A Fun Detour Through Iowa

things to do in iowa with kids_edited-1

In October of last year, we took a big family road trip. We started our travels through Wyoming, then hit South Dakota.

As we neared the end of our trip through South Dakota, our plans changed due to weather. It was cold, wet and snowy on the route we intended to take on our way to Chicago.


We ended up detouring to Des Moines, IA, and on the way, we made a fun stop in Le Mars, IA. We couldn’t pass up the Ice Cream Capitol of the world.


We learned about the history of ice cream and Blue Bunny Ice Cream where they make 250,000 gallons of ice cream a day.


The boys were in heaven and everyone got to stretch their legs.


Timmy had a rough day of travel spending much of the road time crying and fighting sleep.

We got into West Des Moines, IA well past bedtime, but we were so thankful to have made the push. We scored a pretty nice hotel with an indoor waterfall and glass elevator.

I took the boys on a pre-bedtime ride up and down the ten floors and Sam was thoroughly impressed. They both went to bed easily and Mark and I worked until 11pm.

The next morning we all slept in until nearly 9am! I think we were all exhausted and travel-worn. Everyone was happy and ready for a new day, which was pleasantly surprising.


Our first stop today was the National Balloon Museum where we learned about the history of ballooning.


Samuel loved it since he’s our hot air balloon fanatic. He loves them!

They had a wonderful kids section where the boys could play and tinker for a bit before we had to hit the road.


They colored hot air balloon pictures, read books, worked puzzles, and so much more! They were in heaven!


Timmy hit the climbing phase around this point in our journey. We finally gave up trying to keep him off the tables!

If you’re in the Des Moines, IA area, we recommend checking out the National Balloon Museum. It’s cheap and fun for kids!

Around lunch time we arrived in Iowa City and happened across a mall. We figured the kids could get a few wiggles out and run around in the food court.


Much to our delight, they also had a cheap carousel ride and play area for kids. We took full advantage and let the kids play until Timmy looked tired.

Iowa was not on our travel itinerary, but it turned out to be just fine. We really enjoyed our time passing through!

Timmy slept a lot once he stopped fighting it, and Sam was a jewel traveler. We really pushed through Iowa quickly, so we spent more time in the car than we really wanted. Both children were amazing.

Next, we headed to Chicago where we had plans to bike the city and hang out for a few days.

At this point in our trip, I wrote in my journal:

“I’m still so glad we’ve taken this trip. Yesterday was hard. Really hard. But even in it all, we all laughed together and made the best of it. It’s good to be away from home and we’ve experienced new things. Nothing changes you like experience.”

Have you ever taken a road trip through Iowa? What are some of your favorite places to see?

Follow Leigh Ann @ Intentional By Grace’s board Travel on Pinterest.

What We Did in South Dakota

things to do in south dakota with kids
I took a little break over the holidays from sharing about our big family road trip we took in October. But I want to pick back up and share some of what we did in each place we visited as well as tips and tricks for road tripping as a family.

Some posts you might enjoy catching up on:

After Wyoming, we hit South Dakota on our family road trip. Can I just say that South Dakota is simply breathtaking?

The landscape is gorgeous and the wild life sightings were plentiful. It was everything we hoped for and far exceeded our expectations.

Even so, when we finally made it across this enormous state, we were ready to say goodbye. We started feeling a little alone as we drove across this very long state. We aren’t used to not being in overly populated areas.

But South Dakota is a great place to visit, especially the western portion! Plus there are loads of things to do with kids!

Things to Do in South Dakota with Kids

Hot Springs, SD

We stayed in a log cabin in Hot Springs, SD the first night of our visit. It was quaint and just what we needed. The owners were Christians and they proclaim the name of Jesus year round by leaving their Christmas lights up 365 days of the year. We found that interesting and neat.


We ate dinner and breakfast at Dale’s Family Restaurant, a local diner. We got into town when the restaurant was closing, but they still fed us with a smile. They were so nice to us, we decided to go back the next day.

The food was good and the people the friendliest I’ve been around in a long time. Hot Springs, SD is a sleepy town with a slow pace of life. A far cry from a ski resort town. It was wonderful.

