your plants grow, and enjoying the fruits of your labor.

Ellis Park is no doubt a jewel in Cedar Rapids. It's a place of activity, relaxation, and natural beauty, making summers memorable.

Take a Stroll Down Memory Lane at Seminole Valley Farm

A barn at Seminole Valley Farm
James.Heires, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

"Oh, the charm of stepping back into time!" I thought as I visited the historic Seminole Valley Farm in our community.

There's something magical about the place; it always feels like a treasure chest of history waiting to be opened.

Last time, they organized a unique World War II reenactment that I had the chance to witness.

It was as if the pages of history had sprung alive.

The memory of that special day still brings back vivid images.

Though I couldn't explore the entire farm that day, the little I saw left a lasting impression.

If you're a history buff like me or enjoy exploring unique places, Seminole Valley Farm is the perfect spot.

The farm-turned-museum is run by a dedicated band of volunteers who breathe life into the past with a busy calendar of events and reenactments.

Moreover, the farm also doubles up as a beautiful spot for an outdoor reception.

Imagine a celebration under the open skies surrounded by a slice of history!

The vicinity also boasts some good fishing spots.

So, if you're an angler or enjoy the serenity of fishing, you'll find plenty of opportunities nearby.

Nestled between the past and the present, Seminole Valley Farm offers a unique experience that is both educational and entertaining.

So, the next time you're planning a weekend outing, don't forget to add this historical gem to your list.

Discover Hughes Park

I recall stumbling upon Hughes Park one day, tucked away, almost invisible amidst the residential homes.

There, I was instantly drawn to the intriguing story about a beautifully sculpted horse assembled by Steve Huffman of Metal Scapes.

It's a picturesque sight that silently narrates a captivating tale.

Secluded from the hustle and bustle, Hughes Park offers a tranquil retreat.

There's an intimate charm to its quaint setting that makes it a real hidden gem.

This park is a creation of Hughes Nursery, and it's obvious they've put a lot of effort and thought into it - a true legacy indeed.

Don't let the size fool you, though.

This small patch of green has a well-put-together playground that the little ones would surely enjoy.

Complete with benches, the basketball courts inject an energetic vibe into the serene surroundings.

What stands out for me, though, are the two family bathrooms.

They're meticulously maintained, which speaks volumes about the attention to detail and care that goes into the park's upkeep.

It's refreshing to see a local park so well looked after.

If you are yearning for a peaceful afternoon or just looking to kill time, don't forget to drop by Hughes Park.

Explore the Historic Charm of Seminole Valley Park

I can't help but feel grateful every time I step into the majestic expanse of the 409-acre Seminole Valley Park.

A hidden gem nestled in the heart of Cedar Rapids, it has always been an integral part of my routine and a haven for my weekend escapes.

Seminole Valley Park has something to cater to every whim and fancy, from the nostalgic historic village and farm to the sprawling soccer field.

The park's vast playground is a delight for everyone, whether you're a child yearning for a fun-filled afternoon or an adult seeking a relaxing walk amidst nature's bounty.

The well-kept trails offer a refreshing retreat from the city's hustle and bustle, perfect for a quiet morning jog or an evening stroll.

Likewise, ample roadside parking and a convenient water tap and restrooms make it an ideal spot for hosting dual cricket matches.

Watching a Civil War reenactment is one of my most treasured memories at the park.

Seeing the actors bring history to life was an incredible spectacle that will remain etched in my memory for years.

Visit Seminole Valley Park and immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of past and present.

Go Fishing at Manhattan/Robbins Lake Park

A certain charm to Manhattan/Robbins Lake Park keeps pulling me back.

This place is a sweet spot for family gatherings or peaceful fishing days.

And boy, nothing beats the thrill of feeling a tug at the end of the line and anticipating what you might reel in.

Since I discovered that the lake's fish population swells every time the Cedar River floods, I've taken advantage of this natural phenomenon.

I've caught quite a few turtles here, too, which always adds an element of surprise to the adventure.

The real highlight of the year at Manhattan/Robbins Lake Park is the annual fundraising event on the first weekend in August.

It's a fish-a-rama extravaganza organized for a great cause - the Boys & Girls Club.

By purchasing a wristband, you get access to two full days of fishing and fun and the chance to win prizes.

I've had my fair share of luck catching fish with colored tags.

For those days when I want to relax and enjoy the scenery, it's the perfect place to sit back with my dog.

The park allows pets, so it's always fun for us.

I've spent several afternoons there with my family and friends, grilling on the BBQ and soaking in the tranquility.

Plus, there's plenty of parking, and it's pretty convenient.

Discovering Manhattan/Robbins Lake Park has been one of the highlights of living in this area.

You can find more information here if you want to check it out.

It's a peaceful retreat that offers so much more than just fishing.

Take a Stroll Around Cedar Lake

I find myself drawn to Cedar Lake every day, rain or shine.

The lake is stunning, the views of downtown are breathtaking, and the paths around it cater to walkers, joggers, and cyclists alike.

There's nothing quite like strolling along the water's edge, the sprawling cityscape acting as a backdrop to the serene body of water.

However, Cedar Lake used to be a haven for wildlife, a sanctuary where you could spot ducks and other waterfowl nesting.

The memory of capturing these incredible creatures through my lens is still vivid.

You can also spot some birds around the lake.

They seem to have adapted and are resilient in the face of change.

From the stunning views to the friendly community, Cedar Lake remains a significant part of our city.

