Iowa : Safety by City
- Arnolds Park
- Cedar Falls
- Cedar Rapids
- Clear Lake
- Council Bluffs
- Des Moines
- Fort Dodge
- Fort Madison
- Iowa City
- Mason City
- North Liberty
- Pleasant Hill
- Polk City
- Sioux City
- Spirit Lake
- Storm Lake
- The Amana Colonies
- West Des Moines
If you see a weather alert in Ames, Iowa, you had better make sure it’s not just a football introduction.
This college town is proud of the Iowa State University Cyclones.
Fun fact – Iowa State got the mascot of a cyclone because the same year the university was founded, the area had a large number of cyclones or tornadoes, as they are called in North America today.
Iowa State University takes up a sizable space in this college city, and the neighborhood just to the south is Campustown.
There are hotels near this area if you are here for a college event or visiting a relative there, but there are also plenty of hotels if you want to stay away from the college area.
As of mid-2022, Ames is healing after a church shooting that left two women dead and the shooter dead after taking his own life.
This wasn’t a random act of violence, but it shook the community to the core.
The city of 66,000 people sits less than an hour north of Des Moines and has grown 11% since 2010.
In 2021, Ames ranked as the 6th Best Place to Live in America in a Business Insider report.
It’s also listed as one of the best places to retire by MoneyRates.
If this is a good place to live, then visiting must be just as good.
Ames offers a little bit of everything – college sports, activities on the South Skunk River, and historical attractions galore.
Warnings & Dangers in Ames
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's low risk when visiting Ames, with a low crime rate. Only one crime category is higher than the national average. It's a simple town without much fanfare outside of game day, but it's an affordable place to visit without getting bored.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
CyRide is the public bus system in town and busses run seven days a week. You can easily get a taxi or rideshare in this college town. Having a car would be great because there are some pretty cool things to see just outside the city limits.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk here, but you should use extra caution if you're going to a crowded bar, tailgate party, or sporting event since you'll be in tight quarters with crowds of other people.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
When the college mascot is named after a natural disaster, we have to give it a medium risk. Ames can get severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail storms, flooding, snowstorms, and ice storms. Extreme temperatures are also possible.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
There's an odd trend in Iowa cities where the robbery rates can be unusually low. There were just eight reported robberies in 2021. That's a one in 8,303 risk, which means there's a low risk it will happen to you. Iowa seems to be a place where people would rather steal from you when you're not around, like breaking into a car than forcing you to hand over your wallet at gunpoint.
TERRORISM RISK : MEDIUM
The Ames Laboratory is here, which is a high-security level product of the U.S. Department of Energy. Some of our nation's top energy secrets are stored here. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is here with its National Animal Disease Center. (For what it's worth, the Ames Strain of Anthrax isn't really from Ames, but you'll have to Google to find out more because we gotta keep moving.) Because of all this government presence, there's a medium risk, terrorists might target Ames.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
The city of Ames police department has a scam form online if you are approached by a scam, but all their advice is just general reporting of common scams. You shouldn't have anything but a low risk here, but always keep your eyes peeled. Anything that involves wiring money or purchasing a gift card for a promise of greater fortune is definitely a scam.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : MEDIUM
This is the crime category that worries me. There were 58 sexual assaults of various kinds in 2021. That's a rate almost twice the national average. While it's a college town, and there could be alcohol or domestic situations that lead to a higher number, it's concerning enough for women travelers. Visit here with a medium risk, especially if you're drinking alcohol or partying late into the night.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
Ames' water supply has a low risk and meets or exceeds all requirements based on the 2022 Water Quality Report. On top of that, Ames is tackling the PFAS water issue. You can learn more about what that is if you don't already know on the Ames city website. The water utility is in full compliance with the EPA advisory on PFAS, but that's not enough for this strict utility company. They have closed-off wells that had any measurable PFAS levels in them, leaving only non-PFAS wells supplying water.
Safest Places to Visit in Ames
Downtown Ames is about two miles east of the university.
From May through October, a farmer’s market takes over downtown and you don’t want to miss the freshly harvested and locally made products available.
Downtown also has some great restaurants and boutiques to visit.
The Iowa Arboretum is a great place to enjoy the outdoors in a manicured environment.
There are trails through prairies and woods, and beautiful flowers at every turn.
There are summer concerts here and even some winter events like a trivia night.
The Ames History Museum has exhibits inside and walking tour maps for you to explore at your leisure.
There’s also a George Washington Carver driving tour.
Carver was an agricultural scientist here, noted for his soil preservation techniques and many varieties of how to add peanuts to food recipes.
If you need to shop at a traditional mall while you’re in Ames, North Grand Mall is the spot to see.
There is also a movie theater here with $5 flicks on Tuesday nights.
On Saturday mornings they have a farmer’s market on this side of town as well.
Nearby Boone, Iowa, had an important part in the railway system of the United States.
That’s all I’m going to say about it because you’ll learn all the details at the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad & James H. Andrew Railroad Museum.
(Yes, that’s all one name.)
Just south of Ames is the High Trestle Trail.
This pedestrian, equestrian, and bicycle bridge stands almost 13 stories above the Des Moines River.
The unique design lights up at night, making for a unique experience.
Fair warning, this trail is 25 miles long and kinda in the middle of nowhere.
Ledges State Park is less than 30 minutes west and worth the drive.