The Mammoth Site

wooly mammoth site entrance

We made our way first to The Mammoth Site, which is an active paleontological dig site, boasting the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the world! Their current mammoth count is 61, with 58 Columbian and 3 woolly mammoths.

ready to go to the wooly mammoth site

The only words I have for this place is: amazing. Absolutely amazing! To stand and walk through thousands of years of history. To imagine what life was like then was simply unbelievable.

wooly mammoth site 2

family at wooly mammoth site


Wooly Mammoths are smaller than I imagined them to be, but the Colombian Mammoth was enormous. It was possibly bigger than I imagined.

wooly mammoth site with S

Sam and Timmy both really enjoyed this stop.

wooly mammoth site

digging for bones

There was plenty to do, and I definitely want to go back in the summer to let the children dig! Heck, I want to dig too!

Before we left, we picked up a Prehistoric Life Toob set for super cheap. Samuel loves anything miniature, and it was a great set to add to our busy bags for the car. The boys love them!

Custer, SD

Next we drove the short hour or so drive to Custer, SD. We continued to take in the breathtaking views along the way.

Then, Sam yelled, “BIG COWS!”

bison in south dakota

We came upon roaming bison along the by-way. Hundreds of them as far as the eye could see.


We pulled over to get a better look and take pictures.


They were just walking across the road, so close we could have touched them it seemed. Not that we even considered trying.


Mount Rushmore

The day turned out rainy and cold so we didn’t get to hike Harney Peak like we had planned. We were disappointed. So, we ate a picnic in the car on the side of the road while we decided what to do next.

south dakota-2

Mark suggested we just head on to Mount Rushmore and I agreed. This area isn’t much for indoor fun. Especially when you’re on a low budget.

I was afraid Mount Rushmore would be hard to see or disappointing because of the rain and clouds. My fears were totally unfounded. Mount Rushmore was amazing, breathtaking, unbelievable.

south dakota-7

I spotted it first as we drove around the mountain, and I quickly pointed it out to Samuel. As his eyes recognized what we had spent weeks talking about and reading about, his face lit up. I think he was in awe and giddy excited. He had just woken up from a nap so he was pleasantly surprised that we were already at Mount Rushmore.

south dakota-3

We had a lot of fun conversations with Sam. We’d been reading a lot of books about Mount Rushmore and the Presidents before traveling. When we got closer to the mountain, Sam started looking a little concerned. When I asked him about it, he said, “I don’t want George Washington’s teeth to fall out on me.” Ah, I love childhood innocence!

south dakota-8

By the way, if you want a fun way to introduce your children to Mount Rushmore before visiting, I highly suggest Run for the Hills, Geronimo! We read a lot of Geronimo Stilton books before our trip, and it was totally worth it.

south dakota-4

The walk up was cold and drizzly. We put Timmy on my back in the Boba. We all had lots of layers and rain jackets on. Yet even though it was cold and wet, everyone was happy.

We walked quickly to the information center to get inside to warm up. We checked out the large map to get a feel for the land, and then quickly marched up the walkway to the viewing site. The flag walk was really cool. It felt so patriotic, and I couldn’t help but breathe a prayer of thanks that I get to live in America. With all of its faults and failures, it really is a privilege to live in the land of the free and home of the brave.

south dakota-5

The rain continued to drizzle, but we headed to the museum anyway. As we walked around inside, I kept glancing back out the window at George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abe Lincoln. I couldn’t keep my eyes from them for long.

We watched a short video about the carving of Mount Rushmore together as a family. Timmy wondered up and down the aisles while the rest of us listened intently. When it was over, I asked Sam, “How did they make Mount Rushmore?” His answer, “BIG!” Accurate, but not what I was going for. I was hoping for something more along the lines of dynamite, hammers, etc. Maybe next time. Ha!

south dakota-6

Soon the rain cleared and we went back outside. Someone from Jersey took our picture as a family. Then, we opted to take the Presidential Hike to get a better look at the Presidents. I’m so glad we did. We were able to get even closer and view Mount Rushmore from several different angles. It was truly incredible. Absolutely incredible.

south dakota-9

We left Mount Rushmore and headed to Rapid City to find a place to stay for the night. As soon as we came over the pass and saw Rapid City we were startled by the quick change of landscape. You could see as far as your eye could see. No more mountains blocking your view. No more wondering what’s around the corner. The whole town sprawled out before us. It was awesome.

