Guest blog - Local outdoor and running enthusiast, Emily Webb, shares her tips and the best spots to enjoy outdoor recreation in Greater Des Moines all winter long.
Just because it’s winter and the temperatures are dropping does not mean you have to sit indoors for the next three months. There are many activities around the metro to keep you busy, safe, and warm this season.
I get a lot of shocked messages, reactions, and questions when I post frosty photos after a long run in the cold weather. The first thing to know about running in the winter is that you do get warm quickly as long as you keep moving and you’re wearing the right clothes.
It’s the same with hiking or snowshoeing. The key is to dress in layers so that you can take pieces off if you start to get warm (and you will!). Start with more layers so that you can begin to gauge your level of comfort in different temperatures.
Here’s a list of necessities:
- Hat or headband (I prefer a headband but if it’s really cold, I put on both!)
- Mittens or gloves (you may need to double up on these depending on the temps)
- Nylon shell jacket
- Heavier weighted base layer shirt
- Lined workout pants or tights
- Warm socks (wool if you have them!)
When I’m getting ready for an outdoor winter run, I check the temps but I also make sure to check wind speeds - as wind makes a big difference! I also try to go after the sun starts to rise or before the sun sets. If you have to run earlier or later than that, you will need a headlamp or flashlight and I’d recommend wearing a light vest or reflective gear for safety. I prefer to run in the daylight during the winter so you can easily see random ice patches on the sidewalks or trails.
The City of Des Moines and West Des Moines do an excellent job of clearing trails of snow very quickly, so if you can get onto a trail, do that instead of the road – it’s so much safer. My favorite trail to run on starts at Ashworth Pool by the Art Center. You can park at the trail head and there are many directions you can go once you start. If the trails aren’t clear, try to get on a main road that isn’t as busy such as Polk or Kingman. Be sure to run against traffic whenever you are on a road – you can see the cars coming at you so you can move over accordingly.
Hiking and Snowshoeing
Follow the same rules as running except you will want to get off the paved trails and onto the dirt trails or snow! Browns Woods is our favorite place to hike and it provides great shelter from the wind. There is a 3.1 and 3.8-mile loop. If there is fresh snow, you can take your hiking shoes off and put your snowshoes on.
We rented our snowshoes from REI in West Des Moines. A one-day rental is $18-27 depending on if you are a member and it includes trekking poles. Another perk from REI is that the pickup day and drop-off day do not count as part of the one-day rental so it takes the pressure off to hurry up and get them back to the store. Call ahead to make a reservation, especially after a fresh snow. Active Endeavors in West Des Moines also provides snowshoe rentals.
Like running, you get very warm during snowshoeing once you start moving! It’s a great workout, but don’t expect it to be very fast. It is slower moving than hiking as you must lift your legs up higher with each step. We typically go for about 60-90 minutes and get in a few miles. Another place we enjoy is Waterworks Park – park at the wood bridge, cross the bridge and take an immediate left into the horse trails alongside the river. It’s a beautiful winter wonderland in the heart of Des Moines.
We have a ton of fun sledding at Capitol Hill located at 1111 E. Court Ave next to the Iowa Supreme Court building. I would suggest arriving early in the morning to avoid the crowds as it get fairly busy later in the day. Some less popular hills include Grandview Golf Course on 2401 E. 29th St., Greenwood Park at 4500 Grand Ave., and Blank Golf Course at 808 County Line Road.
Finding a sled this year proved to be a challenging task – many stores were all sold out! I suggest calling ahead to the store or checking the Target App on your phone or online. It will show how many sleds are left at that specific Target. If you know you want to go sledding the next time it snows, buy one now when sleds are not in high demand. Once it snows, that is when everyone flocks out to purchase one.
Cross Country Skiing and Ice Skating
Other winter activities include cross country skiing and ice skating. Jester Park Nature Center provides cross country ski rentals along with snowshoes and miles of trails. Find cross-country ski and snowshoe rentals and where to start your trek from Jester Park.
There are many options for ice skating in the metro as well. If you own your own skates, Racoon River Park has a small rink which is not as busy and you can skate surrounded by nature. Additionally, Metro Ice in Urbandale offers skate rentals and public skating times throughout the week.
No matter what activity you choose, remember to be safe, take COVID precautions, and have fun! The Greater Des Moines community is a wonderful place to enjoy the winter season.