This is a park filled with natural sandstone formations with hikes and climbs that almost make you forget you’re in relatively flat Iowa.
There is an easier-to-walk interpretive trail that takes you to Lost Lake as well.
Be sure to bring the camera for this, and if you are visiting in fall, this is a must-see with the leaves changing colors.
Places to Avoid in Ames
If you split the community in half, using Grand Avenue as the center point, the entire area east of there has higher crime rates than the western side.
That doesn’t include the university area, so you shouldn’t worry about campus visits too much.
Iowa State University also has its police department.
With crime rates being so low here, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to visit the east side of town at all.
It’s just worth noting the crime maps show a higher distribution of crimes in that area.
This is just a researcher’s note, not really something to avoid.
BUT – every single city I research has an Axe Throwing location with a unique name and some type of Escape Room business (or two).
These businesses show up so often that it’s clear these aren’t unique things to do anymore.
It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but don’t think “this is my only chance!” if you haven’t seen either of those businesses before.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Ames
- Download the Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa app to stay up-to-date on suspects on the run and other crime reports, plus you can make anonymous tips if you get information about a crime. If you don’t want another app on your phone, then you can also call (515)223-1400.
- Ames Police Department issues a monthly report card detailing calls for service, arrests, use of force, and community outreach events. This is a great way to see what crime trends are happening near your travel dates and to get familiar with the police department.
- Don’t call the police to ask about road conditions if you are visiting in the winter. The Iowa State Patrol will handle that for state roads and the city street crews will take care of the local roads. You can visit 511ia.org to learn all you want to know about the roadways, and it’s a great tool as well outside of winter to get construction updates.
- You can park on the street here overnight for two days. After 48 hours, a car might be ticketed or towed, but anytime in those first two days, you don’t need to move the car if you choose to walk or bicycle around.
- There isn’t a bicycle helmet law in Iowa, but it’s still the best safety practice for adults and children riding bicycles. This is a very bicycle-friendly state, and you’ll see other cyclists on the road. Drivers are more respectful about sharing the road with cyclists here too than in some other states.
- In the rare instance that you or one of your travel buddies gets arrested in Ames, the Story County Jail is about 13 miles east in Nevada, Iowa. You can call Ames police to get information about the arrest and how to bail someone out at (515)239-5133.
- We get it. Ames is a party town for college students to a certain extent. Even the police don’t want to stop you from having fun, but they do want you to follow the law. There’s a brochure in the FAQ section of the city’s website called “How to Party in Ames.” This covers everything from nuisance codes and noise ordinances, plus unique laws like you can’t be charged for a drink at a house party. (That’s called “Bootlegging” and it’s illegal.)
- Anglers are going to need a fishing license for any Iowa watering hole. An Iowa non-resident license is going to cover all lakes, streams, and rivers. For those who want to get a hunting license, there are some pretty strict requirements, so review the policy of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources well in advance of your visit.
- If you or someone in your group needs assistance with LGBTQ+ issues in Ames, reach out to the LGBTQ+ Police Liaison at the email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call (515)239-5133.
- Sign up for emergency weather alerts through Story County Iowa Alerts. It’s important to keep a close eye on the weather in Iowa as it can turn dangerous quickly. The Story County Iowa Alerts will let you know about approaching thunderstorms, tornadoes, snowstorms, or flooding.
So... How Safe Is Ames Really?
I’ve looked at a lot of Iowa crime data lately, and I gotta admit – Ames is one of the safer places I’ve researched.
I really don’t like that report of 58 sexual assaults, but there are some other communities where sexual assault is higher even though other crime areas are low.
The sexual assault rate was flat from 2020 to 2021.
Here’s how the risks break down in Ames:
- Violent Crime: 1 in 518 risk
- Rape/Sexual Assault: 1 in 1,145 risk
- Robbery: 1 in 8,303 risk
- Theft: 1 in 92 risk
The violent crime rate is lower than the national and state average.
The property crime rate is slightly higher than the state average.
Just about every single crime category was down from 2020, which is a big achievement.
If you aren’t visiting Ames for a university activity, you might want to spend some time in Des Moines to fill out the trip.
That’s also why I went into some of the more rural activities around here because really cool things are just a few miles away.
How Does Ames Compare?
- Visas - You'll need your visa when you go through Customs at the airport, but you can travel freely through cities without it. You will need your passport as a legal ID if you're coming from outside the U.S. The U.S. visa process can take up to four months, so plan ahead.
- Currency - The currency used here is the U.S. Dollar (USD). You don't really need to carry a lot of cash because most businesses take credit cards or mobile pay apps. If you have a smartwatch, you might be able to set up payment with a simple swipe of your hand, meaning you can leave the valuable credit cards at home.
- Weather - You should plan for some pretty cold winter weather with the possibility of snow. There isn't always snow on the ground in Iowa throughout the winter, but when it snows it can snow hard. Check the forecast when you're packing to see if you'll need snow boots. Summer is going to be hot and humid. Bring loose, light fabrics to wear, and stock up on the bug spray. Bring layers of clothing for spring and fall, as it can be cold in the morning or night, but mild during the day.
- Airports - The Des Moines airport is about an hour south. That's the closest and most convenient option. The local airport in Ames is only for general aviation.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance is always a great idea in Iowa, where the weather can change quickly. You also will be spending a lot of time on the road, so know what insurance is best suited for your road travel.
Ames Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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