Iowa’s Hidden Gem: Hotel Pattee

Earlier this year, we had a weekend getaway in Iowa to ski and hang out with friends. Our destination: Perry and Boone, Iowa, too small towns with big personalities. Our home base was in Perry, where we stayed at the historic Hotel Pattee.

Inside the historic Hotel Pattee - This unique Iowa hotel in Perry, Iowa, has its own bowling alley, spa, and themed rooms to inspire families who stay there. #familytravel #thisisiowa #Iowahotel

Disclosure: My family’s stay was hosted by the Hotel Pattee, though our food, bowling, and spa experience was on our own dime. All thoughts, opinions, and typos are my own.

Hotel Pattee is temporarily closed due to the national pandemic. The hotel is closed until April 1, and will re-evaluate at that time when it is safe to reopen.

Where is Hotel Pattee?

Since 1913, Hotel Pattee has been a grand presence in the town of Perry, (about 130 miles from Omaha).

Exterior of Hotel Pattee in Perry Iowa

Perry is a town of about 7,700 people and is considered part of the Des Moines metro area. One thing to note is that the hotel is near quite a bit of interesting public art. I took a stroll with the kids (a brief one because it was, well, winter) and found some fascinating stuff.

Public sculpture alleyway in Perry, Iowa

Next to the hotel is an alleyway that you should just stroll through to see. There were some statues, tributes to local notable people, and large scale metal sculptures.

What are the rooms like in the Hotel Pattee?

The hotel has 40 individually-decorated and themed guest rooms, which definitely was a highlight for us. Our room was a junior suite with a travel theme (perfect, right?).

A junior suite is perfect for families. They include a king-size or queen-size bed and an adjoining room that either has a bed and trundle bed, or bunk beds.

The travel theme junior suite at Hotel Pattee had a separate space for kids that included a bed with a trundle bed beneath it.

The nice thing about the junior suites is that the adjoining room is separated by sliding doors. Both rooms have their own televisions.

Bed in the travel-themed junior suite at Hotel Pattee

Other options include a full suite, which includes a sitting room, premier rooms, and classic rooms.

The thing about these theme rooms is that if you have a specific one you want, you’ll need to call to book it. You can’t request specific rooms through online booking.

What are the hotel amenities?

Being a historic hotel, I wasn’t really going to expect a large pool or anything to entertain my kids. It’s usually a requirement for wherever we stay. However, Hotel Pattee has some unique offerings to make up for lack of splashing pool time.

Bowling alley at Hotel Pattee

First, the hotel has a small bowling center that’s pretty unique. There is an additional fee to bowl.

The hotel has a dining room and lounge, which sells some local beers for those who are interested.

Our large group had breakfast at Harvey’s inside the hotel one morning. It had a railroad theme, a nod to the town’s history. While the wait was a bit long when youngsters were involved, the food was delivered promptly and warm.

Dining room at Harvey's inside Hotel Pattee

Just a note: There is no kid’s menu, so our kids ordered off the regular menu and no child finished their meal. Think about splitting dishes.

The dads of the group spent one happy together at the lounge one evening, and the moms got the next night in the lounge for a late dinner.

Cheeseburger and fries

Sure, there were salad and healthy options in the lounge. I went with a massive cheeseburger instead. We also tried some unique appetizer, like buffalo cauliflower.

The highlight, for us moms anyway, was the full service spa in the basement of the hotel. Copper Door Spa offered massage, and while we waited for each mom to have her turn, we alternated between sitting in robes in the lounge and sitting in robes in the sauna. (We forgot swimsuits or we would’ve totally taken advantage of the hot tub near the spa)

Spa at Hotel Pattee

Is it kid-friendly?

Absolutely. But, not in the traditional sense, where my kids spent most of their time in a pool. There is no pool.

Evening cookies at Hotel Pattee

But when I asked them what they liked best about the hotel, here’s what they said:

  • – There’s a self-playing piano in the lobby that fascinated them.
  • – Each night, the staff puts a plate of warm cookies on a table on each floor. There may have been more than one cookie eaten by each kid.
  • (And each adult.)
  • – My kids noticed, and appreciated, how each room was uniquely decorated. Like I said before, our room had a travel theme. The other rooms in our party had rooms with a storybook theme and a Swedish theme.
Stairwell at Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa

What’s nearby?

