Yellow Banks Park is a few short miles east of Downtown Des Moines and is one of the most scenic parks in Polk County. The 552-acre park is well known for its sweeping views and bluffs over the Des Moines River valley. Visitors enjoy hiking trails, camping, fishing, picnicking, and paddling.
Park features include ballfields, camping, playgrounds, picnic shelters, boat ramps, and a pond.
A brief history of Yellow Banks Park
Glaciers shaped the scenic bluffs overlooking the beautiful Des Moines River valley.
Along with the resource-rich forest, the river valley was the perfect place for native cultures to live and thrive. Native American groups called this area home for thousands of years. Today, visitors can see burial mounds from the Woodland culture that lived there over 1000 years ago.
Polk County Conservation took over the park in the 1980s. They hired a state archeologist to study the area and, since then, have uncovered ancient weapons, tools, and pottery. These artifacts help us learn more about civilizations that lived in this area long ago.
Yellow Banks Park Map
As you enter the park, you’ll come to a Y in the road. You’ll find Campground #1, tent camping, and the burial mound trail on the west road (to your right as you enter). If you take another right turn off this road, you’ll go down the hill toward the Des Moines river access (across the railroad tracks).
On the east road (to your left as you enter), you’ll find Campground #2, the ballfields, playground, and hiking trails along the road. If you take another left off of that road, it takes you to the Yellow Banks pond. There you’ll find picnic spots, hiking trails, and fishing.
Hikers will love the variety of hiking trails at Yellow Banks Park. Most trail sections are .5 miles or less, but many connect to create longer trails. Several segments of trail wind around the perimeter of the pond. Hikers can even walk to the Native American Burial mound on the northwest side of the park. See the park map for trail locations.
Some trails are grassy, while others are a bit muddy after rain or snow. The trails that start by the pond have some moderate hills and are a little muddy from time to time. But with good shoes, you won’t have any problems.
Yellow Banks Campgrounds
No matter where you’re camping at Yellow Banks, you’re guaranteed a great view. The campgrounds have a variety of mature trees, including large spruce trees.
Campgrounds have 48 electric sites, with tent, backpacker, and group campsites also available.
Campgrounds #1 and #2 are near the entrance to the park. Both have electric sites, each with a public shower house/restroom. A few of the sites in each loop are reservable. A playground is located between the two campgrounds. A dump station is available for campers’ use, located between the two main campgrounds.
For more info, see: Yellow Banks Park Campgrounds: A Beautiful Outdoor Getaway Close To Des Moines
Campground maps are found on the Polk County Conservation website.
Yellow Banks Pond
Yellow Banks Park is home to a 5-acre fishing pond stocked with catfish, bluegill, and bass. Fish from the shore, fishing pier, or non-motorized boat! Parking is right next to the pond for easy accessibility.
After fishing, stick around for lunch at the shaded picnic area located right by the pond. And after lunch, take a hike! Some of the park’s best trails start just east and southeast of the pond.
Des Moines River Access
At the end of the park’s western road (across the railroad tracks) is a beautiful Des Moines River access area. There, you’ll find a boat ramp, a small picnic area, and paddle-in group campsites.
The Yellow Banks river access point is part of the Des Moines River Water Trail’s south section. From the Harriet Street access point in Des Moines to Yellow Banks is just over 10 miles. Those looking for a shorter stretch can start at the Pleasant Hill river access point for a 3.8-mile float.
The river access area is a perfect place to spot wildlife. You might see an otter playing in the river or a deer stepping out for a drink. It’s an excellent place for bird watching too. From songbirds to large raptors, a variety of birds pass through, and some stay a while. Depending on the season, visitors can spot Bald Eagles or Pelicans passing through.
When the river is low, you can walk out onto the sandbars, explore, or go fishing. Anglers catch a variety of fish, like crappie, walleye, bass, and channel catfish.
Visit Yellow Banks Park Today!
Yellow Banks Park is located just east of Des Moines, at 6801 SE 32nd Ave. in Pleasant Hill, Iowa.
Summer hours are 6:30 am to 10:30 pm (April 1 – October 31), and winter hours are sunrise to sunset.
Free parking is available throughout the park, at the playground, shelters, ballfields, pond, primitive campground, river access area, and a couple of parking areas along the road.
Restrooms are near Shelters #1 and #2 (near the ballfields), with more past the playground and at the Yellow Banks Pond area.
For shelter or camping reservations, visit MyCountyParks.