Make your trip to Eastern Iowa more exciting with a visit to Cedar Rapids, the state’s second-largest city.
As the county seat of Linn County, Cedar Rapids boasts a beautiful location and a long and colorful history.
The scenic Cedar River cuts across the city’s territory of about 74 square miles, which was first settled in 1837–1838 and formally incorporated in 1849.
The city was named after the river's rapids that provide several points of interest in Cedar Rapids.
Over the years, the city has established itself not only as one of the leaders of the U.S. manufacturing sectors.
Cedar Rapids also became known as the “City of Five Seasons,” offering a “fifth season” to enjoy the other four.
Check out the following list of free things to do in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to discover the fun activities in this city you can enjoy at no cost.
Visit the Veterans Memorial Building
The Veterans Memorial Building draws visitors not only as a venue for special events, such as conferences, meetings, and weddings.
Casual visitors also drop by this building on the 2nd Avenue Bridge over Cedar River because of its impressive architectural design.
In this building, you will also see the spectacular stained glass window that Iowa’s famous artist, Grant Wood, rendered.
This artwork is the only commissioned stained glass window by the artist most famous for his painting “American Gothic.”
Cedar Rapids’ Veterans Memorial Commission maintains the Veterans Memorial Building, listed by Atlas Obscura as one of the Weird Places to See in the city.
Pick an Activity at Ellis Park
A slew of amenities awaits this park's visitors, spreading over 416 acres on the banks of Cedar River.
The facilities in Ellis Park include boat ramps, a boathouse harbor, a spray pool, and water skiing and swimming facilities.
In addition, visitors to the park can enjoy its sand volleyball courts, ball fields, tennis courts, lighted horseshoe courts, outdoor ice rink, and duck pond.
Ellis Park further draws interest for its Shakespeare Garden.
This garden features unique and formal landscaping centered on a collection of specific plantings cited in Shakespeare’s famous writings.
Located on Ellis Boulevard NW, the park also features a golf course, offering the opportunity to watch local competitions.
Go Fishing at Manhattan/Robbins Lake Park
Spanning 28 acres, Manhattan/Robbins Lake Park is one of the larger areas for recreational fishing in Cedar Rapids.
The park spreads on the south banks of the Cedar River, with Edgewood Road NW cutting across the park’s area for easy access.
Shore fishing has thus grown popular in this park’s location in northwest Cedar Rapids.
Potential catch in the park includes bluegill, common carp, channel catfish, freshwater drum, green sunfish, largemouth bass, and white bass.
The amenities available to anglers at Manhattan Robbins Lake Park include a picnic area and restrooms.
Enjoy Nature at Hughes Park
Hughes Park opened in 2022 in Cedar Rapids, with Mother Nature as its theme.
The park offers nature-themed play equipment located on Wilson Avenue SW, including log balance beams and playhouses with ladders, nets, and poles.
Visitors of the park can also immerse themselves in its birding and teaching areas with an array of educational signage.
In addition, a visit to Hughes Park opens access to a pavilion and an open field for multi-use possibilities, such as baseball and soccer.
The park also hosts a scavenger hunt fun game within its seven-acre site.
Take a Selfie at the Tree of Five Seasons
The sculpture Tree of Five Seasons stands 61 feet on 1st Avenue E to symbolize the Cedar Rapids slogan “The City of Five Seasons.”
The sculpture rests on a stone terrace overlooking the Cedar River, promising a scenic photo shoot or a selfie.
The Tree of Five Seasons was erected and dedicated in 1996, costing more than $800,000.
Solid stainless steel was used to construct this must-see roadside public art.
A prominent local artist, the late Gary Anderson, designed this three-dimensional logo of Cedar Rapids.
Browse the Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market
The Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market is one of the largest Midwest open-air markets.
The market covers the quadrant of Cedar Rapids downtown’s 3rd Street E, 5th Street E, 2nd Avenue E, and 4th Avenue E.
More than 150 vendors participate in this farmers market on Saturdays from May to September.
Separately, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department operates another farmers market in Cedar Rapids.
The Noelridge Farmers’ Market is at the corner of Collins Road NE and Council Street.
This market featuring fruits, vegetables, meats, and crafts opens on Wednesdays from May to October.
Pet the Rabbits at MacDonald’s Farm
Entrance to Old MacDonald’s Farm on 15th Avenue SW in Bever Park is free, allowing visitors to pet farm animals or interact with them.
Besides rabbits, lambs, goats, pigs, cattle, and chickens, Old MacDonald's Farm also features North American waterfowl.
The farm’s host park was established in 1893 in honor of Sampson Bever, a prominent local businessman whose family owned the park’s land.
The park offers other facilities, including softball, bocce ball, and tennis, a swimming pool, and an ice rink.
Bever Park, run by the Cedar Rapids Parks & Recreation Department, also provides a pavilion with kitchen facilities.
Visit the Grand Lodge of Iowa
Located on 1st Avenue SE, the Grand Lodge of Iowa is home to the Iowa Masonic Library and Museum.
You can book an appointment for a free visit to this Masonic facility and its four-flour library and museum.
The library here boasts more than 250,000 volumes, thousands of rare-to-find Masonic books.
For this reason, this library is the best place to research Masonic topics.
The library also has materials on non-Masonic topics, such as Iowa history, education, government, philosophy, and spirituality.