We stayed at the hotel in February for a weekend ski trip. That’s right – a ski trip in Iowa. And you know what? It was awesome and we’ll probably be doing it with the same group of families next year, too.

Girls skiing at Seven Oaks Recreation in Boone, Iowa

Hotel Pattee is not located next to a mountain. It’s still Iowa. But, it is about a 30-mile drive to Boone, where you can find the rather hilly terrain of Seven Oaks Recreation. Seven Oaks also offers summer recreation, which I think we’ll try out later this year (river floats).

Now, Boone also happens to be home to another warm-weather activity a few of you might like: Train rides. The Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad departs from a small station in town. We went on a train ride with the kiddos a few years ago.

It is scenic, but it can be rather long for younger kids. Pack entertainment, just in case, or opt for one of the themed rides.

If you stay in Perry, you are also near one of my favorite Iowa State Parks: Ledges State Park. It’s about 30 miles from the hotel. I wrote about our quick visit there when we were taking our Great Iowa Road Trip.

Ledges State Park in Iowa
We looked for rocks in the shallow river that flowed through Ledges State Park.

If you want to stay at Hotel Pattee

Where: 1112 Willis Ave., Perry, Iowa

Reserve a room: If you want to reserve a specific themed room, call 515-465-3511. Otherwise, you can reserve a room online on at hotelpattee.com.

Looking for a unique place to stay in Iowa? Check out Hotel Pattee in Central Iowa. The hotel has 40 themed rooms, a small bowling alley, and plenty of local character. #familytravel #midwest #Iowa #IowaHotels

Virtual Nebraska: Experiencing The State While Staying Home

I miss a lot of my favorite places around my home state, and I imagine a lot of you do too. Since most places are closed, or it’s too hard to maintain social distancing if you do visit them. What’s a family to do? Virtual tours and virtual experiences. And maybe, if we’re lucky, live cams. Here’s my guide for some of Nebraska’s virtual experiences.

Virtual Omaha: Tours & Videos

My hometown, Omaha, is the city I know best. If you follow me on any social platform, you know I’m usually out exploring, so these days are tough for me. So, I started looking around to see where I can find virtual experiences of the city. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Virtual tours in Omaha

I’m not sure how frequent these will be, but Bemis Center For Contemporary Arts had a live virtual studio tour today on Facebook with one of their resident artists.

Omaha Children’s Museums’ “Diggin’ Dinos” special exhibit which is currently at the museum (which is closed through March 31). You can see some of the museum’s past exhibits’ virtual tours, too.

Joslyn Art Museum has a virtual tour of its temporary exhibit, “Fact and Fiction in Contemporary Photography.”

Ever wonder what “the vault” at The Durham Museum is like? There’s a virtual vault tour for that.

360-degree virtual tour of "Diggin' Dinos" at Omaha Children's Museum.

Daily videos and activities with Omaha institutions

Miss Omaha’s zoo? Yeah, me too. Each day at 2 p.m. CST you can visit the zoo’s Facebook page and watch a live, interactive video from inside the zoo.

Omaha Children’s Museum has daily programming geared for kids ages 8 and younger. Stay tuned for daily videos on the museum’s Facebook page. Recent ones have been a story time, game suggestion, and a tinker challenge.

Do you know of any Omaha businesses or museums doing virtual tours or interactive videos? Leave me a comment so I can add them to the post!

Virtual Nebraska road trip, anyone?

Outside of Omaha, you have other virtual options.

Iain Nicolson Audubon Center in Kearney, Neb., has a live crane cam, which is perfect timing to see the impressive sandhill crane migration.

Head to Lincoln, Neb. (virtually, that is) and take a virtual tour of the Capitol and Governor’s Residence. While you’re “in” Lincoln, you can also take a virtual tour of Lincoln Children’s Museum.

Lincoln Children’s Zoo has a fun program going on each day on Facebook. Each day at 3 p.m., the zoo shares a new Keeper Corner Facebook video and a fun activity to go with it. They even have an activity punchcard that you’ll be able to bring into the zoo someday and get a free ice cream cone.

Ever been to Red Cloud, Neb.? You can go there virtually and tour four of the town’s most important sites linked to Willa Cather.

Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer has been doing some live Facebook videos around their facilities.

Image to link to more Nebraska stories

More online entertainment and resources

If you’re looking more for activities and educational resources, I have a few posts to help:

Educational Resources For Nebraska Families – These are downloadable materials related to Nebraska history, Nebraska wildlife and nature, and other helpful links to museums and local teachers.

