Gray’s Lake Park is one of the most popular parks in the Des Moines metro area! With the city skyline as a stunning backdrop, the lake area offers much to do and see, all within walking distance of the city center.
Gray’s Lake is a 166-acre park, just south of downtown Des Moines, east of Fleur Drive. The park has a loop trail, beach, boat rentals, fishing, and much more! The great thing is, it’s connected to the city’s trail system, so you can access it by car, foot, or bike.
A Brief History of Gray’s Lake Park
Gray’s Lake started as an oxbow lake from the nearby Raccoon River. A rock and sand quarry expanded the lake to its current size of almost 100 acres in the 1950s.
Residents advocated for the lake to become a natural recreational area. And once the city bought the land around the lake, it became Gray’s Lake Park in 1970.
After the flood of 1993 damaged the area, the Kruideniers—a local couple—donated money to spur park renovations to help make it what it is today. This renovation was part of the inspiration for the development of the downtown area.
Things To Do in Gray’s Lake Park
Walk or Bike the Loop Trail
The Kruidenier Trail is a 2-mile loop trail encircling Gray’s Lake. The impressive pedestrian bridge, views of the city skyline, and urban park setting make it a popular trail. It’s well maintained and illuminated at night, making it safe and usable after dark.
Experience the Kruidenier Trail Pedestrian Bridge (especially at night!)
The Kruidenier Trail pedestrian bridge over Gray’s Lake isn’t your average bridge. It’s also a work of art (designed by Cal Lewis)! The 1,400-foot long, 16-foot wide, illuminated bridge is the piece that completes the looped trail around the lake. Each night, its multi-colored lights and glass panels create a breathtaking display.
Rent a boat
The Gray’s Lake Terrace Concession offers boat rentals on the south shore of the lake. Rent canoes, kayaks, pedal boats, sailboats, and more! Rentals are seasonal, so it’s wise to check the hours before you go. Life jackets are required and are available at concessions. For more area boat rentals, see our Guide to Des Moines Boat Rentals.
If you have your own canoe or kayak, access the boat launch near the northwest parking lot by the park entrance.
Bike the trails
Whether you want a 2-mile or 20-mile+ bike ride, Gray’s Lake is a great place to start. Ride the loop around the lake or hop on one of the connecting trails nearby to take in any direction you choose. See the Trails section below for more information.
Visit Gray’s Lake Beach
Gray’s Lake Beach is a swimming beach on the north shore of the lake and an excellent spot to spend a hot summer day! A beachside concession stand is open for the summer season, where beachgoers can buy hot dogs and ice cream and rent stand-up paddleboards too. Life jackets are also available. Go here for beach concession hours.
Free parking is nearby, as well as restrooms and a playground. The water gets tested for high E-Coli levels, and the beach is closed if deemed unsafe.
Gray’s Lake is a popular fishing spot with easy access to excellent shore fishing. Largemouth Bass are a frequent catch. You can also catch a wide variety of other species, like Bluegill, Crappie, and Channel Catfish, to name a few.
Play on the Playground
Kids enjoy the playground with swings and slides too. It’s near the beach parking lot on Gray’s Lake Peninsula.
Trails in Gray’s Lake Park
Kruidenier Trail is the 2-mile loop trail that surrounds the lake. Access the path from the northwest or southwest parking areas.
Meredith Trail starts on the southeast side of the lake. It connects to the Kruidenier Trail and Bill Riley Trail near the southeast parking lot. This 5.2-mile trail runs from Gray’s Lake to the Principal Riverwalk and links to many trails downtown. For a loop back to Gray’s Lake, use the MLK Jr. Trail.
Bill Riley Trail starts at the southwest parking lot and extends east through Des Moines Water Works Park. From there, it turns north and east to Greenwood Ashworth Park. And on the south side of Water Works Park, it connects to the Great Western Trail. This popular trail runs south about 16 miles to rural Martensdale, Iowa.
Check out Des Moines Metro Planning’s interactive trail map and the Street Collective’s Regional Trail Map before heading out! Signage along the trails is great, but the maps are super helpful for navigating the trail network.
Map of Gray’s Lake
Things To Do Nearby
Des Moines Water Works Park is just across Fleur Drive! It’s accessible via a pedestrian underpass on Fleur. Water Works is a vast 1500-acre park offering various activities. You can bike, picnic, and fish, and even go to a concert at the world-class amphitheater.
Greenwood Ashworth Park is approximately 3 miles from Gray’s Lake and has much to offer. You can reach it on foot or by bike via the Bill Riley Trail. Visit the Greenwood Lagoon, Ashworth pool, and the Rose Garden. The kids will love the playground and splash grounds!
For a beautiful hike through woodlands and small streams, go four miles west to Brown’s Woods Forest Preserve. There you’ll find several trail loops with sloping hills and tiny waterfalls. Hikes range from one to four miles.
Raccoon River Park is five miles to the west (and accessible by trail!). As West Des Moine’s premier outdoor recreation area, the park features a swimming beach, boathouse, archery range, ice skating rink, a dog park, and much more!
A couple of miles north of Gray’s Lake is Downtown Des Moines. There you’ll find restaurants, shopping, nightlife, and more! Don’t miss the well-loved Farmer’s Market that hosts over 300 vendors each Saturday through the summer. By bike or foot, you can get downtown on the Meredith Trail.
Visit Gray’s Lake Today!
Gray’s Lake is at 2101 Fleur Dr, Des Moines, IA 50315.
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. Gray’s Lake is on the east side of Fleur Drive.
From the airport, head north on Fleur Drive almost four miles. Gray’s Lake Park is on the east side of Fleur Drive.
Park hours are 6:00 am to 10 pm daily.
Free off-street parking is available in the parking lots throughout the park. There are parking lots at the beach and the park’s northwest, southwest, and southeast corners. Restrooms are at the beach, the northwest parking lot, the concession area, and the southeast parking lot.