Big Creek State Park is a 3550-acre park with an 866-acre lake just north of Des Moines. It’s known for its swimming beach, boat rentals, excellent fishing, and more! The park is in Polk City, northeast of Saylorville Lake.
A Brief History of Big Creek State Park
Big Creek State Park is an extension of the Saylorville Lake Reservoir flood control project. In the 1970s, a diversion dam was constructed to protect the nearby town of Polk City from flooding. The dam formed Big Creek Lake, which has become a hot spot for outdoor recreation.
Things to Do at Big Creek State Park
Spend the Day at Big Creek Marina
The Big Creek Marina is a hub of lake activities! With so much to do there, you can spend the entire day. So, pack your lunch, and get ready to hit the beach. While you’re there, stop in at the concessions building to rent a boat or buy a snack.
The marina area is a popular spot during the summer and can get pretty busy. If you’re planning to rent a boat or shelter during the summer, call ahead and make reservations. A large parking lot accommodates plenty of visitors.
The 1300 foot long beach on Big Creek Lake is the largest of the Iowa state park beaches! And it draws a crowd on hot summer days!
You can rent a private beach cabana or a large picnic shelter. But there’s more than the beach to enjoy. A giant wooden playground, volleyball court, and boat rentals are within walking distance.
The lake water gets monitored for the safety of swimmers. To check the water quality, you can go here. If E-coli levels are unsafe, signs get posted.
Big Creek Boat Rentals
The Big Creek Marina rents watercraft, including stand-up paddleboards, sailboats, and pontoon boats (and much more!). For more information and pricing, visit their website—call 515-984-6083 for reservations.
*An 88-berth dry dock storage area is available near the marina for those wanting to store a boat at the lake. Call the park office for more information.
The massive, one-of-a-kind wooden playground is a favorite for all ages! The playground structures have places for the kiddos to climb, balance, and swing. With its large size and lots of small hidden areas, parents will want to keep a close eye on the little ones. This playground is considered ADA Accessible.
Explore Big Creek Lake by boat
Get out on the water to go fishing or just enjoy the peaceful surroundings of this beautiful lake. There are five boat ramps with parking throughout the park for easy lake access. If you have a motorboat, it’s essential to know that Big Creek Lake is a “no wake” lake (5 mph).
Big Creek Lake offers excellent year-round fishing by boat or shore. And there’s the opportunity for ice fishing in the winter. The lake gets stocked with bluegill, largemouth bass, crappie, walleye, muskie, and catfish.
You’ll find several jetties along the shore, as well as a large, accessible fishing pier. And five modern boat ramps are on the east and west shores of the lake.
Buy fishing licenses and bait (worms, minnows, and leaches) at the marina concessions on the lake’s northeast side. For fishing reports and maps at Big Creek, check out the Iowa DNR website.
Hit the trails
Neal Smith Trail
The Neal Smith Trail is a 25-mile, multi-use, paved trail with a trailhead at Big Creek State Park. A beautiful stretch of the trail runs through the park and south to Polk City and Saylorville Lake. The trail continues south of Saylorville to Des Moines.
High Trestle Trail
The High Trestle Trail is a 25-mile multi-use paved trail that runs just east of Big Creek State Park. Known for its 13-story tall bridge over the Des Moines River, it’s a super popular trail. It runs from Ankeny to Woodward along a former railway.
Check out the Central Iowa Trails Interactive Map for more trail information!
Cross Country Skiing Trail
Big Creek has over two miles of popular, groomed cross-country skiing trails. These trails are pretty flat, with some slight turns. Find them near the Hampton and Gannet picnic areas on the southeast side of the lake. Check out the park map for more information.
For info on cross-country skiing in the Des Moines area, see the Des Moines Nordic Club’s Facebook page. Skiers update area trail conditions during the season.
The 11-mile snowmobile trail that circles the lake is one of the unique features at Big Creek. It’s one of the most popular snowmobile trails in Iowa. Trail parking is off NW Madrid Drive on the lake’s southwest side (near the intersection with NW 125th Ave).
Play Disc Golf
The popular 18-hole disc golf course is near the Hampton picnic area, on the lake’s southeast side. It’s well-maintained with good signage and gets used for tournaments. Golfers like the concrete tees and varying distances.
Have a picnic
Gather friends and family, and have a picnic around the lake at one of the thirteen open shelters. You can reserve shelters, and when not reserved, they are first-come, first-serve. If you’re looking for something smaller near the beach, consider renting a beach cabana.
Big Creek State Park Map
Things to Do Nearby
Visit Saylorville Lake for camping, boating, and more! There’s no camping at Big Creek, but you’ll find excellent campgrounds at nearby Saylorville Lake. But that’s not all! The 6000-acre lake is the perfect place to boat, swim, or fish. Or check out the visitor center, butterfly garden, dam, and much more!
Learn and practice at the Butch Olofson Shooting Range. Privately operated, this Iowa DNR shooting range is 3 miles west of Big Creek. It has a 50-person classroom for safety courses, an archery range, and skeet shooting. For more information, visit the website or call 515-795-2067.
Head west to Jester Park for a wide variety of outdoor fun! Kids will love to play on the natural playground, nature center, and miniature golf. Hike the trails, play a round of golf, go horseback riding, and much more. Campgrounds and rental cabins are available at Jester.
Visit nearby Polk City and Ankeny for golfing, restaurants, groceries, and hotel accommodations. Close by in Polk City, grab a bite to eat at the Rising Sun Cafe or a craft beer at Fenders Brewing. And then take in a round of golf at the Tournament Club of Iowa and stay at the Qube Hotel. Ankeny offers more restaurant and shopping options and two aquatic centers.
Visit Big Creek State Park Today!
Big Creek is at 8794 NW 125th Avenue, Polk City, IA 50226.
Park hours are 4:30 am to 10:30 pm.
Big Creek concessions and rentals usually open in mid-April and close mid-October, but this is dependent on the weather. During peak season, hours are 8 am – 7 pm, Monday through Friday, and 7 am – 7 pm on weekends and holidays. We recommend you call ahead; the number is 515-984-6083.
Free parking is throughout the park, at shelters and other areas, with a huge parking lot near the marina and beach.