Winterset City Park isn’t your ordinary, run-of-the-mill city park! Instead, it’s a one-of-a-kind 76-acre park with a covered bridge, limestone tower, maze, and more! The great thing is, it’s only about 40 miles southwest of Des Moines, making it an easy (and worthwhile) day trip!
A Brief History of Winterset City Park
Winterset City Park recently made it onto the National Register of Historic Places for its 17(!) notable historic features!
The stone tannery ruins from 1877 are the oldest. And it’s said it was a stopping place for Frank and Jesse James. The ruins are along Tower Road (but somewhat hard to spot from there).1,2
The city procured the first few acres of land for the park in the mid to late 1800s. And many of the park’s historic structures were built from the 1910s through the 1920s. The Arbor Shelter and Clark Tower are two landmark features visitors enjoy. And don’t miss the Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge (built in 1870; moved to the park in the 1970s).1,2
Things to Do at Winterset City Park
Visit the Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge
Winterset is known for its historic covered bridges. And the 79-foot Cutler-Donahoe Bridge at Winterset City Park is the most accessible of all—it’s one of only two accessible by pavement. This popular attraction is near the park’s entrance, and visitors can walk across it.
Drive the Clark Tower Loop Trail
This auto trail is a one-way gravel/dirt road leading to Clark Tower on the park’s south side. It’s a fantastic drive through the dense forest, with expansive views near the tower. Fall is a beautiful time to make this drive! Note that the road is closed to car traffic in the winter.
For a bit more adventure (and a workout), you can also hike the 2.3-mile Clark Tower Loop Trail! Look for the hiking trail shortcut off the road—it cuts down on the distance to the Clark Tower and gets you away from car traffic a bit.
Take in the Views at Clark Tower
Clark Tower is a 25 foot-tall stone tower that resembles a castle, complete with a winding staircase! At the top, you get a spectacular view of the Middle River valley that goes on for miles. The tower is one park feature you won’t want to miss!
Walk the Hedge Maze
The Hedge Maze is near the park’s entrance and is an excellent place for kids and adults to explore. Can you find your way out?
Play Bocce Ball
The Rotary Bocce Court is next to the Hedge Maze, near the park’s entrance!
See Bennet Cabin
Bennet Cabin is a historic 1852 log cabin built by pioneer Andrew Bennet. It got relocated (and rebuilt) in the park in 1917.
Have a picnic
There are several picnic tables and three limestone picnic shelters at the park. The North and South Shelters accommodate large groups with electricity and fireplaces. And the Arbor Shelter is a smaller picnic area near the maze. All three shelters are reservable at the City of Winterset website or by calling.
Go camping at Winterset City Park
With all there is to do in and around Winterset, you may want to stay awhile! The Winterset City Park Campground has RV and tent sites and is about a block northeast of the park.
Explore the Playground
Kids of all ages will love the playground! And there’s plenty of green space (and shade) all around for playing tag and lawn games.
Play Sand Volleyball
The sand volleyball court is near the playgrounds, on the south end of the main park road.
Camping at Winterset City Park
The Winterset City Park Campground is a great place to spend a few days! Forty RV sites are available—35 back-in sites with full hookups and five pull-throughs with water and electricity. Also, five tent sites are on the east end of the campground. All campsites are reservable and otherwise first-come, first-serve. Find the campground entrance at 225 S 10th St, Winterset, IA 50273, off East Court Avenue. See the City of Winterset website for a map and camping information.
Things to Do Nearby
There are five more covered bridges near Winterset! For a map and more information, see the Madison County Covered Bridges website. (Cedar Bridge was featured on the cover of the famous novel, The Bridges of Madison County.)
There are many things to do in and around Winterset! Here are a few of the places to visit while you’re there:
Madison County Winery
Iowa Quilt Museum
John Wayne Birthplace & Museum
Middle River Park is on the south side of Winterset City Park, off Clark Tower Road. It’s an 80-acre park with picnic spots, a paved, accessible trail, and access to the Middle River Water Trail.
Pammel State Park is an excellent 350-acre park, 8 miles southwest of Winterset. You can go camping or rent a yurt there! Park highlights are the backbone trail (on a limestone ridge!), river access, and fishing.
Fellowship Forest is a 60-acre park 7 miles southwest of Winterset, near Pammel State Park. Fish at the accessible fishing pier, have a picnic, or stroll the one-mile loop trail around the park!
Jensen Marsh is a 190-acre wildlife area 15 miles east of Winterset. It’s used primarily for prairie restoration and public hunting, and hikers enjoy the 1-mile old railway trail.
Float the Middle River Water Trail! The trail starts in Adair County, 18 miles west of Winterset. Holliwell Covered Bridge marks the endpoint, about 3 miles southeast of Winterset. For a map and more information, see the Madison County Conservation website.
The Great Western Trail is a 16-mile paved trail stretching from Martensdale (15 miles east of Winterset) north to Des Moines Water Works Park.
Criss Cove County Park is a 45-acre recreation area 10 miles south of Winterset. There, you’ll find a 9-acre fishing pond and a small campground with RV and tent sites.
Clanton Creek Recreation Area is an 1115-acre natural area 15 miles south of Winterset. It has over 10 miles of hiking trails, as well as public hunting and fishing. Notably, it contains native remnants of prairie, wetlands, and savanna oak.
Visit Winterset City Park Today!
Winterset City Park is at E. South St and S 9th St, Winterset, IA 50273.
Park hours are 6 am – 10 pm. The Clark Tower Trail loop closes at sunset (and is closed to cars during the winter).
1. Winterset City Park. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winterset_City_Park#cite_ref-Scenic_1-0
2. Winterset City Park: Nomination to National Register of Historic Places. Madison County Historic Preservation Commission. http://madisoncountyhistory.net/winterset-city-park-nomination-to-national-register-of-historic-places/