Jester Park is a one-of-a-kind 1660-acre park with activities you won’t find in other parks! The mini-golf course, natural play area, and bison and elk herds are a few of the unique features.
It’s a Polk County Park, about 30 minutes north of Des Moines, Iowa, on the west shore of Saylorville Lake.
A Brief History of Jester Park
The park’s namesake, Lewis A. Jester, once owned and farmed the land that is now Jester Park. His son and uncle gave the land to Polk County in 1954, and it opened to the public in 1958.
In 2012, a long-standing vision for a nature center became a reality. At that time, the Polk County Water and Land Legacy bond referendum got passed. Yet more funding was needed. And in 2016, a group of community volunteers raised enough funds to complete the project. After much anticipation, the Jester Park Nature Center opened its doors in 2018.
Jester Park Nature Center
There’s nothing else quite like the Jester Park Nature Center! It’s a place for all ages to learn, explore, and experience the natural world.* The interactive displays encourage visitors to understand and relate to nature. And fun, educational programming is offered through Polk County Conservation.
On the main level, you can’t miss the vast windows overlooking the reconstructed prairie. And on the lower level, interpretive displays feature three habitats found in Iowa: prairie, wetlands, and woodlands. Here, learn more about the habitats and identify the animals and plants within them.
Outside is a scenic terrace and prairie. And on cooler days, you can even warm yourself by the massive stone fireplace.
Don’t miss The Galleries, where local artists display their work. Many of the pieces are for sale to the public. So if you’re looking for that perfect “Iowa” piece, you could find it here!
The nature center is a must-see on any visit to Jester Park, and admission is free. The address is 12130 NW 128th Street, Granger, Iowa. Check the website for hours and closures.
*Kids can check out themed Park Packs, and programming is available to all ages!
Outdoor Recreation and Wellness Center
The Recreation and Wellness Center is next to the nature center. Here’s where visitors can get out and get their hands dirty!
Here’s what you’ll find at the recreation center:
- Outdoor climbing wall
- Indoor archery and air rifle range
- Outdoor classroom
- Camp store
- Equipment rental. Rent snowshoes and cross-country skis in the winter months and a canoe or kayak in the warmer months
For more on programming and equipment rentals, visit the Recreation and Wellness Center website. Or call (515)-323-5330.
Map of Jester Park
Things to Do
After you stop at the nature center, you’ll be ready to get out and experience all Jester Park has to offer. Read on for all the things there are to do at the park!
Elk and Bison Educational Plaza
For almost 40 years, Elk and Bison herds have been a popular site at Jester. In 2012, the enclosures got renovated to make it easier to view and learn about the native Iowa animals. Renovations include an observation deck, spotting scopes, educational exhibits, and artwork.
The plaza is next to the outdoor natural playscape. It’s also near trails and close to the bird blind. A parking lot is on-site.
A large playground near the campground offers play equipment for all ages. A vast green space with several picnic tables surrounds it.
And kids love the natural playscape near the Elk and Bison herds on the park’s west side. It’s a unique play area with all-natural materials. Boulders, trees, wooden blocks, and a water feature are a few of the things kids can explore. See the brochure for more information.
Jester Park Trails
Jester Park has over 8 miles of trails through the woods and along the shores of Saylorville Lake! Some are short, but many trails on the park’s west side connect. Check out the map for more information.
Lakeshore Trail is a 5-mile, multi-use trail that runs along the west shore of Saylorville Lake. It’s a beautiful trail that spans from the Mile-Long Bridge to the northwest corner past the elk and bison herds. Hikers should be aware horses and snowmobiles also use the trail.
Basswood Trail is a short, moderate .3-mile trail on the park’s southeast side, between the lodge and a camp area near the lake.
Camper’s Loop Trail is a short, easy .3-mile trail between Camp areas #1 and #2. It connects up with Lakeshore Trail for those who want to hike further.
Stagecoach Trail is a short, easy .2-mile trail that runs between the park road and Lakeshore Trail (near Camp Area #4).
Red Cedar Trail is a .4-mile loop trail through the woodlands. It connects to the Stagecoach Trail (near Camp Area #5).
Fox Run Trail is a moderate .4-mile loop trail off the park road, past Camp Area #5. On the north side of this loop trail, you can get on Hickory Ridge Trail and go to the natural playscape. Or you can head west to Discovery Pond and the nature center.
Hickory Ridge Trail is a .7-mile trail that takes hikers west to Discovery Pond or north near the natural playscape. This trail is excellent for kids to explore!
Discovery Trail is an easy, .5-mile accessible trail that loops around Discovery Pond. Visitors can access this trail from the Nature Center and the cabins.
Trails in Winter
Cross-country ski. Jester is the place to go for cross-country skiing! There are around 5 miles of groomed ski trails in the park. Shelter #2 and the campground entrance are the trailheads. Trail maintainers may groom part of the golf course too. You can rent skis at the Recreation and Wellness Center. See the groomed trails map for details.
Snowshoe. A good trail for snowshoeing in the park is Hickory Ridge Trail. A few other trails get used as well. But snowshoers are asked to stay off of groomed cross-country ski trails. You can rent snowshoes at the Recreation and Wellness Center near the nature center on the park’s west side.
Snowmobiling Trail. The five-mile Lakeshore Trail is a multi-use trail open to snowmobiles in the winter. The trail runs along the park’s east side next to Saylorville Lake. For more information and trail conditions, contact a park ranger at 515-323-5338.