We found a hotel on Hotwire for super cheap. A local hotel, not a chain. It was perfect and cozy. We ate at Texas Roadhouse. It’s been years since we ate at one. Living in a resort town that doesn’t allow chain restaurants meant we had to eat at a chain just once on this trip. Tonight seemed like the perfect opportunity.

After dinner, we took the kids down to the indoor pool. It even had a slide! 131 feet to be exact. I even road the darn thing. Be a “yes, mom” Mark said. So I went first. We had a blast! We didn’t last long because the boys were shivering so profusely, especially Timmy. We had the pool to ourselves though and it was so fun.

Wall Drug

The next day we realized that not much was going according to plan. A cold front raged across the country, interrupting much of our outdoor plans. Yet we were having the time of our lives and enjoying the journey.

We hit the road a little late on the day we were scheduled to hike Notch Trail. Then, we were sucked in by the signs to stop at Wall Drug. The $.05 coffee signs sold us.


We enjoyed cheap, but delicious, coffee and cake donuts together while reading about the history of Wall Drug.


It was a great stop off for the kids to get their wiggles out and just enjoy something touristy.

south dakota-10

And what kid wouldn’t want to sit on an enormous rabbit?


The Badlands

The Badlands were incredible. Nothing can prepare you for what you will see.


Of course, we recognized them from pictures, but the vast magnificence of the rugged terrain is breath taking. As the wind threatened to lift us off our feet and toss us off the cliffs, we took in the view with wondrous awe.

south dakota-11

Sam was holding on for dear life!

Notch Trail

We hiked Notch Trail, which was absolutely incredible! We were a little worried about taking the kids, but we decided we could always turn back if we didn’t feel safe.

Samuel scaled the ladder like it was a backyard playground. He was brave and proud. Going up the ladder wasn’t nearly as difficult or treacherous as coming down.


I hiked the trail with Timmy on my back.


The hike was spectacular and the views along the way incredible, but the view at the end was a little disappointing. The pull off at the start of the park was far more breathtaking, but the hike itself was worth it all.




It felt good to hike after a few days in the car, and the kids just loved it! We’ve hiked with the children several times so we were totally fine hiking Notch Trail. It’s a moderately difficult hike with little children who need a lot of help, but for us it was worth it. Coming down the ladder was a little scary, but just take it easy and slow.

Pierre, SD

We wanted to get as far as Sioux Falls on this day, but it didn’t happen. We were exhausted and the weather really dampened our plans for Pipestone and Pikes Peak, which we thought would be so fun with the boys! We were really disappointed, but we headed to Pierre, SD instead and called it a day.


The next morning was windy and cold. We drove by the capitol building in Pierre, which was really spectacular. The Greek architecture was beautiful, but we decided to head on out of town since we knew it would be a long day on the road instead of going in for a tour.

De Smet, SD

We headed for De Smet, SD where Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up. We hoped to tour the homestead and see the sites. But yet again, the weather really dampened our plans. It was too cold for a foot tour of the town, and we timed it wrong. The snow pushed us out of town and we headed for Des Moines, IA.

Conclusion and Additional Thoughts

Overall South Dakota was amazing! The weather really blew our plans for a lot of fun destinations, but we made the most of it. We kept telling ourselves that this won’t be the last time we travel. Travel is in our DNA so whatever we don’t get to enjoy thoroughly this time, we’ll hit some other time. It just gives us a reason to keep traveling, right?

But as you can see there are loads of fun things to do with kids in South Dakota. I think the one note of caution is that in between destinations, there is NOTHING! Not a bathroom, not a gas station, not anything. Just miles and miles of flat, beautiful land. I would keep this in mind as you travel across this amazing state and pack snacks, drinks, and just go ahead and bring along a portable potty for the kids.

Have you ever been to South Dakota? What would you suggest we hit up next time?

This post contains my affiliate links. See my full disclosure policy here.

Chicago with the Kids

IMG_1330Chicago was amazing. Absolutely amazing! It was everything I expected and more.

