116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Two years after it was canceled for the first time since World War II, the Iowa State Fair has fared well.
After hitting an attendance record of over 1.1 million people in 2019, last year’s attendance was down only 6 percent in a rebound from the pandemic cancellation. This year, organizers hope to see even more visitors.
“We are hoping for more than the 2021 attendance and always hope to break a record, but we have been over the million attendee mark since 2002, so we always shoot for more than a million visitors,” said Mindy Williamson, marketing director for the Iowa State Fair. “We rebounded relatively well in 2021, but we continue to work through the same economic challenges as general consumers for labor and materials.”
With over 200 food booths (including nearly 70 items on a stick), a star-studded entertainment lineup, dozens of new activities and even a new companion for the iconic butter cow, there’s plenty of reasons to return.
See the top things to do this year and find all the info you need for this year’s Iowa State Fair, which runs Aug. 11-21.
What’s new to do? Take five.
1. A cornhole tournament for the books
The game might not have a universal name, but it does have a world record. This year’s Iowa State Fair will attempt to score a Guinness World Record for the largest cornhole tournament.
If you want to help beat the bean bag game record, go to the Grand Concourse at 10 a.m. Aug. 20. Sign up through the Scoreholio app on iOS and Android smartphones and follow the link for registration.
Fair organizers will need to enlist 445 players to beat the world record, currently held by a tournament in San Diego.
2. Seventy-six trombones for the Butter Cow
This year’s traditional daunting dairy display will feature a new companion from “The Music Man,” a Broadway classic set in Iowa.
This year’s bovine beauty will be sharing the spotlight with a replica of at least one of the 76 trombones leading the big parade on Broadway this year, in the Tony-nominated revival of “The Music Man.” Penned by Mason City native Meredith Willson, the River City musical premiered in New York in 1957, and the current cast features Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in the leading roles, with West Des Moines native Drew Minard also in the cast.
Butter sculptor Sarah Pratt is creating the homage to “The Music Man,” as well as a relief celebrating the 100th anniversary of Ye Old Mill, the fair’s popular “tunnel of love” ride. It’s also the fair’s oldest permanent ride, located at the corner of the Grand Concourse and East 33rd Street, east of Thrill Ville.
3. What’s cooking?
The adage, “if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen,” may not apply to this new attraction on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
The renovated, state-of-the-art kitchen in Maytag Family Theaters will open in August for “teaching, learning and sharing.” Whether you’re new to cooking or guard your recipes with your life, stop by to learn something new from other Iowans.
With five sessions each day, gather new tips and tricks in mixology, charcuterie, macaroons, food styling and photography, honey, cupcake animals, meal planning, constructing a wedding cake and more.
An adult charcuterie workshop, and kids workshops for fruit salsa and cookie decorating, are available through preregistration online for $10 to $25. All other classes are free.
4. Fairgoers, start your engines
This year, Kruse Motorsports is introducing the first Iowa State Fair Short Course UTV and ATV Racing Cup.
Fairgoers of all ages can compete or watch competitive motor sport racing from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 13 at the Elwell Family Park. Admission starts at $10 for children under 12 and $15 for all others. Those hoping to participate for the cup are encouraged to register online.
This year’s competition shows off phase two of Elwell Family Park’s introduction, including bleachers and covered seating.
5. Inclusive fun with a sensory-friendly morning
With thousands of things to see, the lights and sounds of the Iowa State Fair aren’t ideal for everyone.
This year, following a trend set by other organizations around the state, the Iowa State Fair will offer a morning for those with sensory needs from 8 a.m. to noon Aug. 17.
Fairgoers with autism or sensory processing disorders can take advantage of a robust list of activities, exhibits and calming spaces with their families. A calming room also will be open to anyone that needs a little break from the action.
The morning event will mitigate sounds and motions with educational areas, directional signage and trained volunteers. To see the full itinerary of sensory-friendly events, visit iowastatefair.org/visit/sensory-friendly-morning.
Note that the truck and tractor pulls start at noon, and a few might line up during the morning.
The grandstand lineup is as eclectic as in the before times, offering something for nearly every contemporary musical taste.
Skillet will be cooking up Christian sounds with a hard-rock edge on opening night Aug. 11, followed by country duo Brooks & Dunn on Aug. 12; hip-hop R&B from Nelly on Aug. 13; pop star Demi Lovato on Aug. 14; alt-rock singer/songwriter Alanis Morissette on Aug. 15; Texas blues rocking ZZ Top on Aug. 16; comedian John Crist on Aug. 17; country singer Kane Brown on Aug. 18; Disturbed on Aug. 19; Urban on Aug. 20; ending with “American Idol” winner-turned-country-superstar Carrie Underwood on Aug. 21.
Tickets vary with each act, ranging from $30 to $100, plus fair admission.
There are 53 new foods at this year’s Iowa State Fair, where over 200 vendors will be present.
This year’s top three “best new foods” include the “OMG” Chicken Sandwich at Chicken City served on a glazed doughnut; the Pork Picnic in a Cup at the Iowa Pork Tent served with a bevy of barbecue favorites; and The Finisher at The Rib Shack — the most loaded baked potato around.
For a full list of new items, visit IowaStateFair.org.
Parking and transportation
Attendees can park in the fair’s lots for free and ride to the entrance using DART’s State Fair Park & Ride shuttle.
Round-trip fares, cash only, are $1 to $2. Advance ticket holders receive a 50 percent discount on the park & ride fare.
Park at one of the following locations:
- Center Street Park & Ride at Seventh and Center streets; enter on Seventh Street
- Southeast Polk High School at NE 80th Street and Highway 163
- Iowa State Capitol on East 12th Street, at the east side of the Capitol building near the State Capitol bell
General admission tickets for the Iowa State Fair are available at the gate or online with an advance discount.
Advance admission tickets are $9 for those over 12 and $5 for those under 11. At the gate, adult tickets are $14; $8 for kids.
Gazette reporter Diana Nollen contributed to this report.