Dale Maffitt Reservoir, or Maffitt Lake, is one of Des Moines’ best-kept secrets! Prairie and woodlands surround the scenic 200-acre lake. And it’s the perfect place to hike, kayak, fish, picnic, and more! Find Maffitt Lake southwest of Des Moines, where Polk, Warren, Madison, and Dallas counties meet.
Des Moines Water Works owns and operates the reservoir that serves as a source of clean water for the area.
About Maffitt Lake
Dale Maffitt Reservoir is more than a beautiful lake. It’s a park too! Des Moines Water Works manages nearly 1500 acres (!) of land around the lake to protect water quality.
A Brief History
A severe drought from 1939-1940 plagued the Des Moines area. Soon after that, Des Moines Water Works purchased the lake and surrounding land as an emergency water source. The site was named after Dale Maffitt, chief chemist and eventual General Manager of Des Moines Water Works.
In 2000, the L.D. McMullen Water Treatment Plant at Maffitt Reservoir began operating to meet the water needs of the growing population in Des Moines.
Things to Do at Maffitt Lake
Kayak, Canoe, or Paddleboard
Getting out on the water is one of the best ways to experience Maffitt Lake! Kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards are allowed on the lake.* Find several carry-down boat launches along the lake shores, on the east and west sides of the lake.
You must have a permit to kayak, canoe, or paddleboard on Maffitt Lake. Get your permit at the Des Moines Water Works office at 2201 George Flagg Parkway, Des Moines. You will fill out an application and waiver and pay a $20 permit fee to receive a permit.
*No motors or sailboats are allowed, and swimming is prohibited. These rules are in effect to preserve the water quality.
Fishing is another popular pastime at Maffitt Reservoir. And for a good reason. The lake is the perfect habitat for fish, and the clean water makes it more desirable. According to the Iowa DNR, common fish species include Bluegill, Catfish, Largemouth Bass, and Yellow Perch.
A few 20’ fishing docks are along the east shore of the lake. Other shore fishing is easy to find too, or you can fish from your kayak or canoe.
When Maffitt Lake is frozen over, ice fishing huts make their appearance as anglers take to the ice. For a winter video of Maffitt when it’s frozen, check out this YouTube video. And see the Iowa DNR’s ice fishing tips and safety info here.
Explore the Maffitt Lake Trails
The multi-use trail at Maffitt Reservoir is about 4.5 miles from end to end. It’s a grassy trail surrounded by mature oaks and pines. Though it follows the lake’s contour, there are only a few places where you can see the lake from the trail.
The east trailhead is off of the paved park road loop (look for the gate). The west trailhead at the end of the gravel road on the lake’s west shores (look for the gate). It’s not a loop trail but an out-and-back trail. So, if you do the entire trail, it can add up to nearly 9 miles! For a visual, see the Des Moines Water Works map.
A few other shorter mowed trails wind through the prairie near the picnic areas on the park’s east side.
Snowshoeing (and Cross Country Skiing)
Snowshoeing on the east side of the lake is a popular winter activity at Maffitt Lake. It’s a great place to explore during an Iowa winter!
We’ve seen cross country skiing on the trail at Maffitt Reservoir too. The course doesn’t get groomed, but skiers still use it. To learn more about cross country skiing in the area, see the Des Moines Nordic Club’s Facebook page.
Several picnic areas are along the lake shores and prairie areas. Picnic tables and charcoal grills are available in some spots.
Maffitt Reservoir is a great place to view birds of all species! It’s the perfect habitat for species like woodpeckers and warblers. And several nesting boxes in the prairie areas house Eastern Bluebirds. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a Bald Eagle or even an Osprey hunting for fish in the lake.
A variety of waterfowl spend time at the 200-acre lake. Ducks, geese, and even Trumpeter Swans have been seen there. And in the spring and fall, you may spot American Pelicans and Common Loons making a migratory stop at the lake.
Other Things to Do Nearby
The Purple Martin Water Resource Area is 2 miles northeast of Maffitt Reservoir. There you’ll find a pristine lake and hiking trail. And it’s home to many Purple Martin swallows. The lake has a boat ramp for non-motorized boats.
Walnut Woods State Park is four miles northwest of Maffitt Lake, just east of Purple Martin Lake. There, you’ll find a small campground and access to the Raccoon River. Enjoy hiking, picnicking, and fishing in the shade of the walnut trees in this 260-acre state park.
Brown’s Woods Forest Preserve is a popular hiking destination six miles to the northeast. Hikers love the beautiful sloped woodlands and small streams on 4 miles of looped trails.
Raccoon River Park is a popular outdoor destination year-round. It’s 8 miles northeast of Maffitt Lake, across the river off of Grand Avenue. Go to enjoy the public beach, large playground, ice skating rink, and boat rentals.
The Great Western Trail is a paved 16.5-mile trail, just 5 miles east of the park. It runs south from Des Moines Water Works Park to Martensdale, Iowa. It’s a popular trail among cyclists and many stop in Cumming for food and refreshments.
North of Maffitt Lake, off of I-35, is Jordan Creek Town Center and many other shopping and dining options.
Visit Maffitt Reservoir Park Today!
Maffitt Lake is at 12460 Maffitt Lake Road, Cumming, Iowa, 50061.
From I-35, take Exit 68 onto Highway IA-5 South. Head east on Highway 5 and take Exit 102. Head south on SE 35th St. to Maffitt Lake Road. Take a right (west) onto Maffitt Lake Road. Dale Maffitt Reservoir is on the left, 2 miles down the road.
Park hours are 6 am – 9 pm during Daylight Savings Time and 7 am – 8 pm during Standard Time. Gravel parking areas are throughout the park. And restrooms are on the east side of the lake, off the park road loop.
See Des Moines Water Works’ site for more on Dale Maffitt Reservoir and to learn about the Park Rules and Regulations.