When several inches of snow are on the ground, snowshoes make getting out on the trails easy and fun. Snowshoeing is an excellent winter endeavor for almost anyone, and you don’t need to buy a lot of expensive gear. So, if you want to try it out, this article is for you. Below we cover everything you need to know about snowshoeing in Des Moines, including snowshoe rentals, the best trails, and more.
Table of Contents
- Where to rent snowshoes in Des Moines
- Best trails for snowshoeing in Des Moines
What are snowshoes?
Snowshoes look a lot like a tennis racket, with a base wider than your boot to keep you from sinking in the snow. Today’s snowshoes often have aluminum frames with plastic or rubber decking. And they strap onto your boots. Most are lightweight and allow you to walk pretty much as you would normally, except with a bit wider stance. And like any shoe, getting the proper fit is essential!
Where to rent snowshoes in Des Moines
Even if you’re sure you’ll love snowshoeing, it’s always a good idea to rent before you buy. That way, you can learn what you like (and don’t like) before you buy your own. The good news is, there are several places to rent snowshoes in and around Des Moines!
And, a few places listed also rent cross-country skis!
Jester Park Recreation and Wellness Center
Jester Park rents snowshoes for kids and adults for half-day increments. And you can call ahead to make reservations (515-323-5330)!
Captain Roy’s now rents snowshoes daily during regular business hours. They’re at Birdland Marina, near Union Park, a fun place to try out snowshoes! For more information, call (515) 631-2223.
Active Endeavors has one and two-day rentals, with poles available on request. You can call them at (515)226-9345 or visit their website for more information.
Des Moines Parks & Rec
Des Moines Parks & Rec has snowshoe rentals that you can pick up at 1551 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Pkwy. Call (515)248-6369 for more information, or sign up for one of their snowshoe hikes.
Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge
Head east of Des Moines for a beautiful winter day snowshoeing at Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge! The visitor center has free snowshoe rentals when they’re open.
Cost to rent snowshoes
The cost of snowshoe rentals ranges from $0-$20, depending on the place and length of the rental. Some include the poles too.
Try a snowshoeing event!
Many local City Parks & Rec Depts and County Conservation Boards have snowshoeing events. Plus, gear and instructions are often part of the programming. So sign up for one of these events to give snowshoeing a try!
Best trails for snowshoeing in Des Moines
You can snowshoe on almost any hiking trail! Two things to remember when snowshoeing are 1) to make sure there’s enough snow (that’s not gotten trampled) and 2) to avoid trails groomed for cross-country skiing.*
Snowshoes work best with at least 4 inches of snow on the ground. But sometimes, the hiking trails around Des Moines get enough traffic that snowshoes aren’t needed! In that case, head to a park for a bit for less snow-packed routes. Below are some popular areas for snowshoeing.
- Greenwood Park/Center Trails
- Sycamore Trails
- Brown’s Woods Forest Preserve
- Yellow Banks Park, Savanna Trail
- Easter Lake Park, Wymore Trail
- Fort Des Moines Park, Nature Trail
- Jester Park, Hickory Ridge Trail (avoid the groomed ski trails – see the ski trail map here)
- Waveland Golf Course
- Pioneer Park
- Union Park
- Ewing Park
If it’s recently snowed, most trails around Des Moines are great for snowshoeing. But if it hasn’t snowed lately, some paths might get packed down so much that snowshoes aren’t needed. For more out-of-the-way, less busy trails, consider visiting these outdoor recreation areas:
- Maffitt Lake
- Purple Martin Lake
- Margo Frankel Woods
- Lake Ahquabi State Park
- Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge
- Ledges State Park
- Voas Nature Center
- Kuehn Conservation Area
- Annett Nature Center
Related: Animal Tracks in Snow: Identifying the Most Common Animal Tracks
Tips for an excellent snowshoeing adventure
It may be cold outside, but when you’re snowshoeing, you could work up a sweat! (Snowshoeing can burn 600 calories per hour!) So, you want to dress for the cold temps and remove layers when you get hot. The best way to prepare is to wear the appropriate layers and stay dry!
It might not seem like you’re going to be out there that long. But snowshoeing can take a bit longer than a hike, and it’s best to have water at all times.
Go in a group.
As with any other outdoor activity, there’s safety in numbers. Going with a small (or large!) group ensures that if an emergency happens, you get help faster. That said, if you plan to head out on your own, make sure you tell someone where you’re going and when to expect your return.
Walk single file.
It’s just easier and safer single file. You run the risk of stepping on each other’s shoes or tripping when you walk too close together.
To go up a hill…
Take short steps and lead with the ball of your foot. Kick the front of your shoe in the snow, and then press down firmly with your heel to dig in. Poles help you keep your balance and aid in climbing.
To go down a hill…
Going downhill is the opposite of climbing. So having heel traction (i.e., heel cleats) is essential for a safe descent. Bend your knees and lean your weight back for balance as you step down with your heel first. Again, balance is critical here, and heel traction and poles are invaluable!
Of course, as you get more experienced, you’ll learn what works best for you. For more on snowshoeing basics, check out this video from LL Bean.
*Anytime you see cross-country ski tracks, avoid them as much as possible. When ski tracks or groomed trails get trampled, trails get (much) more challenging for cross-country skiers to use.
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