Accessible and Inclusive Parks in the Des Moines Metro

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Accessible and Inclusive Parks in the Des Moines Metro

The Des Moines Metro has been developing more inclusive playgrounds where children and adults of all capabilities can play. Playgrounds can be separated into three levels: ADA-Compliant, Accessible, and Inclusive. 

  1. ADA-Compliant: According to ADA guidelines released in 2010, all playgrounds must follow ADA standards. ADA-compliant playgrounds must have wheelchair-accessible routes to the playground. ADA-Compliant does not specify a rubber or other similar surface so ADA-Compliant playgrounds can contain mulch which is difficult for people using wheelchairs or other devices to navigate.
  2. Accessible Playgrounds: These playgrounds are ADA-Compliant and they also offer an array of play experiences. For example, the playground may have a rubber surface so wheelchair users can navigate more easily and provide several options that children can access from a wheelchair level.
  3. Inclusive Playgrounds: These playgrounds provide equipment and features that all children can use including those using wheelchairs or walkers, different sensory needs, and other physical and cognitive conditions. This playground encourages play for all.

Here is a look at accessible and inclusive playgrounds in the Des Moines Metro.


1. Garden Playhouses at Reiman Gardens

Address: 1407 University Blvd, Ames, IA 50011

Accessible: This summer Reiman Gardens will feature a special exhibit, Garden Playhouses, which will feature 11 playhouses, each with a unique theme and fully accessible. The exhibit is from June 1 through September 30, 2024. Design inspirations will include fun themes like a library playhouse, schoolhouse, hobbits, and stargazers. After visiting the exhibits explore the beautiful gardens and enjoy everything Reiman Gardens has to offer.

2. Inis Grove Park

Address: 2500 Duff Avenue, Ames, IA 50010

We’ve played at a lot of parks and this is one of the most amazing parks I’ve visited. The Miracle Playground and Field, which opened in 2020, is the first inclusive playground in Ames and is fun for everyone. There are several different sections of the park. 

Slider’s Canyon is the main playground area targeting ages 5-12 years old and featuring double ramps throughout for those using wheelchairs or walkers, as well as climbing walls and slides. It has a foam bottom for safety and ease of navigating mobility devices. There’s a board that displays the sign language alphabet, sensory panels, and a wheelchair-accessible glider. There are areas for playing musical instruments, a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round, multiple swings including belt swings, and a multi-user swing with back support.

This playground features two large restrooms with size to accommodate wheelchair users. There is also an adult-size changing table, however, it is not height adjustable. There is partial fencing around the main playground and it is set back further away from the parking lot and surrounded by fields.

Inis Grove Park, Ames, Iowa, Parks, Des Moines, Central Iowa


1. The District Playground (Ankeny Library)

1250 SW District Drive, Ankeny, IA 50023

Accessible: This playground located next to the Ankeny Library has a rubber surface, musical play arch, inclusive merry-go-round, and shade canopy. It’s a smaller playground and restrooms are located in the library. It has a ramp to get to one of the structures for those with mobility issues. The sidewalk to get to the playground is ADA-compliant.

2. Miracle Park Playground

400 NW Lakeshore Drive, Ankeny, IA 50021

Inclusive: This 14,00 square foot playground has a rubberized, latex-free surface and double wide ramps for those in wheelchairs and other mobility issues to access equipment. There are play structures for ages 2-5 and 5-12 years old. Inclusive equipment includes structures like the Sway Fun glider (room for two wheelchairs as well as other kids using benches), Roller Table and Roller Slide (give lots of good sensory input to muscles from the steel rollers) OmniSpin Spinner, and Sensory Play Center. Both of my boys love this playground and there is so much to do.

There is also an accessible baseball field and Miracle League program.


Enabling Gardens

1050 1st Avenue South, Altoona, IA 50009

Accessible: This garden was developed to demonstrate how everyone can participate in the joy of gardening despite physical impairments or age. It has many great features for people of all abilities as well as places where kids can play. Signs demonstrate how gardens can be adapted for everyone to participate and this can be seen using raised beds and vertical garden walls. Enjoy the meditative water feature, rain garden, beautiful plants and flowers, and an interactive children’s garden. Children can play in the sandpit and with blocks. There is an accessible sidewalk that goes through the garden. 


Des Moines River Dental Care Playground at North Municipal Park

65 School Street, Carlisle, IA 50047

Inclusive: This playground officially opened in July 2023. It has a rubber surface, wide ramps throughout the structures, 2 ADA-compliant swings, and a roller slide. Learn more about this park!

Des Moines

1. Ashley Oakland Star Playground

1895 E Mckinley Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50320

Inclusive: This playground was the first inclusive playground in the Des Moines Metro and is located within Ewing Park. It has a rubber surface, two harness swings for kids with less upper body strength, an Oodle Swing enabling kids to swing together, shade canopies over the equipment, ramps for those with mobility issues, and grassy areas to play.

2. North Shore Recreation Area

Address: Easter Lake Park at 2830 Easter Lake Drive, Des Moines, IA 50320

Inclusive: The public opening of this park will be on May 5, 2024, from 10:00 AM-4:00 PM. It is set to include an accessible natural playscape, adaptive and accessible recreation equipment, and programming, an ADA-accessible pontoon boat, wider sidewalks, large beach mats to navigate over the sand, calming rooms, and zero-entry ramps for water access for people with limited mobility. This will be the most universally accessible waterfront in Iowa.