It remains a place of solace, a testament to nature's resilience.

Appreciate the Diversity of Mays Island

Daytime view of Mays Island
Davumaya, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I can't help but burst with pride every time I think about my community here in Cedar Rapids.

Welcoming anyone who steps foot here is a part of who we are, and standing tall as a symbol of this openness is the torch atop the building on Mays Island.

The sight of the Statue of Liberty replica on the island furthers this sentiment, reminding us to respect and celebrate our differences.

Mays Island, situated in the heart of Cedar Rapids, is the hub of our community.

It's where you'll find our courthouse, jail, and veterans' building.

Lady liberty at Mays Island
run4central, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There's a charming little park between these buildings, where we come together as a community to celebrate, especially during the 4th of July fireworks.

It's an experience that never gets old, and I look forward to it every year.

Another thing I find remarkable about Mays Island is its hidden parking. It's one of those little-known features that locals like me appreciate on busy days.

You can check Mays Island on Google Maps to better understand its location and layout.

It's a place that embodies the spirit of Cedar Rapids, and I couldn't be more proud to call it home.

Spend the Day at Daniels Park

I'm lucky enough to call Cedar Rapids, Iowa, my home, and one of my all-time favorite spots to unwind and soak up the sunshine is Daniels Park.

This expansive, well-equipped park has so much to offer.

It's a haven for families, a sanctuary for outdoor enthusiasts, and a paradise for kids.

The picnic area is a fantastic spot for family get-togethers, with inbuilt grills for a classic barbecue experience.

Remember to bring your fuel, and you're set for a beautiful afternoon.

This area can comfortably accommodate over 30 people, and the best part is the roof over the eating area that protects against any sudden rain.

One of my favorite features of Daniels Park is the children's playground.

It has swings, slides, and bridges designed with safety in mind.

And it's not just one but two different playground areas, one at the top of the hill for toddlers and another near the ball diamond that caters to toddlers and older kids.

The recent addition of new playground equipment adds to the fun!

Moreover, the park offers ample open space and a basketball court for the sporty ones.

But the star, in my opinion, is the splash pad, which is a magnet for families, especially during the hot summer months.

It's the perfect way to keep cool while having a blast with your kids.

Unwind at the Charming Van Vechten Park

There's nothing quite like a lazy Sunday afternoon at Van Vechten Park.

This little gem in the heart of Cedar Rapids is my sanctuary after a long week.

Its charm lies not just in its baseball diamonds or lush, grassy lawns but the sense of calm it imparts to those who visit.

The park has always been a delightful cocoon of tranquility, but the view of the Cedar River takes your breath away.

It's a sight that never grows old.

In the distance, you can even glimpse the quirky local landmark Mount Trashmore.

The park rarely sees a crowd, making it the perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Throwing parties in the park's gazebo or playing co-ed softball on their well-maintained diamonds has always been a joy.

These experiences and the stunning views around every corner have made Van Vechten Park an integral part of my Cedar Rapids experience.

Take a Stroll around the Tree Of Five Seasons

Have you ever had one of those days where you just strolled around downtown with nothing specific in mind?

Well, that was me yesterday. I ended up at this metal monument that stands tall and proud in the city's heart.

Here's the thing about the Tree Of Five Seasons - you can't ignore it.

The uniqueness of the sculpture is worth noting.

Some might say it's nothing special, just another piece of urban steel.

But trust me, catch it at sunset, and it's a whole different story.

The way the setting sun glows against the monument, illuminating it in a spectrum of colors - it's oddly satisfying.

But the Tree Of Five Seasons also symbolizes an essence that's hard to describe.

People compare it to mundane objects, even a toilet brush. A toilet brush, can you believe it? But I feel it represents the spirit of our town - simple, unpretentious, and standing firm against the test of time.

Sure, it may not be as exciting as other city attractions, but it has charm.

I might swing by again the next time I'm downtown.

Explore an Oasis in the City - Greene Square

Have you ever had those days when you need peace amidst the city's hustle and bustle? Well, Greene Square has always been my sanctuary.

Nestled in the heart of Cedar Rapids, it's a small pocket of tranquility that offers a refreshing respite from the surrounding urban jungle.

There's something pleasingly paradoxical about sitting by the fountain, lost in the symphony of its bubbling waters, while the city carries on its constant hum in the background.

The soft rustle of leaves and the occasional twitter of birds from the trees lend a charm to this place that's hard to put into words.

The park, though small, is thoughtfully designed with sculptures dotting its landscape, enhancing its aesthetic appeal.

Likewise, the grassy areas are perfect for picnics or reading a good book.

And trust me, there's no shortage of inviting spots with comfortable benches and tables scattered throughout.

One of my favorite things about Greene Square is its community vibe.

Despite being situated amidst the city's bustle, it never feels crowded or overwhelming.

Instead, it's where locals like me come to enjoy a quiet moment, greet familiar faces, or appreciate the beauty of nature.

Whether you're looking for a serene spot for lunch, a setting for your next outdoor read, or just a pleasant walk, Greene Square has got you covered. Here is the link to its location if you wish to visit. Trust me, you won't regret it.

Final Thoughts

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has many free attractions catering to every interest.

There's truly something for everyone here in Cedar Rapids.

So, whether you're a nature lover, a history buff, or simply someone who enjoys exploring new places, Cedar Rapids has a wealth of experiences waiting for you.

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