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Visiting the North Iowa Fair with Kids

I absolutely love county fairs, so when I found out I had a family event in Mason City the same weekend as the 2019 North Iowa Fair, I lept at the chance to come early and check out the fair while I was there!
I reached out Visit Mason City to plan my visit, and along with lots of great info, they were also kind enough to provide free meals for my family at the fair, so be sure to scroll down for pics of that deliciousness! So here's a quick look at our trip to the North Iowa Fair, followed by the full details on visiting the North Iowa Fair with kids:

What is the North Iowa Fair?

The North Iowa Fair is a county fair and hot air balloon rally in north central Iowa that features free parking, free admission, and free rides & inflatables!

a colorful ferris wheel spins at the North Iowa Fair in Mason City, IA
One of the many fun FREE rides at the North Iowa Fair!

Where is the North Iowa Fair?

The North Iowa Fair is held at the North Iowa Events Center at in Mason City, Iowa, about 3 hours from Sioux City. Most of the drive there is a pretty easy drive on Highway 20.

What is there for kids to do at the North Iowa Fair?

There's tons for kids to do at the North Iowa Fair. Specific attractions may vary by year, but in 2019 some of the great options included:

an airplane ride at the North Iowa Fair in Mason City
This was my older son's favorite ride (and it was FREE!)

  • Free inflatables including obstacle courses, bounce houses, and more!
  • Free rides including a potato sack swing, fun house, airplane ride, and some awesome spinning rides. There were also a few rides that had a cost to ride, including some fun mini paddle boats and a mini-train! My son was just barely below the line for the airplane ride and was so excited to get to ride it, as it reminded him of his favorite ride at Adventureland last summer (the Red Baron)!
A mini-train carnival ride at the North Iowa Fair in Mason City
Adorable mini-train!

  • Carnival games with lots of adorable stuffed animals as prizes. The carnival games weren't free, but the prices were not exorbitant either. I thought for a fair they were very reasonably priced.
  • Little Farmers kids zone for hands-on agricultural themed fun. Because of the dangerous temperatures when we went, we didn't play outside much, but we did see the Little Farmer's area and it was adorable and a lot bigger than I expected it to be! There was also a shady barn full of kids activities near the inflatables and the carnival that was completely full of kids the entire time we were at the fair!
  • Open class and 4H events you can compete in, or admire the entries others entered! We are saving our entries for the Woodbury County Fair, but we were so impressed with the 4H and open class exhibits. One of my favorites was a quilt with a purple coneflower pattern, and my 10 year old loved seeing the Lego building entries and voting on our favorite! As a bonus, other than the animals, both the 4H and open class events were housed in air-conditioned buildings, so even though we went when it was extremely hot out, we were comfortable as we walked around to see the great exhibits. There were also adorable animals there to compete, and those are always a hit with kids! 
a coneflower inspired quilt at the North Iowa Fair in Mason City
This quilt is so amazing!!
  • Hot air balloons to see and ride! Unfortunately when we went, the hot air balloons were delayed due to weather, so we didn't have a chance to see them up close or go on a tethered ride (tethered rides were $10 in 2019), but we did get to see them light up in a "glow show" later in the evening, and it was SO pretty! My 10 year old mentioned that it was the first time he had ever seen hot air balloons other than in a book, and he was really impressed. This year 16 hot air balloons were scheduled to attend, and at the North Iowa Fair, you can catch several balloon launches each day, and a glow show each night!
  • Watch some live entertainment, including many free performances from musicians and more! I was amazed that even the headliners were free at the North Iowa Fair, and we really enjoyed the dog show that was happening when we were there. There were so many cute puppies! We also caught a glimpse of Wildlife Wendy and her amazing parrot show, and the kids and parents alike were all captivated by the talented birds and by Wendy's calm expertise and cheerful humor. We didn't catch the Nerveless Nocks, but they are incredibly talented aerial stunt artists who were also appearing at the North Iowa Fair and I wish we had seen them!
an inflatable obstacle course at the North Iowa Fair in Mason City
A few of the many free inflatables at the North Iowa Fair

What can you eat at the North Iowa Fair?

a grilled cheese sandwich and BLT from the Lunch Wagon food truck from Waterloo, Iowa
Perfect sandwiches for my toddler and me!

The North Iowa Fair is small, but don't let that fool you--there's no shortage of delicious food! There is a building that is basically a 4H run restaurant where everything smells amazing, plus there were a variety of food trucks selling fair classics like funnel cake, mini donuts, and giant lemonades, and meals from many different types of cuisine including Greek, Mexican, BBQ, American, and more. 
We ended up eating pulled pork sandwiches and grilled hot dogs from Black Dog Barbecue from Mason City and grilled cheese sandwich and a cheesy BLT from the Lunch Wagon from Waterloo, and all of it was amazing.
cheese BLT from the Lunch Wagon food truck at the North Iowa Fair in Mason City
This cheesy BLT from the Lunch Wagon tasted even better than it looks!
Lunch Wagon Food Truck from Waterloo, Iowa at the North Iowa Fair in Mason City
The Lunch Wagon Food Truck served fresh food and plenty of Iowa Nice!

Black Dog BBQ from Mason City had such a cute red food truck!

I also couldn't believe how reasonable the prices are. As I mentioned, the meals were covered by Visit Mason City, but I looked at the prices and the more complicated entrees were about $6-8 and the simpler entrees were only $3-4, which is more like what you'd expect at a family-owned restaurant than at a fair. I really appreciated that they don't price gouge as much as a lot of fair vendors tend to, and if we are lucky enough to go back (and I hope we will be!), I will definitely plan on eating there, because I know I'll get great food for a great price!
This pulled pork sandwich from Black Dog BBQ made it clear why they win awards!
The delicious hot dogs from Black Dog BBQ was a favorite with my kids!

What should you bring with you to visit the North Iowa Fair with kids?

Zoltar fortune telling machine at the North Iowa Fair in Mason City
Zoltar predicts that you'll be happy you brought some change with you to the North Iowa Fair!

I would recommend bringing the same types of things you'd bring to any fair or outdoor festival:
  • Play clothes and sturdy shoes
  • Sunscreen and hats
  • Strollers or carriers for little ones who might tire out
  • Diaper changing supplies
  • Some cash for food and drinks
  • A bag or stroller basket with a little extra space to stash goodies from fair vendors or prizes from carnival games
  • Antibacterial wipes or hand sanitizer to clean hands before meals and after touching animals, even if you don't normally do that. There have been some issues at other fairs in other parts of the country of kids getting very sick and even dying after petting animals, and we don't want that to spread to Iowa! Let's keep our kids safe and healthy!
  • Camera or smartphone to capture some of the great memories you're making
a mother with dark hair and a boy with blonde hair smile for a selfie in front of the ferris wheel at the North Iowa Fair
We love Mother & Son selfies!

For more information

To find out more about the North Iowa Fair, you can visit the North Iowa Fair website, or connect with them on Facebook or Twitter.

Thank you to Visit Mason City and the North Iowa Fair for hosting my family!


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