Thomas Mitchell Park is a scenic 197-acre park east of Des Moines. Visitors enjoy many outdoor activities in the peaceful surroundings of this historic park.
A Brief History of Thomas Mitchell Park
The park is named after Thomas Mitchell of New Hampshire, the first Anglo settler in the area. In 1844, he was granted early access to the Iowa Territory by Captain Allen of Fort Des Moines. As part of the deal, Mitchell constructed a bridge over Camp Creek, providing access for wagons to get to Ft. Des Moines. He also built a log cabin, the Apple Grove Inn, on the site that’s now the park.
After settling in Iowa, Mitchell played a role in local government and became a well-respected humanitarian. Major E. H. Conger said of him, “His influence over men was wonderful, and it was great because he never betrayed it. He gave to all good purposes; his life was one continuous charity, one continuous effort to do good. The poor were never sent away, and the weak never asked in vain from him.”
Things To Do at Thomas Mitchell Park
Hike the Trails
Explore the woodlands, cross Camp Creek, and stroll around the pond on hiking trails in the park. All three trails connect, so you can hike as far as you want!
DeVotie Trail is a .6-mile ridge trail that crosses Camp Creek, passes by a historical marker, and travels through the park’s woodlands. It’s a moderate dirt trail with some hilly terrain. Access the path on the south end of the campground. Connect to the DeVotie Loop (and the Pond Trail from DeVotie Loop) for a longer hike.
DeVotie Loop Trail is a .6-mile trail through the woodlands south of the pond (west of the campground). It’s a moderate dirt trail with some hilly terrain. Access the path from the pond’s south side. Or start on DeVotie Trail (at the campground) for a longer, 1.2-mile hike.
Pond Trail is an easy .5-mile trail encircling the pond on the park’s north side. Stop to take in the view and rest under the shade structures along the trail. Connect to DeVotie Loop Trail on the south side of the pond.
The Thomas Mitchell Pond underwent reconstruction a few years ago, improving the water quality and habitat. Since then, the 6-acre pond has been stocked with Bluegill, Catfish, and Bass. Fishing from the shore is easy, and several shade structures are around the pond.
Nestled along Camp Creek, the campground has views of the area’s woodlands and prairie. Campers have easy access to the trails, creek, and basketball court. And the playground and shelter area are nearby.
The campground has 23 electric sites and 20 tent sites (3 tent sites allow trailers). A youth tent area and primitive sites are available too. Five electric sites and the youth area are reservable; others are first-come, first-serve. Modern restrooms/showers, water, and a dump station are on site.
Stay At the Thomas Mitchell Park Cabin
For a peaceful getaway, consider a stay at the cabin. For those who appreciate a shower and comfy bed at day’s end, this cabin fits the bill. The cabin is ADA accessible, with three bedrooms, a modern kitchen, bathroom, modern furnishings, and a fireplace. Outside is a spacious lawn and porch overlooking the pond (with a kayak, too!). There’s no Wi-Fi or television (great for disconnecting!). Bedding and towels are provided but bring dish soap and toiletries. Reservations are available for a minimum of two nights.
Walk the Creek
When the creek is low, a creek walk is an enjoyable activity for kids and adults alike.* Frogs, dragonflies, crawfish, and minnows are a few critters that are fun to spot! Limestone “steps” along the shores create access points. Steps are across the road from the playground and shelter area. And there are more at the campground near the red bridge.
*This creek is prone to flooding in heavy rains. Please be cautious of rising waters and supervise children.
Have a Picnic
Two shady picnic shelters are on the east side of the park, near the playground. They’re surrounded by mature trees with views of the prairie. Modern restrooms are nearby. Shelters can be reserved and are otherwise available first-come, first-serve.
Things To Do Nearby
Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is about 12 miles southeast of the park. And it’s a great place to spend the day. Tour the visitor center, take the auto tour to see the bison and elk herds, or wander through the tallgrass prairie. They even have free loaner binoculars, snowshoes, and children’s activity backpacks.
Quarry Springs Park is 10 miles east of the park. It’s a work in progress, but it’s a one-of-a-kind park that already has a ton to offer! Kayak or fish from three connected lakes, view the Osprey nests, mountain bike, or go camping.
Access the 26-mile Chichaqua Valley Trail, 8 miles northwest of the park in Bondurant. The paved trail extends from Berwick to Baxter, over farmland, creeks, and the Skunk River. Trail users enjoy the rail history and stopping in the small communities along the route!
The Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt is about 18 miles north of the park. It’s over 8300 acres(!) along former Skunk River oxbows. There you’ll find a wide variety of habitats—woodlands, prairie, and wetlands. Hike the trails, canoe the backwaters, fish, or go camping!
Easter Lake Park is about 18 miles southwest of the park. It’s a great place to walk or ride the paved trail around the lake, go fishing, have a picnic, and see the covered bridge.
Ewing Park is 18 miles southwest of the park, next to Easter Lake. It’s a unique park with a lilac arboretum, children’s forest, soapbox derby track, and accessible playground.
Visit Thomas Mitchell Park Today!
Thomas Mitchell Park is at 4250 NE 108th St, Mitchellville, IA 50169.
From Interstate 80, take exit 143 to 1st Ave N in Altoona. Head south on 1st Ave N and turn left (east) onto NE 54th Ave/9th St NE. Turn right (south) onto NE 80th St. After about a mile, turn left (east) onto NE 46th Avenue for 3 miles. Turn right (south) on NE 108th Street, and the park entrance is on your right.
From the Highway 5 bypass (IA-5 S and US-65 N), take Exit 79 for IA-163 E/E University Ave in Pleasant Hill. Head east on IA-163 for about 9 miles. Turn left (north) onto NE 96th St for 3 miles. Turn right (east) onto NE 46th Avenue for one mile. Turn right (south) on NE 108th Street, and the park entrance is on your right.
Summer park hours are 6:30 am – 10:30 pm (April 1 – October 31). Winter hours are sunrise to sunset (November 1 – March 31).
Parking and restrooms at the pond, shelter and playground area, and campground.