25+ Free Online Resources For Bored Kids – This post contains a ton of links to free sites, including celebrity storytimes, printable Madlibs, and children’s museums with DIY projects for kids.

Bored at home? Here's a running list of Nebraska live cameras, virtual tours and interactive videos from Nebraska museums and zoos.

Educational Resources For Nebraska Families

I always wondered what I’d do if I worked from home and homeschooled my kids. Now that school is canceled and my work is closed for two weeks, we’re going to see how it goes. I’m sure there will be a lot of video games, movies, in addition to some mandatory outdoor time, but I also like to think that maybe we’ll do something educational too.

If you have that lofty goal too, read on! I found stuff that’s specifically for us, Nebraska families. So read on to find resources geared toward Nebraska history and Nebraska wildlife. Plus, I added some virtual tours of other places around the world because if you can’t travel to them right now, why not just pretend you can?

Nebraska resources

You can find plenty of free resources online for general history and nature, but I love it when you can find specific information that relates to your home state. So for us, that’s Nebraska.

Fort Atkinson located in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska. History Nebraska has an educational printable about the fort's history.

History Nebraska

History Nebraska is a great online resource. I just came across Nebraska Trailblazer publications that are designed for fourth-grade classrooms, but you can just as easily print them (or read them off the computer screen), too. Topics include:

Native Americans

Explorers 

Oregon Trail 

Nebraska’s First Farmers 

Settlers’ Homes 

Nebraska Territory 

Early Settlers 

Ranching 

Fort Atkinson (Someday, you really ought to go check out the actual fort. It’s in Fort Calhoun. They weekends they have historical re-enactments are the best time to go.)

Railroads 

A Nebraska Childhood 

What’s for Lunch? Food Choices of the 1890s 

Banking in Nebraska 

The State Capitol 

Nebraska State Symbols 

Red Cloud and the Sioux Nation 

Notable Nebraskans 

Aviation in Nebraska 

Czechs in Nebraska 

Conservation and Preservation 

The Nebraska Commemorative Quarter 

History Nebraska has a YouTube channel featuring some interesting interviews and they even have their own version of an “unboxing” video.   

Nebraska Game and Parks

Nebraska Game and Parks is another great resource full of educational goodies. This page has lesson plans, videos, and maps all geared toward a better understanding of Nebraska wildlife and habits. There are even scavenger hunts.

The topics include: Birds and birding, Pollination and pollinators, Prairies, Animals and habitats (lower elementary), Water and wetlands, Life cycles, Soils and worms, Scavenger hunts, Threatened and Endangered Species.

The Durham Museum

The Durham Museum has started a great digital learning series geared toward kids in grades K-5. Each weekday morning at 10 a.m., they have a new session. Register for FREE at durammuseum.org. Subjects include pioneers, Native American life, and Lewis & Clark, for example.

Ashfall Fossil Beds

While nothing beats an actual visit to Ashfall Fossil Beds in northeastern Nebraska, there are a few online educational resources to learn bit more about this important site.

There are downloadable activity sheets including:

10 Important Things About Ashfall

Paleodetective Word Puzzle

Paleodetective Word Jumble

Paleodetective Elementary Crossword

Answer sheet for all activities

Teleoceras Coloring Sheet

Pliohippus Coloring Sheet

Crowned Crane Coloring Sheet

World Hindsight

A Bellevue high school teacher has a website with some resources geared toward older kids. World Hindsight has world history and American government, as well as links to other sites that have lesson plans.

Virtual tours and virtual museums

I couldn’t find many Nebraska ones (still looking!). Omaha Children’s Museums’ “Diggin’ Dinos” special exhibit which is currently at the museum (which is closed through March 31). You can see some of the museum’s past exhibits’ virtual tours, too.

360-degree virtual tour of "Diggin' Dinos" at Omaha Children's Museum.

You can also take a virtual tour of Lincoln Children’s Museum.

Once you’re done virtually touring local museums, here are a few other museums, parks, and historic sites you can “visit”:

Smithsonian Virtual Tour (National History)

Monticello Virtual Tour

Virtual Tour of Yellowstone National Park

Battlefields Virtual Tours

Corning Museum of Glass

Travel and Leisure has a list of 12 more gorgeous museums with virtual tours, too.

