Gay Lea Wilson Trail is a 21-mile trail on the east side of Des Moines. It winds along a creek, around a scenic lake, and has many places to stop along the way! One segment extends from Ankeny to Des Moines, and another links Pleasant Hill to Altoona.
The Gay Lea Wilson Trail
The trail is named after local trail advocate Gay Lea Wilson. In the 1980s, she was one of the first to visualize what’s become an expansive Central Iowa trail network.
The 21-mile trail has two connected sections. One section extends from Ankeny south through Des Moines to Pleasant Hill. They intersect near Pleasant Hill, where the other segment runs northeast to Altoona.
The trail’s north end is at Oralabor Road, east of the Ankeny DMACC Campus, at the Oralabor Gateway Trail. From there, it travels south through residential areas before zig-zagging east and south. It runs east along NE 54th Avenue for about a mile (where it intersects the Chichaqua Valley Trail).
At Four Mile Creek, it swings south and passes Strasser Woods, a 40-acre nature preserve in Des Moines. It follows the creek for about 5.5 miles to Copper Creek Lake in Pleasant Hill.
South of Copper Creek Lake, the trail extends east for 1/2 mile to a T-intersection to meet the other trail segment. At the T, you can turn right and continue south for approximately 1.5 miles. Or turn left to head about 6 miles northeast to Altoona.
Know Before You Go!
- The trail will be 35 miles long when all sections get completed. It will be the lower part of a planned 110-mile Central Iowa Trail Loop!
- At Copper Creek Lake, you’ll find picnic areas, a playground, water, restrooms, and scenic views of the lake.
- In Pleasant Hill on East University, stop and grab a coffee or bite to eat at one of the restaurants!
- Along SW 8th Street in Altoona are a few restaurants and the Altoona Skate Park and Aquatic Center.
Carney Marsh, 580 SE 54th Street, Ankeny. Carney Marsh is an excellent place to start in Ankeny. It’s ½ mile south of the trail’s north endpoint, with a small parking lot.
Mally’s Weh-Weh-Neh-Kee Park, 5792 NE Berwick Dr., Berwick. This 37-acre park is along the Chichauqua Valley Trail and has a parking area. Access the Gay Lea Wilson Trail to the southwest about ¾ of a mile.
Sargent Park, 3530 E. Douglas Ave., Des Moines. This park is a great place to start on the trail from Des Moines. And the kids will love the natural playscape and spraygrounds. There is ample parking here, and it’s next to the path.
Four-Mile Community Center, 3711 Easton Blvd, Des Moines. From here, head west a very short distance to the trail. There’s plenty of parking at the community center.
Copper Creek Lake, 4390 E University Ave, Pleasant Hill. The trail circles Copper Creek Lake. You can park in the main parking area on the lake’s south side off of E. University. Or you can park in a gravel parking area on the lake’s north side, off of E. 42nd St.
Greater Altoona Community Service Campus, 1500 8th St SW, Altoona. The Altoona Campus is the perfect place to get on the trail from Altoona. The large parking area offers direct access to the trail.
Scott Ave. & E Oakwood Dr., Pleasant Hill. Here is the southern point of the trail, with a small gravel drive and parking area are next to the trail. (It’s south of Sleepy Hollow Sports Park.)
The Oralabor Gateway Trail meets the trail in Ankeny just east of the DMACC Campus. Oralabor Gateway runs west along Oralabor Road and south along NW 26th Street. At NW 70th Avenue, it turns west to meet the Neal Smith Trail east of the Des Moines River.
From Oralabor Gateway Trail at the DMACC Campus, you can head north to connect to the High Trestle Trail. This 25-mile paved trail from Ankeny to Woodward features a 13 story trestle bridge over the Des Moines River between Madrid and Woodward.
The Chichaqua Valley Trail intersects with the trail at NE 54th Avenue, south of Berwick. The 27-mile rail trail stretches northeast through rural farmland to Baxter, Iowa.
Gay Lea Wilson Trail Facts
- Location: Ankeny, Berwick, Pleasant Hill, and Altoona
- Distance: 20.9 miles
- Surface: Asphalt & Concrete
- Difficulty: Easy
- Description: The trail extends from Ankeny, south through Berwick, and along the Four Mile Creek Greenbelt to Pleasant Hill. Near Copper Creek, a section of the trail extends northeast to Altoona.
- Trailheads: Carney Marsh, Mally’s Park, Sargent Park, Four-Mile Community Center, Copper Creek Lake, Altoona Campus, Scott Ave & E. Oakwood Dr.
- Connectors: Oralabor Gateway Trail, Chichaqua Valley Trail, many sidepaths and city trails