At almost 632 acres, Raccoon River Park is the largest public park in West Des Moines, Iowa. And, with its endless list of recreational activities, it’s undoubtedly the most popular too.
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing day outdoors or want to get some exercise in nature, you’ll find it all right here. You can paddle, fish, swim, bike, hike, play, or picnic (and more!) in the beautiful surroundings of Raccoon River Park.
A Brief History of Raccoon River Park
Raccoon River Park developed out of what once was an open-pit gravel and sand mine. Mining took place between 1950 and 1991. The pits created what is now Blue Heron Lake and its surrounding wetlands.
The City of West Des Moines purchased the park’s land in the late 1980s. And they partnered with the Iowa DNR to develop conservation and recreation areas.
In 1991, a phased plan for the park’s development was complete, and work began in 1994. Features are still getting added to the park today, and it’s now part of a larger plan called the Five Waters Project.
Things to Do at Raccoon River Park
Visit Blue Heron Lake
Blue Heron Lake is a 232-acre lake at the center of the park. A no-wake lake, Blue Heron is perfect for paddling, fishing, and swimming.
Raccoon River Park Beach
The swimming beach is a roped area located on the northeastern side of Blue Heron Lake. It’s open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, 10:30 am to sunset. Bring your inflatable and beach toys, and cool off on those hot summer days!
Visitors should note that there are no lifeguards on duty. The water gets tested every three weeks for dangerous levels of E-coli (signs will alert beachgoers of high levels).
Open water permits are available to swimmers.
Fishing is a super popular activity at Raccoon River Park! Many fish species are in the waters of Blue Heron Lake, including Bluegill, Catfish, Bass, and Carp.
A 225-foot fishing pier is located on Blue Heron Lake on the northwest side of the lake. If you take a left at the entrance, you’ll soon see the parking area for the pier on the right side of the main road. The fishing pier is ADA-accessible.
Rent from the boathouse, or bring your own kayak, canoe, or paddleboard! Blue Heron Lake is the perfect spot to spend the day on the water.
Raccoon River Boathouse
New in 2020, the Raccoon River Boathouse offers boat rentals and easy access from the docks. Rent canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. And there are plans to provide paddling instruction in the future.
An adjacent parking lot offers easy access to the boathouse, with ADA accessibility.
If you’re bringing your own boat, you can access the boat ramp for Blue Heron Lake just beyond the entrance to the park.
Explore the trails
Run, hike, or bike the 3.2-mile multi-use Raccoon River Park Trail that loops around Blue Heron Lake. You’ll especially enjoy the part of the trail that runs right between the lake and the Raccoon River. Part of the path is paved, and part is gravel.
The trail can be accessed from the boat ramp parking area, straight ahead of the main entrance. Or you can hop on the trail near the parking lot at the softball complex on the north side of the park.
A short unmarked hiking trail is on the park’s east side, near the dog park. From the main gravel trail, head west on the path. From here, you can access several fishing areas or explore the shores of the lake.
Access the Jordan Creek Trail and Levee Trail on the park’s northeast side, near the softball complex. Both are wide, paved trails, perfect for a long walk or bike ride. The Jordan Creek trail runs north and west for 8+ miles through West Des Moines. The Levee trail heads east and connects to a more extensive network of trails in Des Moines.
The Grand Avenue Trail follows Grand Avenue for several miles. Access the trail near the park’s main entrance. You can head north or west on Grand for several miles. As part of the Five Waters Project, this trail will soon combine with other West Des Moines Trails to complete a 26.2-mile loop around West Des Moines.
Rent a Bike
Rent a bike from the BCycle station near the playgrounds on the lake’s north shore. Just buy a pass, pick a bike and return it to any of the B-stations! Pedal the park, or hop on a paved bike trail near the park to head in any direction!
Four large open-air shelters are on the park’s north side. They’re available for public use when not reserved. For shelter reservations, request through the City of West Des Moines.
Play at the Playground
The playground is closed and under construction for the 2023 season.
The playgrounds at Raccoon River Park are unique! They have equipment designed for kids of all ages and span an entire ½ acre. The playgrounds will provide hours of entertainment. They’re on the north shore of Blue Heron Lake (take a left at the entrance and park just past the nature lodge).
Visit the Raccoon River Park Nature Lodge
The Nature Lodge is on Blue Heron Lake’s north shore. West Des Moines Parks and Rec uses it for educational and school programs. And it’s available to rent for weddings, business meetings, family gatherings, and more. For rental information, go here.
The Raccoon River Park Archery Facility is to the east of the softball complex, next to the dog park. The sheltered practice range has 12 lanes, with a 40-yard shooting distance. You must have a pass to use the archery facility.
In 2016, the Raccoon River Park Ice Rink opened for skating. The rink is open to the public from dawn to dusk in the winter, depending on weather and ice conditions. It’s free to skate and available on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is no supervision at the rink, and skaters must bring their own skates.
Take Your Dog to the Park
Your dog will love the space to run and play in this 10-acre, fenced-in area! The dog park is open from 6:30 am to dusk every day and features a large and small dog area. All visitors must have a permit to use the dog park. Find the dog park just east of the softball complex.
Watch the Birds
The variety of habitats in and around Raccoon River Park makes it the perfect area to see many different bird species. Woodlands, grasslands, and wetlands provide homes for birds year-round. But in the spring and fall, migration offers an excellent opportunity to view many different species in just one visit.
Enjoy a Sporting Event
Softball Complex. With five irrigated fields and excellent facilities, the softball complex is one of the best in the area. Summers are busy with league games and tournaments of all sizes. It’s also available for rental. You’ll find the softball fields on the northeastern corner of Blue Heron Lake.
Soccer Complex. The soccer complex on the park’s southwest corner has several soccer fields and ample parking for games. The West Des Moines Soccer Club calls Raccoon River Park home. If you’re interested in joining a soccer team, contact the soccer club.
Map of Raccoon River Park
Other Things to Do Nearby
Across the river from Raccoon River Park are two excellent nature areas: Brown’s Woods Forest Preserve and Walnut Woods State Park. Both of these areas feature beautiful woodlands for a variety of outdoor experiences!
Southwoods Park is 2½ miles away, at 350 S. 35th Street. There you’ll find a 9-hole frisbee golf course and a nature trail on this unique 40-acre nature preserve. Across the road is the West Des Moines Library and the City Pond.
Historic Valley Junction is just up the road! Spend a couple of hours strolling through the neighborhood. You’ll find a variety of excellent dining options and unique shops.
Visit Raccoon River Park Today!
Raccoon River Park is at 2500 Grand Avenue, West Des Moines, Iowa 50265.
To get there from I-235, take exit 3 and head south on 8th Street., then turn right on Grand Avenue. From I-35, take exit 69 and head east on Grand Ave. Here’s a map of how to get there.
Park hours are 7:00 am to 10:00 pm, seven days a week.
Free parking is available throughout the park. Parking lots are near the boat ramp, and the soccer fields close to the entrance of the park. More parking is available near the Nature Lodge, playground/beach area, and soccer complex. Restrooms are by the playgrounds.
• A Guide to Walnut Woods State Park
• Guide to Nature Areas and Parks in Des Moines
• Camping in Des Moines: Guide to Local Campgrounds