The best list I’ve found for virtual tours and 360-degree tours of monuments and historical sites can be found on this University of Nebraska at Omaha page.

I love museums, and many have online resources instead of virtual tours. I’ve written a post that includes a list of museums and educational websites with FREE, age-appropriate activities, games, coloring pages and scavenger hunts.

Link to more Nebraska stories

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Beginner’s Guide To Sandhill Cranes In Nebraska (2020)

One of Nebraska’s most epic experiences is getting the chance to observe the sandhill crane migration in Central Nebraska. Bird-watchers from around the world flock to the state each spring to witness the marvel. But what about the rest of us? If you’re not a well-versed birder, here’s how to get the most out of seeing the sandhill crane migration.

Updated: This post contains information about closures as a precaution to health concerns surrounding COVID-19. It’s wise to call ahead before your travels.

Everything you need to know about the Sandhill Crane migration in Nebraska for 2020 (especially for beginners!) | Where to view the Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska | What events are planned for the Sandhill Crane migration | Best viewing opportunities and tours for bird-watching. #Nebraska #birdwatching #birding #Midwest

What’s so special about sandhill cranes?

Everyone says you’ve got to see the sandhill crane migration at least once. Why?

I think I read the best explanation in Smithsonian.com“Every year 400,000 to 600,000 sandhill cranes — 80 percent of all the cranes on the planet — congregate along an 80-mile stretch of the central Platte River in Nebraska, to fatten up on waste grain in the empty cornfields in preparation for the journey to their Arctic and subarctic nesting grounds. This staging is one of the world’s great wildlife spectacles, on a par with the epic migrations of the wildebeest and the caribou.”

Why is Nebraska so important to sandhill cranes?

There’s a stretch of the Platte River in Nebraska that serves as a rest stop for hundreds of thousands of migrating cranes twice a year.

And just a heads up so you look like you know what you’re doing, there are more than just sandhill cranes to view while you’re there. There have been at least 257 species of birds observed in the Rainwater Basin including 27 species of waterfowl, 27 species of shorebirds, and five threatened and endangered species (whooping cranes, bald eagles, least terns, piping plovers, and peregrine falcons).

Where are the best places in Nebraska to see the sandhill cranes?

There are several communities in central Nebraska that are prime starting points for sandhill crane viewing. Kearney, Neb., is known as the Sandhill Crane Capital of the World…for good reason. By all accounts, the most cranes seem to arrive in that area (like 400,000 to 600,000).

Of course, places like Grand Island or North Platte are not to be overlooked. You’ll still see hundreds of thousands of cranes there in March, too.

Related post: Headed for Kearney, Nebraska? You’re going to need some restaurant suggestions! Start with these seven must-try places to eat in Kearney.

When is the sandhill cranes’ migration in Nebraska in 2020?

The cranes usually start arriving in mid-February continue in waves until in mid-April. The peak is typically the last week of March.

Audubon Nebraska’s 50th Crane Festival commemorating the migration is March 20 and 21, 2020 in Kearney. This would be a great festival to not only to view the cranes, but to learn everything from the basics about the cranes to in-depth presentations on habitats and conservation. Registration is open and includes Saturday meals and a T-shirt: $160, adult; $70, student (high school and above); and $30, child.

Are there sandhill crane viewing tours?

Of course, there are bird-watching tours! There are some that you’ll have to get up at the crack of dawn to take advantage of (as well as overnight options). And then there are the options for a guided experience for the average person who isn’t a major birder.

Sandhill cranes at the Crane Trust in Wood River, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism Commission

For the serious birder

It’s recommended that you reserve a blind if you want to get up close to the migrating cranes. In Kearney, Neb., your best bet is Rowe Sanctuary. You’ll spend between $20-$40 to rent one for a few hours.

Serious bird photographers are going to want to consider guided tours that include photography blinds ($100) and overnight blinds ($250).

For the casual birder

Don’t want to early morning? If you’re in the North Platte area, you can do a tour with Dusty Trails LLC, which starts its tour at 2:15 p.m. (and ends at about 5 p.m.). In 2020, the tours will be held on Saturdays and Sundays, March 14 and 15, and then daily from March 20 through April 8.

Dusty Trails’ Tours are $35 for adults, $17/50 for children ages 5-10, and FREE for children ages 4 and younger.

