Ames Iowa is located around 30 miles north of Des Moines. It is home to Iowa State University, one of the 3 universities that can be found in Iowa! It’s very much a ‘college town’ with a huge amount of pride and sense of community. Ames was recently named the best college town in America by 24/7 Wall St! Here is my guide on things to do in Ames Iowa.
Disclosure: AD | My trip was hosted by the Ames CVB who provided me with accommodation, attraction passes and food while in the area. As always opinions are 100% my own. This post may contain affiliate links. For more information visit the Privacy & Disclosure Policy here.
Updated: September 2021
Things To Do In Ames Iowa
ISU Cyclones Football
🗺Jack Trice Stadium, 1732 S 4th St, Ames, IA 50011, United States
Iowa doesn’t actually have an NFL (National Football League) team so college football receives a large amount of support. The Cyclones play at the Jack Trice Stadium, which has a 65,000 capacity. The stadium has a huge amount of parking, so on game days, tailgating is a big thing! (The Iowa Hawkeyes are another major college football team in Iowa).
The game I saw was actually my first experience of college football! As a Brit, the only tailgating I was familiar with is when a car is tailgating you by driving too close to your bumper! Tailgating is basically a bit of a party in the car park. It stems from pulling down the tailgate on a truck and just hanging out and having a bit of a chat before the game. It’s now grown into a tradition where people take along gazebos, grills, corn hole/bean bag games and will even ‘camp’ (RV) outside the night before the game.
The ISU marching band then starts at the Alumni Center. They play (march?) around the whole parking area, almost Pied Piper like, leading people to the stadium, as if to say ‘wrap up your tailgating, it’s time to begin’!
Reiman Gardens & The World’s Largest Gnome
🗺1407 University Blvd, Ames, IA 50011, United States
If you have a ticket to the football game, you actually receive free entry to the Reiman Gardens on game day. Otherwise entrance is $9 for an adult. The Reiman Gardens share a car park with the Jack Trice Stadium. On game days, if you DON’T have a football ticket, you are unable to park at the gardens.
My favourite part of the Reiman Gardens, is the indoor butterfly house. Great if you’re visiting during winter as the inside is heated to a tropical climate (which feels amazing!). I spent a while watching the butterflies, I found it very relaxing and quite therapeutic! There are several different species and a small water feature.
Opposite the Butterfly Wing entrance, there’s an incubator with all the different real life cocoons. Once hatched then get released into the Butterfly Wing. The building is even shaped like a butterfly!
The gardens are open year round but during the winter. Obviously outdoor plants would most likely die in the ridiculous midwest winter temperatures, so it’s not as colourful if visiting ‘out of season’. I did however like the covered bridge and I really liked seeing Elwood, the world’s largest (concrete) gnome! I also saw several rabbits hopping around and a big green frog (that I did nearly step on)!
ISU Sorority/Fraternity Greek Houses
🗺Greeley St, Ames, IA 50014, United States
Again, as a Brit in America, I get excited by things that I’ve only ever seen in the movies. One of those things (that can be found especially in a university town) is the sorority and fraternity ‘Greek’ houses! Sororities (female) and fraternities (male) are organisations that university students can join.
They are kinda like little communities that provide people with social and academic opportunities. In the movies they seem to have a reputation for ‘rushing’, ‘pledging’ and parties. But there’s a more serious side to them which is often left out in the movies!
They usually have names which are made up with letters from the Greek alphabet which are then displayed on the front of the houses. Members of the sororities and fraternities may live together in the house or go there for events and to socialise. The ‘Chapters’ are recognised all over the country. For example the sorority ‘Sigma Kappa’ was originally founded in 1921 in Maine and now has 110 ‘locations’ across 35 states, including the ISU Ames location.
There is a high concentration of these Greek houses, not far from the Jack Trice Stadium. I walked around the ones that can be found on Greeley St, Sunset Dr and Gray Ave. There’s a whole bunch more along Ash Ave too.
The Mucky Duck Pub
🗺3100 S Duff Ave, Ames, IA 50010, United States
My favourite place to eat in Ames is the Mucky Duck Pub! Why? Because it’s a British restaurant and as a Brit, I can 100% vouch that it is indeed authentically British! Marcus, the owner, originally came from the UK. (There’s nothing worse than going to a restaurant that claims to be a certain cuisine or culture and then the menu is completely Americanised without many authentic, traditional dishes).
On the menu you’ll find food items such as scotch eggs, scones (‘real’ scones) with Devonshire cream, sausage rolls, pasties, battered sausages (not corn dogs) and of course fish and chips. The fish and chips still don’t quite match up to British ‘chip shop’ fish and chips but it is very good!
They also sell imported British foods. You’ll find British chocolate and sweets, MARMITE (!), custard, jams, tea and other British drinks, such as Lilt (which I like to order, yes I’ve been twice now) and Irn Bru.
Ames Main St & Public Art
Leading on from the Mucky Duck Pub, Marcus has now opened an escape room on Main St in Ames called ‘No Escape Iowa’. I didn’t visit, they’re a bit hard to complete on your own, but I’m a massive fan of escape rooms and have visited several all around the world!
This area has various little independent stores (mostly shut on Sundays though), coffee shops and bars. I liked the Tom Evans Plaza that had sculptures of musical instruments which you could actually play! You’ll also find one of the statues of CY (the Cyclones mascot) here, there are 30 different statues of him spread out all over Ames (there’s another at the Reiman Gardens).
Ada Hayden Heritage Park
🗺5205 Grand Ave, Ames, IA 50010, United States
The Ada Hayden Heritage Park is a lake and recreational area in the north of the city. There are several different walking trails, grills, a boat ramp (boats with electric motors only) and fishing areas. Swimming isn’t allowed, but during the warmer month, people take kayaks and paddle boards out on the lake. There’s plenty of benches and toilet facilities located in the parking area.
Hotels in Ames | Where To Stay In Ames
🗺Quality Inns & Suites, 2601 E 13th St, Ames, IA 50010, United States
I stayed at the Quality Inn & Suites Starlite Village Conference Center just off the I-35. It’s on the outskirts of Ames, which is quieter than staying in the thick of things (especially on game days), but it does require a little bit of driving to get Downtown.
My room only had an internal window, rather than an external one. I’m still not too sure what I thought of it! The people watching side of me loved it because it looked over the indoor pool and the breakfast area, rather than the boring ole parking area, but I found it so strange not being able to see what the weather was doing!
As well as the indoor pool, there was a fitness room and breakfast is included in the room rate (waffles, biscuits and gravy, egg, sausage, bagels, danish pastries and breads, juice, tea and coffee etc).
Things To Do Near Ames
Around a 30 minute drive from Ames, you’ll find the Boone Scenic Valley Railway, which offers various scenic train rides mainly during the summer season, with special events at other times throughout the year (such as the Santa train).
Seven Oaks is an outdoor recreation area open year round. In the summer they have river tubing and kayak rentals and paintballing. During the winter they are one of Iowa’s ski resorts with skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing!