The Quad Cities of Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, is a charming area about 2.5 hours west of Chicago. There, you can find plenty of fun things to do with kids during an affordable family vacation.

The John Deere Pavilions is just one of the free things to do with kids in the Quad Cities, Iowa and Illinois

The John Deere Pavilion displays some of the company’s newest equipment outdoors as well as indoors. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen.

The John Deere Pavilion

The John Deere pavilion in Moline, Illinois, is a popular attraction for families because of its interactive exhibits. There, children and parents can see, climb and pretend to drive some of John Deere’s newest machinery. Giant combines, tractors, and even the “lawn mower of the future” are on display.

There are also educational activities and exhibits, prototype machines, and vintage tractors for visitors to learn about the Quad Cities’ most famous manufacturer.

The pavilion also hosts free events throughout the year. It is open Mondays through Fridays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.


Rock Island Arsenal Museum

The Rock Island Arsenal Museum first opened to the public on July 4, 1905, making it the Army’s second oldest museum. According to the museum’s website, the Rock Island Arsenal Museum tells the story of the “people, processes, and products” involved in Arsenal Island’s history.

This museum is nationally recognized for its small arms collection. It house more than 1,200 U.S., foreign, civilian, and military small arms. This collection is on permanent display.

There also are many other exhibits that feature photos and artifacts that tell the story of the Rock Island Arsenal.

This museum is best for ages 8 and older. It is open Tuesdays through Fridays, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. For more information call (309) 782-5021.

Credit Island Park

At this historic island, turned playground and park, you can bike and hike on parts of the Great River Trail in both Illinois and Iowa.

You can also find one of the area’s most popular disc-golf courses on Credit Island. The course is built on what used to be a golf course and has 18 holes, with strategically situated trees and a pond on the backside for added challenges.

There you can also see a 3-D replica of Seurat’s famous painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” It make you feel as if you have stepped into the painting itself.

Playground facilities and picnic areas are available, and the park’s location makes it easy for you to sit and watch the traffic on the Mississippi River. During the spring, summer and early fall, kayak, bike and canoe rentals are available on the island.

The park is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day.

8 Free Things to Do in the Quad Cities, Iowa and Illinois

A recreation of “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat stands at Credit Island in Davenport. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen.

Mississippi River Visitor Center

Located on Rock Island Arsenal Island, the Mississippi River Visitors Center gives you the opportunity to watch barges move through the Lock & Dam system at Lock & Dam 15 as you learn about the Mississippi River.

You can also schedule a lock and dam tour during the summer. In the winter, there’s a bald eagle spotting tour, December through February. Educational programs about water safety, wildlife and preservation are offered throughout the year.

The visitor center welcomes more than 30,000 people annually and is handicap accessible. The exhibits at the visitor center are best for ages 6 and older. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Call (309) 794-5338 for more information on exhibits and events.

The Skybridge

A simple pleasure of the Quad-Cities since 2005, this glass bridge offers panoramic views of downtown Davenport and the Mississippi River.

The 575 feet long skybridge also serves as a safe walkway across busy River Drive and the railroad tracks, 50 feet above the moving vehicles.

The skybridge is open 24/7, 365 days per year.

8 Free Things to Do in the Quad Cities, Iowa and Illinois

The skybridge. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

Backwater Gamblers Water Ski Show

Each summer, the Mississippi River backwaters on the Rock River become a performance area for the Backwater Gamblers.

The Backwater Gamblers are a non-profit water ski show team that performs free water ski shows. The team is made up of around 150 members, ages 1 to 67. Skiers perform acts such as jumping, barefooting, pyramids, swivel, strap doubles, and others.

The Backwater Gamblers also offer water ski lessons, including a disabled water ski clinic.

The shows last about an hour with a 15-20 minute intermission. It’s free, but donations are accepted. You can catch a show at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, at 44th Street and Rock River, Rock Island. Call (309) 786-8987 for more information.

Nahant Marsh

Nahant Marsh in west Davenport, Iowa, gives you the chance to experience 513 acres of upper Mississippi wetlands and nearly 400 wildlife species.  

The location is a great example of the Midwest’s natural wetlands and plains. If you like nature hikes, you’ll find plenty at Nahant Marsh.

You can walk the trails yourself or take a guided tour to learn more about the natural  landscape and wildlife.

Tours are typically 60 to 90 minutes. They include a presentation on the history of Nahant Marsh, nature hike,  and a viewing of “Resurrecting the Wetlands: The Story of Nahant Marsh.”

Tours are conducted Mondays through Fridays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and Saturdays between 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

8 Free Things to Do in the Quad Cities, Iowa and Illinois

A view of the marsh over native prairie grass. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen.

Vander Veer Botanical Park

The 33-acre Vander Veer Botanical Park was established in 1885 and is home to an extensive collection of gardens and trees.

You can stroll down The Grand Allee, a tree-lined walkway that leads to the Stone Fountain when the weather is warm, or you can visit the conservatory and greenhouse throughout the year.

The conservatory and greenhouse at the park is famous for its 100-year tradition of providing gardens under glass. Rotating features on display annually in the Conservatory include Spring Azalea and flowering bulbs, Summer tropicals and foliage, Fall color includes the Chrysanthemum Festival and Winter features the Poinsettia Lights Display.
The park also features outdoor gardens like the Hosta Glade and Municipal Rose Garden and a children’s sculpture park and playground.
In addition, you can fish and feed the ducks at Vander Veer. The central lagoon is stocked for catch-and-release fishing, and vending machines provide corn for park visitors to feed the ducks.
The Conservatory, Park Store and greenhouses are open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the Conservatory is $1 for adults ages 16 and older, free for ages 15 and under. Admission is free on Tuesdays for the Conservatory, and free every day for the outdoor park. It is open daily from sunrise until one half-hour after sunset.

More Free Things to Do in Iowa and Illinois

While you’re in Iowa, check out these other free things to do in Iowa. If you prefer to stay on the East side of the Mississippi River, there are plenty of free things to do in Illinois as well.

8 Free Things to Do in the Quad Cities, Iowa and Illinois

This post was updated by Alexandra Olsen, a college student intern for Her love of travel began at a very young age–traveling with her family to little beach towns growing up in Brazil. Alexandra also has her own personal travel blog,Trail Mix, which she started while spending a summer studying abroad in Norway.