The Iain Nicolson Audubon Visitor Center at the Rowe Sanctuary in Kearney, Nebraska offers kid-friendly sandhill crane viewing opportunities.
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism Commission

What if I told you that you could go bird-watching without going outside? (I’ve done this in eastern Nebraska, actually). Iain Nicolson Audubon Visitor Center at the Rowe Sanctuary has that option every Wednesday evening starting at 6 p.m. during the migration season. This is a great option for families since they have kid’s activities while you waited for the birds to arrive.

The cost for evening at the Audubon Visitor Center is $10 per person and kids 4 and younger are admitted for FREE. The 2020 dates are: March 11, 18, 25, and April 1 and 8. The Rowe Sanctuary is located about 20 miles from Kearney at 44450 Elm Island Road in Gibbon.

Where are crane viewing sites?

I remember my parents taking us kids on a wild ride one year, trying to find the birds and it was just the most unimpressive experience. I remember standing in a field, shivering, just to see about a dozen birds and wondering what the big deal was. Clearly, my parents hadn’t researched where we needed to go…or we were lost and not at a legit viewing site.

Crane watching on the hike bike bridge at Fort Kearny State Park in Kearney, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism Commission

Save yourself the bad memories and go to one of these sites instead:

UPDATE: Crane Trust is closed to guests and volunteers through April 5, 2020. One of your best bets to not only learn about cranes, but see them, is to head to the Crane Trust Nature & Visitors Center (located at 9325 S. Alda Road in Wood River, Neb.). Here, you can see the displays and then head outdoors to the 35-foot observation tower and the 10 miles of nature trails along the Platte River. Some trails may be closed to protect cranes that are roosting or loafing.

– For sunrise and sunset viewing near Kearney, go to Fort Kearny Bridge spanning the Platte River. You’ll need a state park permit to get into the Fort Kearny State Recreation Area. The address is 1020 V Road, Kearney, Neb.

– A free option is located just off the Interstate 80 exit to Gibbon. To get to the Plautz Viewing Platform, take Exit 285 and drive 1 ½ miles south. The Central Platte Natural Resource Department has view decks set up for a good view of the sandhill cranes, as well as herons, egrets, and pelicans. Parking is free.

– CPNRD also has a view site set up near Alda, Neb. Take the Interstate 80 Exit 305 to Alda and drive 2 miles south. Find three roadside turnouts south and east of the Alda interchange on Platte River Drive, and west of Rowe Sanctuary on Elm Island Road.

Is there bird watching etiquette?

Good question. Since we’re all non-birders here, I’m guessing this is on everyone’s mind. Of course there’s etiquette.

Close-up photo of a sandhill crane in Nebraska
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism Commission

I had to research it, though, since I’m a novice. Luckily, there are sites like Nebraska Flyaway and visitors bureaus to explain it to us. 

Here’s what not to do:

– DON’T stop on roadways, driveways or gated entry.

– DON’T stop abruptly in the road, either. The person behind you may not be as eager as you to see the cranes.

– DON’T attempt to approach the birds in the field. “One alarm call from a bird can send the entire flock into a panicked flight using up precious energy reserves.”

–  DON’T harass the cranes by honking your horn, flashing your lights, or yelling. It’s illegal, plus it annoys everyone else.

– DON’T use flash photography.

Sandhill cranes resting in Nebraska during their annual migration
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism Commission

Here’s what to do:

– Always obtain permission before entering land – most land in the Platte River Valley is private property. It’s trespassing if you don’t have permission.

– Respect the rights of people who live and work in the area.

– Silence your phone.

– Stay in your car or right next to it. Migratory waterfowl are used to being hunted by humans, so your car acts as a blind.

– Plan for the weather. It can get cold in Nebraska and the weather changes quickly in the late winter and early spring. 

What should I bring for sandhill crane viewing in Nebraska?

I mentioned earlier that Nebraska weather can be fairly unpredictable, but a safe bet is to assume it will be cold and windy. Wear warm, seasonally appropriate clothing. Hats, gloves, thermal underwear, heavy coats and outerwear and sturdy boots are recommended.

Some tours will have a few binoculars available to share with others, but if you have your own binoculars, bring them.

If you book any overnight experience, like the overnight photography tour, it’s recommended that you bring two sleeping bags per person, foam or insulated pads, extra clothing, and warm drinks and food.

