Iowa is an incredible place to explore the outdoors. With rolling hills, wooded areas and spacious prairies, there are endless landscapes to discover. Whether you’re a beginner looking to explore new places or searching for a spot for a family-friendly hike, there are lots of options around the Des Moines metro. The next time you’re ready to head outdoors, check out one of these seven easy hiking trails near Des Moines.
Kruidenier Trail around Gray’s Lake
Where: South of downtown Des Moines at Gray’s Lake Park (2101 Fleur Drive, Des Moines, Iowa)
Why: This 2-mile paved trail loop is a downtown favorite for walkers and runners alike. Surrounding the picturesque Gray’s Lake, this trail is a great option for a walk close to downtown or a longer outdoor adventure connected to one of the city’s other downtown trail systems.
In addition, the park also offers seasonal canoe and paddle boat rentals for visitors to take out on Gray’s Lake.
Tip: If you’re a craft beer fan, pop off the Kruidenier Trail to grab a quick pint or two at neighboring Confluence Brewing Co.
Browns Woods Trails
Where: Located along Highway 28 in West Des Moines (Brown’s Woods Forest Preserve, 465 SE Brown’s Woods Drive, West Des Moines, Iowa)
Why: As the state’s largest urban forest preserve, Browns Woods encompasses 486 acres of oak and hickory trees covering rolling hills along the Raccoon River. While there are sections of the Browns Woods trails that are ADA accessible, the 4 miles of trails in this preserve are largely wooded and unpaved.
Tip: If you love to forage, this is your spot! Browns Woods is a great place to find nuts, fruit or edible mushrooms—just be sure you don’t damage the plants while you’re collecting.
Where: Located 25 minutes north of Des Moines on the northwest side of Saylorville Lake in Granger (Jester Park, 12130 NW 128th St., Granger, Iowa)
Why: There truly is something for everyone at Jester Park, including every type of hiker. In addition to campgrounds, picnic areas and ample space for fishing and boating, Jester Park has a variety of easy to moderate trails ranging from 0.2 miles to 5 miles.
These mixed nature and multi-use trails are a great way to explore the 1,661 acres of land and enjoy picturesque views of Saylorville Lake.
Tip: Jester Park is also home to bison and elk herds. Located at the northwest corner of the park, the herds are visible from a number of the nearby trail segments. Just be sure to follow the signs and view these plains giants from a safe distance.
Trestle to Trestle Trail
Where: South trailhead at Euclid Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway in Des Moines
Why: This 3.5-mile paved trail connects Des Moines’ Inner Urban Trestle Bridge to Johnston’s Trestle Bridge. If you’re looking for an urban trail that encapsulates a unique piece of local history, this is the route for you.
The Trestle to Trestle Trail, along with many others in the area, repurposed trestle bridges built for the Des Moines & Central Iowa Railroad into amenities for cyclists and walkers alike.
Tip: Not only does this trail take you through the heart of Des Moines, but it’s also easily accessible. Both ends of the trail have parking and the Des Moines trailhead has public restrooms.
Yellow Banks Park
Where: 20 minutes east of downtown Des Moines in Pleasant Hill (Yellow Banks Park, 6801 SE 32nd Ave., Pleasant Hill, Iowa)
Why: Similar to the Loess Hills in western Iowa, the bluffs at Yellow Banks Park were created from soil deposits during the glacial period. Today the remaining bluffs make a great place to hike with many scenic vistas overlooking the Des Moines River and sprawling oak savanna.
Yellow Banks Park has a variety of short trail loops, including one that accesses the park’s backpacking camping area.
Tip: In addition to the beautiful yellow bluffs that tower over the Des Moines River, the land that is now Yellow Banks Park is also the location of a Native American burial mound. Experience this unique piece of the area’s history by taking the quarter-mile Indian Mound Trail loop.
Walnut Woods State Park
Where: 15 minutes southwest of downtown in West Des Moines (Walnut Woods State Park, 3155 SE Walnut Woods Drive, West Des Moines, Iowa)
Why: The tranquil space of Walnut Woods State Park is easily one of the area’s hidden gems. Home to the largest collection of black walnut trees in Iowa, this park is a great place for hiking, bird watching, fishing and camping.
Both the Bottomland Trail and the Tree Swallow Trail offer easy hiking on a 2.2-mile and 1.7-mile trek respectively along the banks of the Raccoon River.
Tip: If winter exploring interests you, Walnut Woods State Park has great trails for cross-country skiing in the colder months. For more cold-weather activities in central Iowa, check out this winter post!
Raccoon River Park
Where: Located along the Raccoon River in West Des Moines (Raccoon River Park, 2500 Grand Ave., West Des Moines, Iowa)
Why: Raccoon River Park is one of the metro’s most sprawling outdoor spaces. With 631 acres of parkland surrounding the 232-acre Blue Heron Lake, this park is the perfect place to get outdoors without going far from the city.
The 3.2-mile crushed rock nature trail that circles the lake is a great, dog-friendly option for families or solo walkers looking for a place to explore.
Tip: During the summer, Raccoon River Park also has a swimming beach that serves as a popular place to cool off. While there are no lifeguards on duty, there are safe swimming areas designated within the lake.
About the guest blogger
Megan Bannister is a freelance writer and blogger at Olio in Iowa based in Des Moines, Iowa. When she’s not sampling and writing about food, Megan enjoys visiting unique destinations, roadside attractions, and “world’s largest” things across the Midwest and beyond. Her book, Iowa Supper Clubs, highlights classic eateries past and present from around the state.