You’ll find Iowa’s largest stand of Black Walnut trees in this beautiful 260-acre park along the Raccoon River, just minutes from Downtown Des Moines. Walnut Woods State Park offers visitors opportunities to hike, fish, camp, paddle, and more.
So, whether you’re looking for a shady picnic spot, want to spend the day by the river, or are looking for a great campground, you’ll find it all at Walnut Woods.
Things to Do at Walnut Woods State Park
With its proximity to major roads and easy access to the Des Moines metro, Walnut Woods State Park campground is the perfect place to stay. It’s a small, shady campground nestled on the east side of the park. All sites are reservable.
Walnut Woods is a bird watcher’s paradise! Over 90 species of birds call this park home at some point during the year. Follow the signs to the Bird Blind for the best viewings in the park. From hawks and owls to flycatchers and songbirds of many varieties, it’s Iowa bird watching at its best.
Paddle the Raccoon River
The Raccoon River water trail is popular for canoeing and kayaking. Many start at the Booneville access and take out at Walnut Woods State Park, for almost 13 miles of paddling. There are many sandbars and some rocky areas, and it’s suitable for most paddlers. When river levels are low, this section of the river takes several hours to float.
To access Walnut Wood’s boat ramp, take a left just inside the main entrance (on the park’s western side). Paddlers need to arrange a shuttle to and from access points. Click here for the Iowa DNR water trail maps.
Hike the trails
The Bottomland Trail is a 2.2-mile multi-use trail that winds through the woodlands of the park. It’s a relatively flat and easy trail, great for kids and adults alike. Hikers enjoy the mature forest, Raccoon River, and seeing wildlife along this trail. Most should plan for almost an hour to complete the entire route.
You can access sections along the park’s north side for a shorter hike on the Bottomland Trail. These sections connect picnic areas, the playground, and the bird blind.
Many visitors to Walnut Woods enjoy fishing from the shores of the Raccoon River. Cast a line from the riverbank, or access the water from the sandbars when the river level is low. Smallmouth bass, catfish, and walleye are a few of the fish you might catch in this stretch of the river.
Have a picnic
What could be better than a picnic under the shade of stunning, mature Black Walnut trees? There are several picnic areas with tables and fire grills throughout the park. And the kids will enjoy playing on the playground near a few of the picnic areas.
Rent the CCC Lodge
Walnut Woods is home to a classic 1930s CCC-era Lodge. Constructed of timber and limestone, this historic building is a beautiful piece of history, surrounded by the shade of mature Walnut trees.
Guests love the beauty of nature, historic architecture, and modern amenities at the Walnut Woods Lodge. With a full kitchen, A/C, and two fireplaces, it’s the perfect place for a wedding, grad party, or family gathering!
Seventy chairs are available, with picnic tables available inside and outside the shelter. Capacity is 75 people inside and 55 outside. For more information on renting the lodge, see the Reserve America website.
Walnut Woods State Park Map
Walnut Woods State Park Campground
Whether you’re visiting family, attending an event in Des Moines, or going to the Iowa State Fair, the park is a great place to set up camp. The Walnut Woods Campground is a beautiful, shaded campground close to Des Moines.
It’s a popular campground with a limited number of campsites, so it fills fast during the summer. It’s good to plan ahead and reserve a site if you can. To book your spot, visit Reserve America.
Campsites include eight full hookups, thirteen electric sites, and a group tent site. All sites have a concrete pad (except the group tent site). The campground has modern restrooms and a dump station but no showers available. Firewood is available for sale.
Other Things to Do Nearby
The Purple Martin Water Resource Area is just 2 miles west of Walnut Woods State Park. 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.
Brown’s Woods Forest Preserve is a popular hiking destination two miles east of Walnut Woods. Hikers love the beautiful sloped woodlands and small streams on 4 miles of looped trails.
Raccoon River Park is just across the river from Walnut Woods and offers a wide array of outdoor recreation. This park has a public beach, a large playground, an ice skating rink, and boat rentals. It’s a popular outdoor destination year-round.
A new pedestrian bridge will soon connect Walnut Woods and Raccoon River Park. The bridge is slated for construction through the West Des Moines’ Five Waters Project and scheduled for completion in the next few years. Project construction could impact the Walnut Woods park trail.
The Great Western Trail is a paved 16.5-mile trail, just 3 miles from the park. This trail 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.
Just north of Walnut Woods, off of I-35, you’ll find Jordan Creek Town Center and many other shopping and dining options.
Visit Walnut Woods State Park Today!
Walnut Woods State Park is located at 3155 SE Walnut Woods Dr., West Des Moines, IA 50265.
From I-35, take the Highway 5 Bypass (Exit 68). Next, take the SE 35th St/Walnut Woods exit off the Bypass (Exit 102). Head north on SE 35th Street, and turn left (west) onto Army Post Road. Take a right (north) onto SW 105th St. and drive around the curve to the park entrance.
There is parking throughout the park. You’ll find parking at the boat ramp, lodge, and campgrounds. Other parking areas are along the road close to picnic areas.
Restrooms are at the campground. Vault toilets are near the entrance, playground, and on the park’s east side near the trail.