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A helpful guide for first-timers wanting to see the sandhill crane migration in Nebraska 2020. Find central Nebraska viewing locations, tour options, as well as details on the Audubon Nebraska's Crane Festival. #Nebraska #birds #

Winter Fun At Seven Oaks In Iowa

I wanted a winter ski trip but I didn’t have time to go too far away from Omaha. Plus, my kids were absolute beginners and I didn’t want to spend too much money at some mountain resort where they may not leave the bunny hill. Our best option ended up being in Iowa: Seven Oaks Recreation in Boone. Read on to see what our weekend was like!

Disclosure: We were hosted by Seven Oaks Recreation. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Iowa winter vacation idea: Skiing at Seven Oaks Recreation in Central Iowa (northwest of Des Moines). This is a great beginner skier destination in the Midwest. #Iowa #ThisIsIowa #wintervacation

What to expect at Seven Oaks Recreation

Seven Oaks Recreation is a few miles outside of Boone, a small town in Central Iowa. It’s right off U.S. Highway 30, so it’s pretty easy to find.

The funny thing about Seven Oaks is that for most of your drive, you are wondering to yourself “How on earth can there be skiing in the middle of these fields?” And then, out of seemingly nowhere, you see the slopes rising.

Ski Iowa - Seven Oaks Recreation in Boone Iowa has 11 trails

It’s not a mountain range by any stretch of the imagination (it is Iowa, after all). But the terrain is hilly enough for 11 ski and snowboard trails.

The trails are short runs, but for the beginners in our group, they were the right length. There are two ski lifts that seat three people, as well as two surface lifts.

The trails are well marked, and like I said, short, so it was difficult to take a wrong turn and end up on a difficult course. I also felt comfortable enough to let the kids ski ahead while I stayed back to help whoever fell the most recently.

One thing I want to point out was that the staff at Seven Oaks Recreation was extremely helpful, for the most part. The kind people running the free beginner ski lessons were patient and alert. And from the first aid skiers on the slopes to the chairlift operators, we encountered the Midwestern attitude of friendliness.

Kim conquering the beginner slope at Seven Oaks Recreation in Iowa

Tip: Seven Oaks offers free beginner ski and snowboard lessons!

Our only hangup was near the end of our day, when we tried to buy tubing passes for the six kids in our group. Snow tubing is very popular at Seven Oaks and they have to regulate how many people are on the tube slope at at time. Unfortunately, that meant they were only going to let five more people on the slope at that time.

After a few minutes of pleading and bargaining, the moms in our group managed to talk the lady into allowing three kids to go for a half-hour and then the other three to go for the second half-hour. So, it all worked out in the end.

When is the ski season at Seven Oaks?

The Seven Oaks Recreation skiing and snowboarding season runs from December to mid-March. Because Midwest weather can be fairly unpredictable, Seven Oaks has snow-making machines to ensure snow is always on the slopes.

How much does it cost

The price is the great thing about Seven Oaks. If you’ve ever skied, you know how things can add up. You need a ski lift ticket, you may need to rent skis and boots, you may need to buy food.

The Seven Oaks room to rent gear like skies and boots has benches and storage lockers.

At Seven Oaks, the price for a kid’s ski lift plus rental gear (skis, poles, boots) was $50. Add a helmet rental for $8 and an hour of tubing for another $5… and the total cost was $63. It’s a bit more for adults, but not too much more.

As with a lot of seasonal attractions, prices can change depending on when you go, and there is a lower rate if you plan on skiing in the evening.

There are small lockers to store personal belongings. Bring quarters for one.

Are there ski lessons?

Yes! Seven Oaks Recreation has free beginner snowboard and ski lessons. They last about 30 minutes or however long it takes for you to feel comfortable on the slope without an instructor in front of you.

Beginner lesson at Seven Oaks Recreation in Boone, Iowa

We took advantage of this and my kiddos learned how to fall and get back up, and how to slow themselves down on the slopes. While they didn’t learn all that they should know before flying down a mountain, they were prepared enough to survive.

I liked how the instructors took the time to help each individual, sometimes skiing backward in front of the beginner to guide them.

There is also the option to purchase private lessons.

What else can you do at Seven Oaks in the winter?

I never mentioned that there is snowboarding at Seven Oaks, but I think that kinda goes without saying, right? I’m not a snowboarder so it’s not even on my radar. But there were a few slick courses just for snowboarders.

