The Great Iowa Ski Trip

We may have just created a new annual winter tradition: The Iowa ski trip. We went with a group of friends to Seven Oaks Recreation in Central Iowa, staying in the nearby Hotel Pattee, a historic hotel with individually-decorated rooms and suites for families.

Family ski trip to Iowa? You bet! Here's an itinerary and guide to skiing in Central Iowa, including what hotel to stay and where to ski and snow tube. #Iowa #Midwest #skiing #familytravel #wintervacation

Disclosure: I was hosted by The Hotel Pattee and Seven Oaks Recreation. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

What you need to know about skiing in Iowa

Yes, you can ski in Iowa (downhill and cross country). Let’s get that out of the way. There are actually a couple of places to ski in Iowa. What the state lacks in mountain ranges, it makes up for well-groomed and hilly terrain to create solid (if a little short) runs.

Since my kids were completely new to skiing, going skiing in Iowa made more sense than heading to a much more expensive destination in another state. In Iowa, they can learn the basics for a fraction of the cost.

For a kid to ski in where we went in Boone, the price for a ski lift plus rental gear was $50. Add a helmet rental for $8 and an hour of tubing for another $5… and the total cost was $63.

I just compared the price to the first place I learned to ski in Colorado (rhymes with Speckinridge) and a lift ticket for one child is currently $122 for a Sunday. Renting gear? That starts at $40 for a child.

Snowboarders at Seven Oaks Recreation in Iowa

Now, if everyone in your family or group are seasoned skiers or snow boarders, you probably won’t be challenged in Iowa.

But you’ll save a lot of money.

Where you can ski in Iowa

Our destination for skiing in Iowa was Seven Oaks Recreation, a friendly, family-run ski resort in Boone. It has 11 runs, including a beginner hill and a pretty sweet railyard for snowboarders. There are two triple chair lifts and three surface lifts.

Our group consisted of three families with kids ages 10 and under. Most kids were complete beginners, and then there were adults like me who hadn’t skied in 20 years. I was definitely less confident in my skiing abilities than the kids. Who knew I was no longer as fearless as teenage Kim?!

Kim getting ready to ski at Seven Oaks Recreation in Boone, Iowa.

Fortunately, Seven Oaks offers complimentary beginner lessons as well as private lessons if you want more in-depth instructions. For the complimentary lesson, everyone learned the basics like stopping and the correct way to get up after you fall.

Then, the instructors took the time to help each beginner make their first run down the hill. I watched the instructors with my kiddos and they were so patient and kind. I was impressed that it was completely free.

Once we mastered the bunny slope, the kids were eager to try another easy, but longer slope so we went to Abby’s Alley. There were a lot of first aid skiers on the slopes, and patient lift operators, who were quick to help my newbie kids and offer quick instructions throughout the day.

Beginner ski slope at Seven Oaks Recreation.

Was it easy and without falls? Of course not.

But by the end of the day, the kids felt confident enough to try an intermediate slope. I wasn’t confident enough, but I crossed my fingers and followed after them. I made it down in one piece. Victory!

A day at Seven Oaks Recreation

We skied on a Sunday, so our day started a little later than, say, a Saturday start (11 a.m. vs. 10 a.m.) at Seven Oaks Recreation. We skied for a couple of hours and then enjoyed a picnic lunch outside. It was a “warm” 40 degrees.

Seven Oaks has an indoor seating area, too, and you can order food and drinks there.

We skied for a few more hours after lunch before the kids went tubing for an hour.

My friends who’d snow tubed in Colorado remarked that Seven Oaks had a much smoother operation than places like Keystone. Seven Oaks had a lift to get tubers up to the top of the hill and had sectioned-off slopes for tubers to safely make it down to the bottom. The kids loved it.

Snow tubing hill at Seven Oaks Recreation in Iowa

It’s not a huge ski resort, so it’s easy enough to include an hour of tubing into your day. It’s extremely popular, though, so know that they limit how many people can do it at a time.

