At almost 1500 acres, Des Moines Water Works Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States. The park boasts outdoor recreational activities galore. It has a 200-acre lake, acres of protected woodlands, and large open areas for sports and other activities.
A Brief History of Des Moines Water Works Park
The land that’s now Des Moines Water Works Park was bought in the 1920s and 30s to protect the city’s water source. In 1922, the land began to transform into a natural recreation area, and it opened to the public in 1933.
In 2011, a competition for the park design developed into a master plan for the park. And in 2013, the Des Moines Water Works Park Foundation was formed to carry out the $40 million project. The foundation raised millions of dollars, and development began in 2018.
The project started with a theater, natural playground, and trail connector to Gray’s Lake. A new water trail and aerial adventure park are part of future plans. Beyond development, the project includes public education about the quality of our water supply for all who depend on it.
Things To Do in Des Moines Water Works Park
Hike, bike, or ride the trails
Trails abound throughout Water Works Park, and there’s something for everyone. Paved trails, dirt paths, and even equestrian trails are all found throughout the park. See the trails section of this article for more information.
Visit the Arie den Boer Arboretum
Love spring flowers? You don’t want to miss the blooms of the world’s most extensive collection of flowering crabapple trees. Nurseryman Aerie den Boer started a group of 300 original trees in 1930. Since then, additions bring the total number of trees to 800! The trees bloom from late April – early May and are a popular attraction.
Take in a concert at Lauridsen Amphitheater – Killinger Family Stage
The two-sided Lauridsen Amphitheater and Killinger Family Stage are on the park’s east side. The double-sided venue accommodates both large and small audiences.
Lauridsen Amphitheater is on the north-facing side and accommodates up to 25,000 people. On the south-facing side, the Killinger Family Stage hosts smaller audiences of 2000 or less.
Take a photo at the Denman Memorial Garden and Fountain
Denman Memorial Garden and Fountain is the ideal spot for a photograph, set off against a blue sky and sunshine. It’s also among one of the most popular outdoor wedding venues around Des Moines. The fountain is near the Fleur Drive park entrance.
Water Works Park has a ton of great fishing spots! Fish from the banks of the Raccoon River or cast a line into one of the many ponds throughout the park. A variety of fish in the park’s waters include crappie, catfish, bluegill, and carp. A valid Iowa fishing license is required.
Have a Picnic
With expansive open areas, and several picnic tables and grills, the park has plenty of space for groups of all sizes. A couple of picnic shelters are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The South Park Shelter is available for rental with access to electricity and water. See the Des Moines Water Works website for facility rental information.
Explore the Natural Play Area
The Reichardt Family Natural playground lets kids’ imaginations guide them! Kids can jump, balance, chase, and hide amongst the natural wooden structures. And there’s a sandbox too! The play area is on the park’s east side next to the amphitheater. Restrooms and a water fountain are nearby.
Learn about The Wild
Des Moines Water Works designated 1400 acres of the park as “The Wild”—an area that is to remain untouched. The Wild allows the park’s ecosystems to continue to provide clean air and water for years to come. You might notice signs for The Wild, complete with educational information on its benefits.
The Bill Riley Trail is a paved trail that runs through Water Works Park. A mile of the trail goes through the park, but the trail runs for almost three miles. It connects to Walnut Creek Trail, Great Western Trail, and Meredith Trail.
The Great Western Trail starts on the south side of Water Works Park across from the Izaak Walton League Clubhouse (on George Flagg Pkwy). It extends south for 16.5 miles, ending in Martensdale, Iowa.
A short section of the Walnut Creek Trail runs along Water Works Park’s northeastern edge; access is via the Bill Riley Trail. This trail is 3 miles long, extending northeast to join the Clive Greenbelt Trail. From the Clive Greenbelt, it connects to the Raccoon River Valley Trail. All three combined add up to over 90 (!) miles of paved trail.
Center Trails and Denman’s Woods are singletrack dirt trails for mountain bikers and hikers. They are on the park’s northeast corner, accessible via the Bill Riley Trail and Walnut Creek Trails.
Bridle trails are north of the Raccoon River, near Valley Park Stables. Riders can access them on the north side of the park, off of Edward’s Avenue.
To plan your route on the trails, check out the Central Iowa Trails interactive map.
Des Moines Water Works Park Map
There are two main entrances to the park—on Fleur Drive and George Flagg Parkway. Check out the maps for more.
Things To Do Nearby
Gray’s Lake Park is across the road from Water Works Park on the east side of Fleur Drive. A trail underpass connects the two parks at Fleur Dr. Gray’s Lake has a beach, trails, fishing, a playground, and boat rental. Visitors can rent canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and pedal boats.
North of Des Moines Water Works Park is Greenwood Ashworth Park. The parks are only 3 miles by car. Or reach Greenwood Park by foot or bike via the Bill Riley Trail. The parks feature a Lagoon, public pool, Rose Garden, and kids love the splash grounds!
Raccoon River Park in West Des Moines is a short five-mile drive west (or get there by trail!) There, you’ll find a beach, boathouse, archery range, ice skating rink, fishing, and much more!
If you’re after a great hike in the woods, check out Brown’s Woods Forest Preserve, four miles west of the park. There you’ll find looped trails of many lengths, from one to four miles through woodlands and streams.
Restaurants, shopping, and nightlife are two miles from the park in downtown Des Moines. And for a fantastic Saturday morning experience, check out the Downtown Farmer’s Market. You can reach downtown on the Meredith Trail.
Visit Des Moines Water Works Park Today!
Des Moines Water Works Park is at 2201 George Flagg Pkwy, Des Moines, IA 50321.
From I-235, take Exit 7 and go south on Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. MLK Pkwy will turn into Fleur Drive just south of Grand Avenue. Water Works Park is on the west side of Fleur Drive.
From the airport, head north on Fleur Drive almost four miles. Water Works Park is on the west side of Fleur Drive.
Park hours are 6:00 am to 10:00 pm.
Modern restrooms are available near the south shelter and the amphitheater.
Check out the Des Moines Water Works Park rules and regulations here.