Greater Des Moines Parks
Greater Des Moines knows how to play outdoors! One of the best ways we have found to experience the outdoors in Des Moines is to visit the metro’s many parks. Whether you’re at the tip of Ankeny to the depths of Indianola, Greater Des Moines is an outdoor destination with something for everyone. Need a few ideas to get you started?
- Birdland Park
- Gray's Lake Park
- Lake Ahquabi State Park
- Banner Lakes at Summerset State Park
If you’re staying close to the city, be sure to visit Birdland Park. This scenic spot is located on the city’s north side, right on the Des Moines River. There’s a marina and it’s only $40 for a weekend boat access pass. For hikers, bikers and wildlife watchers, Birdland Park is also the southern end point of the Neal Smith Trail, which follows the Des Moines River to Saylorville Lake and then on to Big Creek State Park. This trail not only offers views of the river and Saylorville, it’s also a nice representation of the rolling, tree-studded prairie that spreads out north of the city.
Gray’s Lake Park
With its many opportunities for walking, biking and water activities, Gray’s Lake Park is a great place to get out in the metro. Walk or ride along the 1.9-mile trail that encircles the lake. During the day, rent out or bring your own canoe or sailboat and drift around Gray’s Lake. Or, try out stand up paddle boarding! At night, head to the trail and take in the downtown Des Moines skyline and the bridge. The trail bridge is illuminated at night with eye catching complimentary colors.
Another hot spot for hiking and biking during your Greater Des Moines vacation is Lake Ahquabi State Park, 22 miles south of the city. The multi-use trails there are just right for a scenic ride or run. The lake’s bright blue waters also attract plenty of anglers who enjoy a ‘no-wake’ setting, with fishing jetties and a pier that can accommodate anglers with disabilities. Bluegill and channel catfish top the list for fish you can expect to find there. Lake Ahquabi also welcomes campers with electric and non-electric sites on the lakeshore. Another favorite activity at this Greater Des Moines state park is paddling; even if you come without your canoe or kayak, nearby summertime rentals make it easy and affordable to get out on the water. One more idea for enjoying your stay at Lake Ahquabi — take along a camera and photograph the state park’s vintage stone structures, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
If you’re into single-track, the trails at Banner Lakes at Summerset State Park are for you. Just south of Des Moines near Indianola, this former strip-mining site has given birth to plenty of mountain biking action. Known as some of the most challenging in the state, the narrow, wooded trails and technical areas at Banner Lakes deliver a big punch with intense climbs, sudden curves on old mine tailings and enough surprises to keep your adrenaline pumping. For cyclists who prefer a more sedate ride, there’s also a two-mile paved trail at the park that could be extended to a longer ride by linking to the 12-mile Summerset Bike Trail. The fishing at Banner Lakes is something you must try. This unique environment provides excellent fishing for redear sunfish, channel catfish and largemouth bass, among other species. The real treat, however, is trout fishing on the south lake from October to May, thanks to the urban lakes trout hatchery program developed by the state.
Ledges State Park
With their unique sandstone cliffs and dense woodlands, Ledges State Park makes for a must stop in Madrid. You can tackle Ledges by foot or by car with many areas for picnicking. Head on foot and take in the beauty as you navigate the well maintained but challenging paths. Check out the 1930s Civilian Conservations Corps projects as you travel through Ledges. While on foot make sure to walk through the creek crossings and follow the stream. Keep an eye out for minnows and frogs as you walk. Ledges also offers camping with 95 campsites; 40 with electrical hookups, 42 non-electric, one group site and 12 hike-in.