IMG_1386 IMG_1389The first day we visited the Navy Pier and just enjoyed stretching our legs. Sam was not a fan of the wind. He was pretty upset that Jesus could take away the wind but wouldn’t do it. I think we can all relate this little toddler’s thoughts on God …

Lake Michigan is just beautiful. The skyline is beautiful. To see the creation of the Lord right next to the creation of man was incredible. To see the gift of creativity in the architecture was breath taking.

IMG_1387Standing on the pier breathing the salty air looking at the third largest city in our nation was humbling. The years I’ve spent dreaming about my return, worrying that I would be disappointed, and yet feeling the beautiful grounding of God’s grace.

The Chicago Children’s Museum was absolutely massive. Kids got in free on the first Sunday of the month, which saved us a ton of money. We got to play like we were fire fighters and circus folks. We built our own sky scraper and played in the biggest water sensory bin we’ve ever seen. The boys dug for dinosaur bones and tinkered with the various creations. We changed the tire of a car and filled it up with gas. And oh so much more! We didn’t even do everything in the museum. We exhausted ourselves and slept like babies that night!

IMG_1393 IMG_1395 IMG_1401IMG_1414 IMG_1417 IMG_1419 IMG_1427 IMG_1428 IMG_1436 IMG_1437 IMG_1438 IMG_1441Riding in a taxi was fascinating to Sam. He loved not having a car seat! We enjoyed dinner at Lou M. The absolute most incredible pizza I have ever tasted. Their handcrafted beers were phenomenal.

The second day in Chicago we hopped on our bikes and rode around the city. Chicago is outfitted beautifully for bikers. Biking Chicago was a dream! An absolute dream! The day turned out beautiful and we rode along the banks of Lake Michigan.

IMG_1453 IMG_1457 We visited The Bean, laughed at the spitting fountains, grabbed coffee downtown at Peet’s coffee, and biked back over to Navy Pier.

DSC_1012 DSC_1017 DSC_1037

IMG_1559 IMG_1557

IMG_1528 IMG_1526


At the Navy Pier we decided to ride the Ferris Wheel. Sam was fascinated and loved the music they were playing about “Chicago.”


IMG_1550 DSC_1058 DSC_1076 DSC_1078Afterward we went in search of a Chicago hot dog. Mark asked a local where to go and he directed us to Downtown Dogs. It was in the middle of Chicago so we biked over and beat the crowd. We sat in window seats viewing the city and chowing down on some amazing hot dogs.


Then we headed to the John Hancock building. Mark really wanted us to see the city lights. It was jam packed, but we saw Chicago at night quickly. We didn’t linger as much as we desired to since Timmy was utterly exhausted.

We ended the long day biking our way back to our hotel in the dark in Chicago. We were crazy, but we had a blast. The boys cuddled up in the chariot and knocked out. They loved the night air and warm blankets. We got lost a few times, but we enjoyed the nighttime ride.


We landed back at our hotel utterly exhausted but full. Full of joy and contentment . We stuck out like sore thumbs in a hotel with all business folks. We wheeled our bikes and sleeping children with the day’s lunch still in the cart into the building. We carried our children who were like dead weights in our arms to the hotel room. They went to sleep immediately and Mark and I worked for a couple of hours.

IMG_1566 IMG_1569

The next day we decided to go to the Lincoln Park Zoo. It was free and just around the corner. We found parking easily and for cheap! It was nice to let the kids stretch their legs before loading up in the car to head to Indiana.

IMG_1610 IMG_1605 IMG_1585 IMG_1590IMG_1571All in all a great city! We all absolutely loved it!

Want to see where else we went on our epic road trip? See this post.




Our Trip Through Southeast Wyoming

What we did in Southeast Wyoming on our USA road trip.

We just returned from our month long road trip a few days ago. We’re settling into our home and establishing new routines.

I’m also combing through our pictures and realizing that if I don’t start recording memories soon, they will vanish forever! Therefore, I’m going to be sharing everything we did on our trip with you in the coming weeks.

When it was all said and done, we were on the road for 41 days and clocked right at 4,500 miles around the USA. Though everything didn’t go as planned, we had a blast and it was worth it all!