The museum pieces in this Masonic center in Cedar Rapids include Native American weapons, pottery, and artworks.
Tackle the Cedar Valley Nature Trail
Cedar Rapids provides several recreational trails within the city limits, with the Cedar Valley Nature Trail as the longest.
Extending over 12.6 miles, this ten-foot-wide paved trail traverses the city’s downtown via Blairs Ferry Road.
Continuing along 76th Avenue SW, it links with the 3.8-mile Hoover Trail, which leads south to the Cedar River Trail and Seven Sisters Road in the nearby city of Ely.
The Cedar Valley Nature Trail is open to pedestrians, bikers, and inline skaters.
Tackling the trail’s entire course will show you the sights and sounds along McCloud Run Park, Cedar Lake, and the Cedar River.
Passing by the lake, you can also access its 1.6-mile circumferential trail for an extended adventure.
Parking spaces for those taking the Cedar Valley Nature Trail are available at Tait Cummins Park on C Street SW, McCloud Run Place, and Werner Avenue.
Explore the Seminole Valley Park
The Seminole Valley Park spreads over 409 acres on the north banks of the Cedar River.
Accessible via Seminole Valley Trail NE, the park shares this area with the historic Ushers Ferry Historic Village.
The points of interest in the park include its soccer field and a cross-country course suitable for multiple loop distances of four-, five-, six-, and eight-kilometer footraces.
The trails of Seminole Valley Park are also ideal for hiking, with its varied vegetation and wetland areas.
Fishing is also a go-to activity at the park’s riverfront and two-acre lake, with a rich fish stock.
The potential catch for anglers fishing here includes bigmouth buffalo, black crappie, bluegill, channel catfish, common carp, green sunfish, and largemouth bass.
Other fish species taking the bait in the park’s lake are northern pike and river carpsucker, smallmouth bass, smallmouth buffalo, white bass, and white crappie.
Prepare for Cedar Rapids’ Cross-Country Ski Trails
A winter visit to Cedar Rapids promises an exciting adventure on its cross-country ski trails.
The city’s Parks & Recreation Department marks and grooms these trails as soon as they are fully covered with snow.
The distances of the trails vary, with a 1.5-mile run each possible at the Ellis Park Golf Course on Zika Avenue NW, Jones Park on Fruitland Boulevard SW, and Twin Pines Golf Course on 42nd Street NE.
The seven-mile run, also the longest, is at the Sac & Fox Trail from Otis Road to East Post Road SE.
You can also turn to Seminole Valley Park on Seminole Valley Trail NE for a shorter two-mile go at cross-country skiing.
Swing to the Tunes of Rock the Block
The NewBo City Market hosts the Rock the Block summer concert series each Friday from May to early September.
This summer event reels off nightly at the Bankers Trust Stage in the Market Yard.
Its lineup features a variety of national and local touring bands who play two-hour sets each evening.
Besides this summer Rock the Block concert series, the nonprofit NewBo City Market also hosts more than 300 events a year.
Many of these offer opportunities for freebies, too, such as Meet Me at the Market and Frightening Fridays.
Paddle on Cedar Lake
Haul a kayak or canoe to paddle on the tranquil 84-acre Cedar Lake off Shaver Road NE.
Canoe and kayak launches are among the recent improvements completed in the park of this lake.
Visitors to Cedar Lake Park can now enjoy a pedestrian boardwalk and fishing piers.
The famous fish species that anglers can catch at this lake include largemouth bass, bluegill, common carp, channel catfish, green sunfish, and yellow bass.
Visitors of the park, in addition, can try a 1.6-mile paved loop trail that encircles Cedar Lake.
The amenities along the trail include benches, bicycle racks, and three shelters with picnic tables.
Visit the Morgan Creek Park
The arboretum of the county-owned Morgan Creek Park is on Worcester Road.
You can access the arboretum, developed with a butterfly garden, via the one-mile Morgan Creek Trail of crushed limestone.
This trail covers the park’s day-use area and meanders around more than 250 species of shrubs and trees.
The arboretum is a delight to visit in spring, as it erupts with crab apple blossoms during this season.
Lilacs, forbs, prairie grasses, ornamental shrubs, and trees also abound in the nursery and its butterfly garden.
A visit to the 352-acre Morgan Creek Park opens the opportunity to scout its family campground next to the greenhouse.
The park’s campsites are available on a first-come-first-serve basis and provide water and electricity to campers.
From April 15 to October 15, the campgrounds also feature a fire pad and picnic table at each site.
During winter, visitors to Morgan Creek Park can enjoy cross-country skiing on its trail.
Check Out the Seminole Valley Farm
Seminole Valley Farm is a collection of vintage farm buildings within Seminole Valley Park.
This farm complex is on the National Register of Historic Places.
It consists of a circa 1902–1903 farmhouse, summer kitchen, tool shed, livestock barn, ice house, smokehouse, and chicken house.
This quaint farm also features a garden and a small orchard.
Watch out for events at this farm, such as its flea markets in May and June.
Civil War reenactments are held annually on this farm, typically early in July.
Each August, the farm opens to the public for its salute to World War II veterans and those who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Cedar Rapids easily ranks among the top travel destinations in Iowa, given its enchanting mix of points of interest.
Focusing on the city’s riverfront alone offers a slew of exciting places to see and free things to do in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Start planning your budget-friendly adventure today!