Discovery Pond is a 2.8-acre pond surrounded by an accessible trail. Visitors can stroll the path, rent kayaks and canoes, or fish from the fishing pier. It’s an excellent place for young anglers to learn to fish. Polk County Conservation often uses the pond area for educational programming.
The Jester Park Golf Course is an 18-hole, full-service course, complete with a 5-acre practice facility and a mini-golf course. After your golf game, you’ll want to stop in at the Prairie Grass Bar and Grill for a sandwich or pizza!
A fun 18-hole mini-golf course is next to the Jester Park Golf Practice facility, off NW 118th Avenue. The water fountains, flowers, and lights make it the perfect destination for all ages.
The mini-golf course is open from mid-March to mid-October, depending on weather conditions. Check the website for hours and rates. (Concessions are available in the practice facility.)
Watch and enjoy the beautiful bird species that frequent Jester Park. Stop at the bird blind to have a seat, and stay a while! Bird feeders draw birds to the area—and they won’t even know you’re there! The bird blind is down a short path beyond Shelter #6.
(Jester Park is also a great place to view migrating birds! It’s a popular stop for Pelicans and other migrating birds in the fall and spring.)
Jester Park is the perfect spot for a picnic, no matter the size of your group. Five picnic shelters and several other picnic areas are available. Shelters are reservable, and when not reserved, they’re first-come, first-serve.
Jester Park Equestrian Center
The one-of-a-kind equestrian center is two miles south of Jester Park. Visitors can learn about horses, take trail rides, and take part in other activities too. From the Horses Helping Heroes program to trail rides and camps, the equestrian center provides a ton of value in the community!
Equestrian trails wind through woods on the park’s south side, near the Equestrian Center and Lodge. They slope down toward the lake to connect with Lakeshore Trail, a 5-mile, multi-use trail. For those that want to trailer in and camp, contact the stables.
Take a Wagon or Sleigh Ride
There is no better way to see the fall colors, experience the snow, or spend Valentine’s Day than a wagon or sleigh ride! Check the calendar or call the stables (515-999-2818) to reserve your ride!
Boat Saylorville Lake
Saylorville Lake is an excellent place to go boating in central Iowa! During normal lake levels, boaters enjoy 17 miles of lake to explore. If you have a motorized boat, you can use the Lincoln Access beside the Mile-Long Bridge (west side of the lake). Motorboats are restricted and should use extreme caution north of the Mile-Long Bridge.
Rent the Lodge
If you’re planning an event, check out the Jester Park Lodge! The lodge has a large deck with spectacular views of Saylorville Lake. And there is seating for up to 250 people inside and another 250+ outside. Food With Flair offers event services and catering for private and corporate events.
Camping and Cabin Rentals at Jester Park
There’s so much to do at Jester Park; you’ll want to stay a while! The good news is the park has over 140 campsites and four modern cabins. The campgrounds and cabins are popular among locals and visitors alike—for a good reason. Jester Park offers a peaceful escape to nature and a ton of things to do!
The campgrounds include 80 electric sites and 62 non-electric sites. Also, primitive, equestrian, and youth group sites are available. Some campsites are reservable, but most are available first-come, first-serve. Two modern restrooms with showers are open from mid-April through mid-October. A dump station is near the south entrance to the park.
- For more campground information, check out our article on camping at Jester Park.
- See the Polk County Conservation page for pricing and more.
- For reservations, go to the My County Parks website.
The modern cabins are in a beautiful green space nestled in the trees. Decks back to the woods, and front porches offer views of Discovery Pond. And they’re within walking distance of the Nature Center, bird blind, and elk and bison herds.
Each furnished cabin is a two-story walkout, with a modern kitchen, gas fireplace, two bathrooms, showers, and a charcoal grill. A communal fire pit is for all cabin users. They sleep 6-8 people. Check out the cabin slideshow for pictures of the cabins.
Prices right now are around $115 – $150/night, including tax. Reservations are available year-round.
Things To Do Nearby
Head south a couple of miles to enjoy more of everything Saylorville Lake has to offer! There you’ll find more camping and boating access. Swimming beaches, a visitor center, marina, and more are popular at Saylorville Lake.
From Jester Park, Big Creek State Park is across the Mile Long Bridge and just north of Polk City. There you’ll find even more boating and fishing opportunities. And at the marina, you can enjoy the 1300 foot long beach, rent personal watercraft, and much more!
The park is a short 30-minute drive from downtown Des Moines, where you’ll find endless things to do. See the quaint shops of the East Village and explore the Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Or dine at a one-of-a-kind restaurant, and take in the nightlife on Court Avenue.
Visit Jester Park Today!
Jester Park is at 12130 NW 128th St, Granger, Iowa 50109.
From I-35/I-80, take the exit for IA-141 W/SE Grimes Blvd and head north on Highway 141 for about 7 miles. Turn right onto NW 121st Street. At the T intersection at NW 118th Avenue, you can turn either right or left to get to an entrance to the park.
Summer hours are 6:30 am – 10:30 pm, and winter hours are sunrise to sunset.
Free parking is throughout the park. Parking lots are at the Nature Center, mini-golf course, golf course, natural playscape/elk & bison area, Discovery Pond/cabin area, shelters, and campgrounds.
Want more information on Jester Park?
- For more on Jester Park, go to the Jester Park website, or call 515-323-5338.
- If you’re looking for educational programming and resources, check here.
- For more on equipment rentals and the Outdoor Recreation and Wellness Center, go here.
- See our article on camping at Jester Park. And go to MyCountyParks to reserve campsites, cabins, and shelters.
- For more on the equestrian center, see their website.
- Take a virtual tour here.