Also, I should mention that the goal of our trip was to experience what God has created. It wasn’t to fit in every activity a city had to offer. We aren’t rolling in money, which meant our activities had to be frugal. Read: free or less than $10 for the family.

There were definitely things we did that cost a little more, which I’ll be sharing about, but we were VERY picky about what got our money. Road tripping doesn’t have to be expensive.

Southeast Wyoming was a great midway point to Hot Springs, SD, and we didn’t spend a penny while there. Well, we did buy our National Parks Pass, but that’s because we forgot to get it before we left home and would need it on our trip.

ready to hit the road

We started our trip mid-morning, packed to the brim with everything we would need for a month on the road. We were all very excited and a little bit anxious.

By the time we got to Laramie, WY, we needed to stretch our legs, but before we did we decided to drive by the “time out place for big people.” Also known as the Wyoming Territorial Prison, which is a state historic site.

What we did in Southeast Wyoming on our USA road trip.


The entry fee to tour the building is just $5 a person and children 11 and under are free, but we didn’t take a tour because we weren’t ready to explain to our children about prison. My oldest already struggles with fear, and although this wasn’t something “spooky,” we were afraid he wouldn’t quite understand.

Nevertheless, the prison was much smaller than I expected it to be, and I found it interesting to see the place where Butch Cassidy and Clark “the kid” Pelton was held. You go through years of school hearing these names, and then seeing what seems like only a storybook setting in person just brings history alive.

We plan to return here for a homeschool field trip in the future.

What we did in Southeast Wyoming on our USA road trip.

Next, we stopped at the UW Geological Museum. It is free, but they do accept donations.

Since Sam recently became curious about dinosaurs, we thought this would be a fun stop to stretch our legs. They had enormous dinosaur bones to look at and even some to touch.

Samuel (3.5 years old) was mesmerized and Timmy (13 months) was indifferent. He smiled and pointed, but Sam was ecstatic. I was surprised, but so happy to watch his little face as his mind made sense of all that he was seeing.

We met another family while we were there whose youngest is 3 as well. They are road tripping just like us, but they were on the final leg of their journey before heading home. We were just getting started. Meeting people along the road was probably the highlight of our overall trip. We met so many interesting people, and we really enjoyed sharing our story!

Laramie wasn’t what I expected it to be, but the UW campus was beautiful. We saw several college campuses on our trip. It was neat to see the various cultures on display at each one.

We made lunch in the car, and got back on the road so we could get to Hot Springs, SD by bed time.

What we did in Southeast Wyoming on our USA road trip.

The drive up to Hot Springs, SD was amazing. The terrain was breathtaking and so unlike anything I had ever seen before.

What we did in Southeast Wyoming on our USA road trip.

What we did in Southeast Wyoming on our USA road trip.

What we did in Southeast Wyoming on our USA road trip.

We got to see a herd of elk and even a random bison hanging out by the river.

What we did in Southeast Wyoming on our USA road trip.

The kids slept through our “oohs” and “aahhhs.” The wildlife on this drive up to South Dakota was abundant and the scenery gorgeous.

Southeast Wyoming was a great start to our USA road trip! Next I’ll share what we did in South Dakota!

You can read more about why we took this road trip, 5 lessons we learned on our trip, and what it felt like to come home in the meantime.

We’re Taking an Epic Road Trip in October

Choosing to take life by the horns and really live.

I want to live. I mean really live. I want to take life by the horns and milk it for all it’s worth.

I want to see the world God created. I want to soak in the California sun. I want to feel the wind whipping through my hair in the capital of Illinois. I want to taste the syrup of New England. I want to swat flies in Africa. I want to experience the waterfalls of Australia.

I want to get outside the walls of my home, of my little town. I want to walk in someone else’s shoes for a day. I want to step outside my comfort zone and let my heart race a little. It’s in the racing that I live. It’s in the adventure that I thrive. It’s in the experience that I truly understand the grace of the Gospel.

God always becomes greater when I venture outside my little sphere.

He becomes bigger as I experience just how small I really am in this great big world. I become more compassionate as I experience life through another’s eyes.

I don’t want to wait anymore. I don’t want to wait for a better time, a time when it could be potentially easier or make more sense financially.

