If you’re looking for places to hike in Des Moines, look no further! Des Moines has (so) many excellent hiking trails, some right in the heart of the city.
When we’re talking about hiking trails, we mean dirt, gravel, grass, and mulch trails! If it’s paved trails you’re after, head over to our article on area bike trails.
Places to Go Hiking in Des Moines
Best Hiking Trails in Des Moines
Whether you live here or are visiting, you don’t have to go far to escape to nature! Below are the best hiking trails in Des Moines and its suburbs, within about a 20-mile radius.
Sycamore Trails take you deep into the woods on over 6 miles of dirt trails along the Des Moines River! Located on the north side of Des Moines, the paths are on a floodplain filled with mature forest. Mountain bikers, hikers, and runners enjoy spotting wildlife and exploring the wilderness. There are two sections of Sycamore Trails, north and south of I-80. For more information, see our Sycamore Trails article and the Central Iowa Trail Association website.
Center and Denman’s Woods Trails
Center and Denman’s Woods are near Greenwood-Ashworth Park, in the heart of the city by the Des Moines Art Center. Here, over 10(!) miles of dirt trails wind through woodlands full of mature hardwood trees! Sloping paths and flat areas offer something for everyone, whether you’re mountain biking, hiking, or trail running. For more information, check out our article and the CITA website.
Brown’s Woods Forest Preserve
At 486 acres, Brown’s Woods Forest Preserve in West Des Moines is Iowa’s largest urban forest. And it’s an exceptional place to hike. More than four miles of hiking trails wind through sloping hills and over small streams surrounded by mature oak and hickory trees. Trails interconnect and create a series of loops—check the map before heading out, and follow signs. Check out our article on Brown’s Woods to learn more!
Raccoon River Park Trail
Raccoon River Park is the largest park in West Des Moines, with a long list of outdoor activities, including hiking! The 3.2-mile multi-use trail loops around Blue Heron Lake, a 232-acre lake at the park’s center. It’s a flat and easy gravel path, offering great views and opportunities to spot wildlife. Part of the trail runs right between the lake and the Raccoon River. See our article to learn more about everything Raccoon River Park has to offer.
Ewing Park is a beautiful 350-acre city park on the east side of Des Moines. Over 4 miles of dirt singletrack trails wind through the woodlands on the park’s west and south side. Central Iowa Trails Association maintains the trails for bikers, hikers, and runners. For more information, check CITA’s map and descriptions of each trail segment. Learn more about Ewing Park here.
Fort Des Moines Park
Fort Des Moines Park is a 135-acre county park with a large pond on the southeast side of Des Moines. It has over 2 miles of paved, gravel, and soft-surface trails around the pond and through the woods. The .7-mile, soft-surface trail on the park’s southeast corner is a favorite for exploring the woods. Check out our article for more on Fort Des Moines Park.
Yellow Banks Park
Yellow Banks Park is a 552-acre park on Des Moines’ east side. It features impressive views from bluffs over the Des Moines River valley and burial mounds from the native Woodland culture. Over two miles of trail circle the pond and wind through the forest. There’s also a short loop trail and a trail leading to the burial mounds. Most trail sections are .5 miles or less, but many connect to create a longer hike. Learn more about Yellow Banks Park here.
Walnut Woods State Park
Walnut Woods is a 260-acre park along the Raccoon River, minutes from Downtown Des Moines. The Bottomland Trail is a 2.2-mile multi-use trail that winds through the mature forest at the park. Hikers enjoy the woodlands, views of the Raccoon River, and spotting wildlife. See our article on Walnut Woods State Park for more of what this park has to offer.
Purple Martin Lake
After you hike the trail at Walnut Woods, go two miles west to Purple Martin Lake! Tree Swallow Trail is a 1.7-mile trail on the shores of Purple Martin Lake. It’s a flat, mowed trail through the native grasses and wildflowers. It’s important to note that this is not a loop trail; plan for an out and back hike! Learn more about Purple Martin Lake here.
Margo Frankel State Park
Margo Frankel State Park is a 136-acre park on the north side of Des Moines, with peaceful rolling hills and dense woods. The soft-surfaced paths travel through mature oak and walnut trees and over small streams. Signage is limited, but the trails are relatively easy to follow. Trails are approximately 2 miles out and back. Learn more about Margo Frankel State Park here.
Maffitt Lake Reservoir
Dale Maffitt Reservoir is in Cumming, a few short miles southwest of Des Moines (south of West Des Moines). The ~4.5-mile flat, grassy trail surrounds the southern shores of the pristine 200-acre lake. Views of the lake are sparse, but it’s a beautiful hike among the trees. For more on Maffitt Reservoir, see the Des Moines Water Works website.
Jester Park a one-of-a-kind 1660-acre park about 20 miles north of Des Moines. It has an amazing Nature Center and over 8 miles of hiking trails! Trails wind through the woods, around the pond, and even along the shores of Saylorville Lake! Some are short, but many on the park’s west side connect. The longest trail is Lakeshore Trail (5 miles) along the west side of Saylorville Lake. For more on Jester Park, see our article.
Southwoods is a 40-acre nature preserve in West Des Moines. Paved and dirt trails pass by wildflowers, woodlands, and a creek. Trails are short (~.5 mile), but narrow paths through the woods and along the stream allow further exploration. For more on Southwoods Park, check out our article.
Thomas Mitchell Park
Thomas Mitchell Park is a scenic 197-acre park, about 15 miles east of Des Moines. Explore the hilly woodlands, cross Camp Creek, and stroll around the pond on three hiking trails. The trails all connect for a total of 1.7 miles. Learn more about Thomas Mitchell Park here.
Strasser Woods is 40-acres of dense woodlands on Des Moines’ east side. You’ll soon forget you’re in the city under the thick canopy of trees. It’s the perfect spot for a short (but hilly!) hike. The .45-miles of hiking trails are a bit short, but they connect to the Gay Lea Wilson paved trail to the east. From there, you can go on for miles! See our article on Strasser Woods for more information.
Banner Lakes is at Summerset State Park, 11 miles south of Des Moines and north of Indianola. Mountain bikers and hikers can use the 5½ miles of dirt trails that twist around the woods near the lakes. Paths are narrow in many areas. See our article on Banner Lakes for more information. For trail info and an interactive map, see the CITA website.
Get Out and Explore the Hiking Trails in Des Moines!
There you have it, all the best places to hike near Des Moines! The good news is, there are hiking trails in every direction. So, no matter where you call home or where you’re staying, a great hiking trail is never far away!