The Principal Riverwalk isn’t your average trail. It’s a recreational park district in the middle of downtown Des Moines! You’ll enjoy walking along the beautiful Des Moines River, but you’ll find much (much!) more to do while you’re there.
The Principal Riverwalk: More Than a Trail
The Principal Riverwalk Project is a joint effort by the City of Des Moines, Principal Financial, and the State of Iowa. It started in 2004 and finished in 2013. The Riverwalk is a pivotal project that helped invigorate the city and spur development. And it provides excellent recreational and cultural opportunities for residents and visitors alike.
The 1.2-mile trail forms a loop, connecting the east and west sides of downtown via two pedestrian bridges. The historic Des Moines Union Railway Bridge is on the south end of the loop. From there, the trail extends north on both sides of the Des Moines River. It ends at the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge on the north.
The great thing is, you can access hundreds of miles of trails from the Principal Riverwalk!
Things To Experience Along the Principal Riverwalk Trail
- Brenton Skating Plaza is on the river’s east side off Grand Ave. It’s an outdoor ice skating rink in winter and an event center during the summer.
- Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens is on the trail’s northeast side, near the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge. It features a pavilion surrounded by beautiful landscaping, relaxing waterfalls, and unique gardens.
- The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden is on the river’s east bank, north of the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge. Explore and learn as you wander about the wide variety of indoor and outdoor gardens.
- Stop at the Principal Riverwalk Hub, a 2200-square-foot pavilion on the river’s west banks at Court Avenue. It’s a great place to rest and take in the riverside surroundings.
- Simon Estes Amphitheater is on the trail’s east side. Summer concertgoers enjoy the ambiance of the city skyline almost as much as the entertainment.
- Artwork! Principal Riverwalk is part of the 6-mile Downtown Des Moines Art Route.
- Hansen Triangle Park is a unique urban park on the trail’s west side (at Grand Ave). You’ll love its beautiful landscaping, architecture, and artwork.
- Behind City Hall on the east side, you’ll want to stop and stay awhile at Long Look Garden. It features a beautifully landscaped staircase overlooking the river.
- Kids and adults alike will love Rotary Riverwalk Park! It’s a fishing-themed playground on the river’s west banks by the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge. You can’t miss the 65-foot fishing pole and 12-foot bobber that lights up at night!
- Lauridsen Skate Park is a state-of-the-art skatepark on five acres north of Rotary Riverwalk Park. It’s the largest open skatepark in the nation, with 88,000(!) square feet of skateable space. Open from 6:00 am to 10:30 pm.
Know Before You Go!
- Downtown Des Moines is known for its excellent selection of restaurants, bars, and breweries.
- Hit the museums while you’re downtown. The State Historical Museum, Iowa Hall of Pride, and Wells Fargo History Museum are close to the Riverwalk. And the Science Center of Iowa is a few blocks off the trail.
- The Riverwalk is near the Court Avenue District and East Village. You can park and walk (or bike) to downtown restaurants, bars, and attractions.
- If you’re downtown on a Saturday during the warmer months, you won’t want to miss the Downtown Farmer’s Market (it’s ranked one of the best farmer’s markets!).
- Take the free D-Line shuttle around downtown! The D-Line has free shuttles every 10-15 minutes from the East Village to the Western Gateway. Hours are limited – check the DART website for the latest info.
- Future projects along the riverwalk include a whitewater course!
There are no official trailheads for the Principal Riverwalk. However, you can park near the trail in metered street parking or parking ramps (go here for a parking map).
You can also start on John Pat Dorrian Trail from the Botanical Center (northeast of the Riverwalk). Or start from the Meredith Trail at Gray’s Lake (south of the Riverwalk).
Meredith Trail is a ~3-mile trail that starts at Gray’s Lake. It extends northeast, turning north where the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers join. It meets up with the Principal Riverwalk near Court Avenue.
The John Pat Dorrian Trail is a 3.4-mile paved trail starting near the Botanical Center. It extends south, sharing the path with the Principal Riverwalk along the Des Moines River’s east banks. It continues south of downtown, ending at Pete Crivaro Park.
From the two connecting trails above, connect to more trails heading in any direction! Head north to Saylorville Lake on the Neal Smith Trail or southeast to Easter Lake on the Carl Voss Trail. Near Gray’s Lake, connect to Bill Riley Trail to go west and the Great Western Trail to head south. All these trails (and more) form a network of hundreds of miles through Central Iowa.
Principal Riverwalk Trail Facts
- Location: Downtown Des Moines
- Distance: 1.2 miles
- Surface: Asphalt
- Difficulty: Easy
- Description: The Riverwalk is a loop connecting the east and west side of downtown Des Moines. It extends from Court Avenue north just past Grand Avenue. Two pedestrian bridges mark the north and south end of the loop.
- Trailheads: Access the trail from downtown Des Moines
- Connectors: Meredith Trail, John Pat Dorrian Trail