Brown’s Woods Forest Preserve is an exceptional place to hike. Located on the southeast side of West Des Moines, Brown’s Woods spans 486 acres, making it Iowa’s largest urban forest.
With over four miles of hiking trails, Brown’s Woods offers visitors the opportunity to explore Iowa’s woodlands, with glimpses of the Raccoon River. Mature oak and hickory trees grow on the hilly landscape.
A brief history of Brown’s Woods
Brown’s Woods Forest Preserve is named after Tallmadge E. Brown. He was a lawyer and real estate investor in the Des Moines area in the late 19th century. Brown bought the land with the idea of making it a place for area residents to retreat into nature. In 1949, the land became a timber reservation. And in 1972, Tallmadge E. Brown’s estate sold it to Polk County Conservation.
In 2015 Polk County Conservation made several improvements to the park. They expanded the hiking trails and added trail markers and a kiosk for visitors.
Hiking trails range from .5 miles to just over 3 miles long, with over 4 miles total. Trails wind through sloping hills and over small streams throughout the park (kids love the small streams).
The trails are a series of loops that interconnect, which can be a little confusing. Hikers should check the map before heading out and consult the trail signs to stay on track. Keep in mind some of the longer trails are of moderate difficulty.
Gateway Trail is a half-mile, easy loop closest to the parking area. If you continue west of this loop, you’ll be on Preparation Trail, another .5 mile loop. You can continue off the Preparation Trail loop onto the Wilderness Loop for an extra 1.4-mile hike.
For a longer walk around the perimeter of the park, catch the North Loop. This 2.1-mile section of the trail ends up being 3+ miles after connecting with the other loops to get to the parking area.
Trail notes: Dogs are allowed on six-foot leashes (don’t forget your poop bags!). No bikes, horses, or motorized vehicles are allowed on the trails.
Brown’s Woods Trail Map
Seasonal activities at Brown’s Woods
Explore the forest in any season
In the spring, enjoy the flowing streams and plentiful wildflowers as they make their appearance. Cool off in the shade of the great oak trees in the summer, and enjoy their colorful display in the fall. In the winter, step out in the snow with your snowshoes or cross country skis.
The woodlands provide the perfect habitat for birds of every size and variety. You’ll find songbirds, as well as turkeys and raptors too. In the spring and fall, visitors can spot different breeds of migratory birds. And winter is a great time to get a glimpse of the majestic Bald Eagle.
Polk County Conservation allows visitors to gather nuts, fruit, and edible mushrooms as long as it’s not for commercial use. It’s an ideal spot for finding morel mushrooms and draws mushroom hunters each spring. (Be safe! Learn how to identify morel mushrooms before heading out on your hunt.)
Removing plants, harvesting wood, and hunting animals is strictly prohibited.
Other things to do nearby
Walnut Woods State Park is 2 miles west of Brown’s Woods. After your hike at Brown’s Woods, head down the road to find picnic areas, fishing, a boat launch, and camping too.
Raccoon River Park is across the river to the north. There you’ll find everything from kayaking and archery, to playgrounds and a beach.
Des Moines Water Works Park is about 4 miles east. There you can find bike trails, along with picnic areas and fishing spots.
After your hike, head north to Valley Junction for fantastic dining options, or stroll down the historic street full of unique shops. Or, head south a couple of miles to Willow Creek Golf Course to practice your golf game.
Visit Brown’s Woods today!
Brown’s Woods is located just west of the Des Moines metro, at 465 SE Brown’s Woods Drive, West Des Moines, Iowa.
From I-235, take 63rd Street south, turn west (right) on Veteran’s Pkwy, and north (right) on Brown’s Woods Dr. and the parking area is on the right. From the Hwy 5 Bypass, take the Veteran’s Parkway exit, head north, and turn north (left) onto Brown’s Woods Drive.
Park hours are 6:30 am to 10:30 pm.
Polk County Conservation recently added a paved visitor parking lot with restrooms at the park entrance.