I never mentioned that there is snowboarding at Seven Oaks, but I think that kinda goes without saying, right? I’m not a snowboarder so it’s not even on my radar. But there were a few slick courses just for snowboarders.

The snow tubing hill at Boone, Iowa ski resort Seven Oaks Recreation

The other draw to Seven Oaks is the tubing park. It was certainly a big hit with our kids. You pay by the hour and the nice thing about Seven Oaks is that there is a surface lift to drag you and your tube up to the top of the hill.

Tip: Avoid a long wait for the tubes and/or not even getting a chance to tube by opting to snow tube first thing when you arrive to Seven Oaks Recreation.

Is there a restaurant at Seven Oaks?

Inside the lodge, you can find Snow Joe’s, a fast food counter to buy food like  sandwiches, fries, pizza, and cookies, as well as soft drinks and hot chocolate.

Snow Joe's food counter at Seven Oaks lodge

There’s also Coal Creek Lounge, where you can purchase domestic, imported and locally-brewed beers and mixed drinks.

Patrons are allowed to bring in picnic-type food as long as you’re not bringing in crockpots or food from a competing restaurant. We opted to bring our lunch and a cooler of drinks and dined outdoors because it was a wonderfully warm winter day when we were there.

Interior of the lodge at Seven Oaks Recreation in Iowa

At the end of the day, we bought snacks for the kids and hot cocoa at Snow Joe’s.

Off-season at Seven Oaks

There really isn’t an off-season, as there are activities in the summer and fall, as well. I’m looking forward to returning someday (some warm, summer day) and doing one of the river floats on the Des Moines River. From May through October, Seven Oaks offers full-service canoeing, kayaking and river tubing.

There’s also paintball, if that’s your thing.

Where to stay near Boone, Iowa

There are a few lodging options in Boone, including a couple that have partnered with Seven Oaks Recreation for a ski and stay package.

We were traveling with a group and one family had stayed at Hotel Pattee in the past and highly recommended we all stay there for the ski trip. It was a great choice! Hotel Pattee is located in Perry, about a 30-minute drive from Seven Oaks Recreation.

If you go to Boone later in the year, when the weather’s warmer, look into a steam train ride on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad.

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Winter fun at Seven Oaks Recreation in Iowa | Ski, snowboard and snow tube at this Central Iowa destination near Boone, Iowa | Here's what you can expect if you plan a family trip in the winter to Seven Oaks. #Iowa #familytravel #skiing #beginnerskiing #Midwest

10 Must-Try Restaurants in Des Moines

Tucked between the rolling cornfields in the center of the state, Des Moines is a fantastic place for a Midwest getaway. There are many reasons to visit Des Moines, from arts and cultural attractions to its unique ways to experience the outdoors. But to top it all off, Iowa’s capital city is home to some truly incredible locally-owned restaurants. 

From steakhouses and traditional American eats to cuisine from across the globe, Des Moines has it all. Whether you’re searching for breakfast, lunch or dinner, you won’t want to miss these 10 must-try restaurants in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Looking for the best restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa for breakfast, lunch or  dinner? Here's a list of 10 must-try Des Moines restaurants! These are a local's recommendations. #DesMoines #Iowa #Midwest #foodie #goodeats

The Cheese Bar

What could be better than a shop dedicated to delicious cheese? The Cheese Bar, an entire restaurant devoted to dairy delicacies. When the Cheese Shop expanded to add a larger restaurant location along Ingersoll Avenue, it brought even more cheesy goodness to the city.

A must-try restaurant in Des Moines, The Cheese Bar
Photo courtesy Megan Bannister

Not only can you build your own cast iron mac and cheese but the restaurant also offers a wide variety of inventive grilled cheese sandwiches in addition to tabletop fondue and truly impressive charcuterie boards. 

Eatery A

Eatery A’s cozy, dimly lit interior and Mediterranean-inspired cuisine makes for incredible brunch or dinner, no matter the occasion. The restaurant’s creative pizzas and savory entrees shine alongside delectable salads and tempting appetizers.

Interior of Eatery A
Photo courtesy Catch Des Moines

Eatery A is also home to one of the best happy hours in Des Moines, which includes half off all pizzas, beer, and wine every day from 3–6 pm. If you’ve saved room for dessert, you can’t go wrong with the Salted Caramel Budino.