I want to go now. I want to see it now.

And then later?

I want to do it again and again and again.

Choosing to take life by the horns and really live.

And so our journey begins.

Tomorrow we are leaving on a month long road trip with our three and one year old little boys. We are taking a risk, choosing to live, and trusting the Lord to guide us.

This last month has been spent in much prayer and preparation.

We have experienced many late nights of mapping out our trip, choosing the destinations, booking hotels, reserving camp sites, planning our adventures at each stop, and making arrangements for the home we leave behind.

We’ve poured over spreadsheets and budgets, and we have counted the costs of the journey we are committed to making.

Together as a family, we want to breathe.

We want to see the land God has created. We want to meet people from other places. We want to talk with people who don’t look a thing like us. We want to smell the smells of another city so unlike our own.

We want to worship God, grow closer as a couple, and create memories as a family.

I would love to meet you along the way.

Here’s where we’ll be visiting along our journey, and if you’re in the area, let me know.

I’d love to meet you!

Better yet, can we stay with you?

Okay. Too forward? Never hurts to try.

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 9.23.18 PM

Here’s where we’ll be:

And all the places in between as we drive from place to place. We’ll be on the road for nearly forty days!

Maybe you live along the way and we can grab lunch as a family. Or you enjoy hiking and want to hit the Badlands with us. Or you know the best coffee shop in town that doesn’t mind a couple travel-rumpled boys tagging along.

Or you just want to follow along on our journey with us?

We head out bright and early tomorrow morning. We are as ready as we’ll ever be!

Follow me on Instagram (@leighanndutton) to keep up with our shenanigans.

It’s time to breathe. It’s time to really live. It’s time to take a chance.

The Duttons Come for the 4th of July Week

After such an amazing day last year, we knew this would be the perfect trip for the Duttons. We invited the whole crew out, and they came! We were so excited, and we had so much fun!

We went on a hike one day very similar to the one we took with the Lawsons. We planned to do the same one but couldn’t seem to find the right trail this time. The hike was still amazing, and the kids did awesome.

DSC_0296_1024 DSC_0316_1024 DSC_0326_1024 DSC_0329_1024 DSC_0334_1024 DSC_0340_1024 DSC_0349_1024 DSC_0350_1024

IMG_8982_1024 IMG_8802_1024 IMG_8806_1024

On one particularly hot day, I pulled out some homemade popsicles I had on hand, and they were a huge hit!IMG_8626_1024 IMG_8627_1024

IMG_8646_1024 IMG_8633_1024

Of course we headed down to the 4th of July parade and had a blast gathering candy and seeing the sights. IMG_8647_1024 IMG_8648_1024 IMG_8682_1024

That afternoon we made hats and all sorts of other fun crafty things. IMG_8698_1024

IMG_8875_1024 IMG_8876_1024 IMG_8877_1024 IMG_8879_1024

I even hung the creations up in my laundry room after they left so I’d always remember. 😉IMG_8714_1024

I took these two to a showing of Frozen on the green. It was free and such a fun. Mark, Uncle Ray Ray and Aunt Heather caught up with us later. But I had a lot of fun with these two!IMG_8721_1024

I think they love each other. IMG_8723_1024 IMG_8734_1024 IMG_8742_1024 IMG_8752_1024

Everyone came out to watch Daddy play softball one night. Talk about some fun!IMG_8793_1024

We went floating down the river. In all our time in Steamboat, we’d never managed to do this. It was tons of fun! Thanks to Grammy and Papa for keeping the littlest two.IMG_8826_1024

We woke up early one morning for the Hot Air Balloon Festival. I looked forward to this all year. This was beautiful and fun!IMG_8828_1024 IMG_8830_1024 IMG_8849_1024 IMG_8850_1024 IMG_8851_1024 IMG_8854_1024

We ate lunch at Sweet Peas. So yummy!IMG_8983_1024

Maybe Grammy’s favorite place, we went to the natural hot springs. Such a lovely day and relaxing!

The whole week was wonderful. We felt blessed by their visit and amazed at their willingness to come. It’s a LOOOOOOOONG way from Virginia. Thanks, Duttons! You’re the best!