When it comes to outdoor activities, Des Moines parks offer excellent options! No matter where you are in Des Moines—or where you want to roam—you’re sure to find a great park near you! We have lots of fantastic city, county, and state parks nearby.
Below are our favorite Des Moines area parks to help you get out and explore the great outdoors. Click on the park name to learn more about each park.
Our 10+ favorite Des Moines parks for outdoor activities
Des Moines Water Works Park is 1500+ acres of protected parkland in the heart of downtown Des Moines. It’s bigger than Central Park in New York City! And it has something for everyone when it comes to outdoor activities. You can even take in a concert at the amphitheater! There’s also a natural playground, paved trails, arboretum, fishing access, and much more.
Gray’s Lake is across the street from Des Moines Water Works Park, so it’s super easy to hit both parks in one day! Journey around the lake on the Kruidenier Trail. Or rent a kayak or paddleboard to explore the 100-acre lake! One of the best things about Gray’s Lake Park is its amazing views. With the city skyline as a stunning backdrop, the lake area offers much to do and see, all within walking distance of the city center.
Raccoon River Park is home to 232-acre Blue Heron Lake and is the most popular park in West Des Moines. There’s so much to do—it’s the perfect place to spend a day. Whether you’re looking for a place to chill or an adventure, it won’t disappoint. Rent a kayak, fish, swim, bike, hike, play, practice archery, or picnic (and more!) while you’re there. The kids love the huge playground right next to the beach!
Easter Lake is 469 acres with a scenic 172-acre lake on Des Moines’ southeast side. Once a coal mine, this urban park has a 6-mile paved trail, a historic covered bridge, and boat rentals to boot. And don’t forget your fishing pole! Easter Lake is ideal for a fun day on water or land.
Officially two parks, Greenwood and Ashworth are Des Moines’ city parks with, well, everything you’d want and more! The Des Moines Art Center is on-site, along with a huge rose garden. And you won’t miss the beautiful lagoon/outdoor classroom (which is also a piece of art!). That’s not to mention miles of trails, a swimming pool, playground, and splash grounds!
Ewing Park is one of our favorites for its unique things to do. The large, inclusive playground is popular for kids of all ages. There’s also a dog park, BMX and soapbox derby tracks, and a disc golf course! And trails too. A paved path runs through the park, and 4+ miles of hiking and mountain biking trails wind through the woods. Also, don’t miss the lilac arboretum in April and May, when hundreds of lilac bushes are in bloom.
Yellow Banks is just east of downtown and one of the most scenic parks near Des Moines. The 552-acre park offers sweeping views from the bluffs over the Des Moines River valley. You can stay awhile in one of the campgrounds. Or spend the day picnicking, hiking, or fishing at the pond or river. And for more adventure, use the river access to kayak the Des Moines River.
Jester Park is one of the Des Moines parks that we can’t get enough of! It’s a one-of-a-kind 1660-acre park with activities you won’t find in just any park. The mini-golf course, natural play area, and bison and elk herds are a few unique features. You won’t want to miss the Jester Park Nature Center and over 8 miles of hiking trails throughout the park. Another great thing is, you can camp in one of the Jester Park campgrounds and take your time exploring!
We can’t talk about Des Moines parks without naming the Saylorville Lake recreation area! With 26,000-acres, it’s one of the most popular outdoor destinations in Central Iowa. The campgrounds have over 500 campsites, and we think they’re some of the best around. And the 6000-acre lake is the place to go boating in the area. While you’re there, go fishing, stop at the visitor center, drop by the butterfly garden, or relax on the beaches. You can also grab a bite to eat at the marina or have a picnic at one of twenty-four picnic shelters!
Big Creek State Park is a 3550-acre park with an 866-acre lake north of Saylorville Lake in Polk City. It’s known for its swimming beach, boat rentals, excellent fishing, and more! The marina is a hub of activities. You can rent a boat or beach cabana, play volleyball, picnic, and let the kids play on the enormous wooden playground. Also, there are several boat ramps on the lakeshores and a disc golf course on the lake’s east side. Or hop on the Neal Smith Trail. It extends from the park, 25 miles south, through Saylorville Lake to Des Moines.
If you’re looking for a place to do some creek walking, Thomas Mitchell is it! Camp Creek runs through the park, and there are limestone “steps” along the shores for easy access. But that’s not the only thing that’s special about this park. It also has a nice fishing pond, campground, hiking trails, and more! The park is just east of Des Moines, near Mitchellville.
Map of Favorite Des Moines Parks
Go Explore the Des Moines Parks
There you have it, the rundown on our favorite Des Moines area parks. Please don’t get us wrong—there are many other area parks well worth checking out! So get out there and explore to find your favorite park.