Fong’s Pizza

Located in a former Chinese restaurant Fong’s Pizza is a Des Moines staple. With tiki-inspired drinks and specialties like the popular Crab Rangoon Pizza, this fusion restaurant is a must for any lover of unique cuisine.

Slice of crab rangoon pizza and a tiki drink at Fong's Pizza in Des Moines

Plus, their late-night slices are especially popular with the bar crowd along Court Avenue. 

Related post: Fong’s Pizza also made it onto the list of 10+ Best Restaurants in Iowa!

Hagar’s Manhattan Deli 

Every city needs a good classic deli and in Des Moines, that’s Hagar’s Manhattan Deli. This popular lunch spot serves up hearty hoagies alongside an impressive array of pasta salads and homemade desserts.

If you’re lucky enough to visit on a Thursday, you have to order the daily special—the ultimate Italian grinder. 

Jesse’s Embers

Old-school steakhouses are a Des Moines staple, and Jesse’s Embers is a long-standing favorite.

Steak at Jesse's Embers, a steakhouse staple in Des Moines, Iowa
Photo courtesy Megan Bannister

With perfectly grilled steaks, burgers dripping with cheese and onion rings worth filling up on, Jesse’s menu is the definition of Midwest comfort food. 

Kathmandu Restaurant

Des Moines may be in the center of the heartland, but Iowa’s capital city has some truly delicious international food. With strong flavors and an expansive menu, it’s no surprise that the Nepalese Kathmandu Restaurant is a citywide favorite.

Stop in for an impressive lunch buffet or order off-menu for dinner to enjoy the restaurant’s wide variety of specialities including momo, biryani, tandor dishes, and more. 

Lucky Lotus

If you’re looking for southeast Asian cuisine in Des Moines, there’s no better place than Lucky Lotus. Located along Ingersoll Avenue, Lucky Lotus serves a delectable menu of shareable snacks, noodles, curries, and more.

Lucky Lotus  serves southeast Asian cuisine in Des Moines
Photo courtesy Megan Bannister

With pastel interiors and floral paper umbrellas hanging from the ceiling, the atmosphere at Lucky Lotus is just as beautiful as the food being served. 

Proof

Often rated as one of the best fine dining establishments in the city, Proof is known for its inventive cuisine. With a mixture of both small and large plates and an ever-changing menu, diners can expect a meal the kitchen has put thought and talent into.

Interior of Proof, a fine dining restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa
Photo courtesy Catch Des Moines

If you’re dining on an extra special occasion, consider making a reservation for Proof’s Second Saturday 10-course blind tasting menu. 

St. Kilda Cafe & Bakery

Home of the city’s most iconic avocado toast, St. Kilda Cafe & Bakery is the perfect place for brunch. Strong coffee, fresh ingredients and seasonal specials make every meal at St. Kilda special.

Brunch at St. Kilda Cafe & Bakery in Des Moines
Photo courtesy Megan Bannister

Last year the owners of St. Kilda opened a new restaurant, St. Kilda Surf + Turf, which expands on diner’s favorite items to offer a wider variety of meat and fish-based entrees. 

Zombie Burger + Shake Lab

Located in Des Moines’ East Village, Zombie Burger + Shake Lab is quite possibly one of the city’s most unique eateries. Set in a horror movie-inspired dining room that the restaurant’s owners call “post-apocalyptic chic,” this is not your typical burger joint.

Cheeseburger and fries at the popular Des Moines eatery, Zombie Burger + Shake Lab

Unique menu items like the Walking Ched (made with fried mac and cheese patties as buns) and the Undead Elvis (a burger topped with peanut butter, fried bananas and bacon) are fan favorites.

And if you have a sweet tooth, you won’t want to miss this restaurant’s boozy milkshakes. 

Kim’s tip: There are several locations of Zombie Burger in the Des Moines area. East Village is the place with the most ambiance, though the photo used in this post if from the Ankeny location.

About the guest blogger

Megan Bannister is a freelance writer and blogger at Olio in Iowa based in Des Moines, Iowa. When she’s not sampling and writing about food, Megan enjoys visiting unique destinations, roadside attractions, and “world’s largest” things across the Midwest and beyond. 

Planning a trip to Des Moines? I asked a local where's the best place to go for breakfast, lunch & dinner and she shared her favorite locally-owned Des Moines restaurants. Here's her list of the best restaurants in Des Moines, Iowa. #DesMoines #DSM #Iowa #localguide #eatlocal