Tip: We were able to tack the tubing on to the end of the day, but only after a bit of pleading (see, there were only spots for five people to tube that hour and we had six children). I heard that if you want to guarantee time on the tube run, you should plan on doing it first thing in the day.

We ended our day at Seven Oaks at about 4 p.m. The only way we could get the kids to leave was the promise of hot cocoa, cookies and/or other treats (don’t judge).

Where to stay for this Iowa ski weekend

While we could’ve found a hotel closer to the Seven Oaks Recreation (and I know we could’ve gotten a discount package combining the hotel and skiing), our group opted to stay at Hotel Pattee in Perry. It’s about 30 miles from Boone, but well worth the distance.

The gorgeous lobby of Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa

The gorgeous boutique hotel with a railroad motif throughout has 40 uniquely decorated rooms. The great thing for families is that they have suites with either bunk beds or trundle beds for kids.

Our room was the Travel Suite (perfect for me, right?), with details throughout from airplanes on the overhead light to maps on the wall and travel quotes on the furniture. Sliding doors can be closed to separate the kids’ area from the main part of the room. The bathroom was large with an oversized jacuzzi tub.

Related post: Want to pair a stay at the hotel and enjoy a train ride? Perry isn’t far from Boone, as I mentioned before, and it’s home to the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad.

The hotel has a restaurant and bar called Harvey’s. In the basement, you’ll find the Copper Door Spa, with separate spas for men and women consisting of a hot tub, sauna, and steam room.

The moms in my group took advantage of the spa and each booked one-hour massages. While one friend was getting a massage, the rest of us split our time hanging out in the quiet, comfy waiting room and spa area.

Bowling at Hotel Pattee in Central Iowa

Meanwhile, our husbands took all the kids to the hotel’s bowling alley. I think it was a great plan…for us moms.

By the way, this hotel does not have a pool. While this typically is a deal-breaker for my kids, they loved spending time with their friends and bowling magically made up for the lack of splash time.

And, I’d say the hotel had the perfect crowd pleaser to end each day: A tray of chocolate chip cookies placed on a table on each floor at the end of the day. My kids wanted to hoard the entire tray.

Sample itinerary for a ski weekend in Iowa

Our trip was three days and two nights, which meant we arrived in the afternoon of Day 1 and left the morning of Day 3. Feel free to customize the trip length to fit your schedule best.

Girls ready to take the ski lift at Seven Oaks Recreation

Day 1

Arrive in Perry and check in to Hotel Pattee. If you’re traveling with kids, be sure to request one of the themed family suites when making a reservation.

Have dinner at Casa de Oro, a Mexican restaurant within walking distance of the hotel. Don’t miss looking at some of the neat public art near the hotel, as well. The alley next to the Hotel Pattee was our favorite.

Day 2

Breakfast at Harvey’s, the restaurant inside Hotel Pattee. If you’re a large group, let the restaurant know ahead of time or you’ll find yourself waiting quite a while for the tables to be set up. Don’t be surprised if at least half your group orders the breakfast mac and cheese.

Arrive late morning to Boone, and ski and tube Seven Oaks Recreation. Have lunch at Seven Oaks. You can buy a warm lunch at Seven Oaks’ lunch counter or brown bag it.

Return to the hotel. The evening options for activities include bowling at the hotel, seeing a movie in Perry, or if you plan ahead, book a massage for yourself. 

The moms had dinner at Harvey’s in the hotel, while the dads and kids got takeout from Hy-Vee, a grocery store not too far from the hotel.

Day 3

Time to check out and head home. 

In just one weekend, my kids have decided that they love skiing. I foresee another ski trip in our near future!

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A fun winter vacation idea in the Midwest: A ski trip in Iowa! Here's a weekend itinerary pairing downhill skiing at Seven Oaks Recreation and overnight accommodations in family suites at the historic Hotel Pattee.

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