MacRae Park is a one-of-a-kind 50-acre city park on a bluff just south of downtown Des Moines. See the stunning views of the river and downtown from the overlook! Also, explore the native savanna remnant, play tennis, and have fun at the playground.
The 100+ year-old park is undergoing significant improvements, like new playgrounds, a boardwalk, pond, and pedestrian loop. While the project is to be complete in 2022, visitors can still enjoy many park areas. The last phase is currently underway at the pond area.
A Brief History of MacRae Park
The City of Des Moines bought what was once called South Park in the late 1800s, making it one of the oldest city parks. It got renamed MacRae Park in 1919, after Donald MacRae, a Des Moines native. He was the first Iowan killed during WWI while serving in France under Captain Fleur.
In the 1930s, the park got improvements as part of the Works Progress Administration program. And, in 2014, plans for the park’s restoration got underway. Many improvements are complete, and the third phase should get completed in 2022.
Things to Do at MacRae Park
Take in the view
The EMC Overlook extends over a bluff’s edge for sweeping views of the Raccoon River and Downtown. The steel, triangle-shaped overlook points toward the Iowa State Capitol. A nearby open-air shelter allows visitors to have a picnic and stay awhile.
Hike or bike around the oak savanna
The savanna is one of the last remaining remnants in Iowa, and it’s right in the heart of Des Moines! The road around the park has a designated pedestrian trail for walkers and hikers. It’s one of the best ways to see the park and the oak trees.
Play on the playground
The new playground at MacRae Park will be a favorite for the kids! The natural play features of massive logs are perfect for climbing, crawling, and balancing. And a multi-level water play feature will keep them busy for hours. There’s also a swing and sand play area and a new picnic shelter.
Have a picnic
Picnic tables are scattered among the mature trees, or you can use one of the picnic shelters:
- Walker Shelter is a recently renovated enclosed shelter available for rental. The great thing about this shelter is it has heat and a/c, making it available year-round. See the City of Des Moines’ website for reservations.
- The Julia Brenton Shelter is an open-air shelter near the EMC Overlook. It’s available first-come, first-serve.
- The playground shelter is perfect for a picnic while playing on the fun playground. It’s available first-come, first-serve.
Two fenced tennis courts are on the park’s southwest corner, at SW 11th & Davis Ave. Parking is across the road, and Walker Shelter is next to the courts.
Visit the Lagoon
Note: The lagoon is under construction and expected to be completed in 2023. It’ll be worth the wait! The pond will be larger, with a fishing pier, boardwalk, and walking trail.
The stocked pond has always been a popular spot for anglers of all ages and is one of the park’s highlights. And a new fishing pier is part of the project!
The MacRae Park lagoon has always been a great spot for ice skating. And its expansion will soon offer another great place to ice skate!
Things to Do Nearby
Gray’s Lake Park is directly north of MacRae Park, within easy walking and biking distance. It has a beach, trails, fishing, a playground, and boat rentals (rent canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and pedal boats!).
Des Moines Water Works Park is west of Gray’s Lake Park, connected via a pedestrian tunnel under Fleur Drive. It’s a vast 1500-acre park where you can bike, picnic, and fish, and even go to a concert at the world-class arboretum.
MacRae Park connects to an extensive trail network! Meredith Trail is closest to the park, across the road to the north. From there, you can access other area trails, including the Carl Voss Trail and John Pat Dorrian Trail. Des Moines’ interconnecting network of trails goes on for hundreds of miles!
Downtown Des Moines is just north of the park. There you’ll find so many things to do! You can use the Principal Riverwalk to explore the area along the river. Also, visit the excellent restaurants and shops, and check out the famous Downtown Farmer’s Market! That’s not to mention the nightlife—downtown has over 50 bars.
If you’re looking for food or drink near the park, Confluence Brewing is right next door. Also, the Angry Goldfish Pub & Eatery, Kung Fu Tap & Taco, & Club 2000 are nearby.
Visit MacRae Park Today!
MacRae Park is at 1021 Davis Ave, Des Moines, IA 50315.