3. Riverview Park

710 Corning Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50313

Inclusive: The Variety Star Playground at Riverview Park is an all-inclusive playground modeled after the Riverview Amusement Park that was in its place from 1915 to 1978. There are three areas of the playground catering to different age levels including 6-23-month-olds (I have not seen this at other local parks), 2-5-year-olds, and 6-12-year-olds. The flooring is a rubber surface for improved mobility for wheelchair users and there are swings with adaptive seats, ramps, a merry-go-round that is wheelchair accessible, an adaptive see-saw, an accessible glider, zip lines with bucket seats and harnesses as well as other sensory features.

This playground does not have an accessible bathroom. They just have two porta-potties in the parking lot.


1. Johnston Commons Playground

6700 Merle Hay Road, Johnston, IA 50131

Accessible: Located behind the Johnston Public Library, this playground has a rubber surface, one ramp to get to part of the playground structure, an accessible merry-go-round, and a We-saw (teeter totter with four seats and is wheelchair accessible but requires the child to transfer out of their wheelchair). There is a basketball court, soccer fields and lots of grassy space to play. There is not much shade and this park does not have restrooms.

2. Terra Park

6400 Pioneer Parkway, Johnston, IA 50131

Accessible: This 200-acre park is one of my boy’s favorites. It features two separate play structures with a ramp going to part of the larger play structure, a rubber surface, an OmniSpin Spinner for children of all abilities to spin, a Molded Bucket Seat with Harness for kids that have less upper body strength, and an Oodle Swing for kids to swing together. The theme is nature inspired and there are lots of climbing features.

There is a large ADA-accessible fishing pier, a paved trail around the lake, multiple shelters with picnic tables, a public restroom, and a large parking lot.


Northview Park

4871 78th Street, Urbandale, IA 50322

Inclusive: The Miracle League is located at Northview Park and provides free softball/baseball for those 5 and up with disabilities. The baseball fields are rubberized to allow for improved mobility and wheelchair use. 

The all-inclusive playground is also located at Northview Park with a cushioned rubber surface, ramps, a wheelchair-accessible glider, an accessible zip line with a molded bucket seat and lock-in-place harness, and accessible swings. It also has a fence around three sides to keep kids safe who may like to run.


1. Fox Creek Park

522 NE Westgate Drive, Waukee, IA 50263

Accessible: This playground has a rubber floor, includes a Global Motion (spinning sphere with two levels, nets for safety, and an area for multi-person seating), and a Marble Panel for sensory exploration with marbles that roll and spin. Other features include a splash pad, tennis court, and pickleball courts.

2. Triumph Park

700 NE Douglas Parkway, Waukee, IA 50263

Inclusive: This 15,000-square-foot playground is one of the largest inclusive playgrounds in the nation and a family favorite. It has a rubber surface, music area, and other sensory features, a roller slide for extra sensory input, areas for both large and smaller children, and some areas have ramps for accessibility.  There is also an Oodle Swing for kids to swing together, Sway Fun Glider (a wheelchair-accessible glider), and We-Go-Round (a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round).  The Cozy Domes are like little caves that help kids escape from the noise or visual stimulation. 

The park has an accessible fishing pier and Miracle League ballfields with special turf for accessibility.

West Des Moines

All of the playgrounds in West Des Moines are ADA-compliant.

1. Peony Park

1100 63rd Street, West Des Moines, IA 50266

Accessible: Peony Park was remodeled to now include a rubber base to improve accessibility, an accessible swing, a single ramp to access part of the larger playground structure, a roller slide that provides a bigger sensory experience, and a friendship swing which is easy to access and allows two children to swing together. 

2. Racoon River Park Playground

2500 Grand Avenue, West Des Moines, IA 50265

Inclusive: This playground was remodeled to include an all-inclusive design for children of all abilities. There is a fence between the playground and the parking lot but not on the other side toward Blue Heron Lake. Surfaces are rubber, colored playground grass, and PCC pavement. There is a section for young children with little houses and bucket swings, a large climbing area, an area with slides (not accessible by wheelchair), molded bucket swings that provide head and trunk support, multiple climbing hills, and a Cozy Dome toward the back of the playground for kids that may need a break from sensory input. 

There is also equipment for wheelchair users including a We-Go-Round (spinning equipment) and We-Go-Swing that children can use without having to transfer out of their wheelchair. Toward the front of the playground is a Symbol Communications Board for non-speaking children or those who may communicate best by pointing to a picture symbol. 

This is a unique playground with lots of features and one of my boy’s favorites! Read the Des Moines Parent full review here for Raccoon River Park- West Des Moines.

3. Scenic Valley Park

1223 S 24th Court, West Des Moines, IA 50265

Accessible: Scenic Valley Park was remodeled to include a rubber base to allow all to better access it. It includes a We-Go-Swing which allows kids of all abilities to play together and a child can use it from their wheelchair without having to transfer.

4. Valley Community Center: Eric’s Place

4444 Fuller Road, West Des Moines, IA 50265

Inclusive: This inclusive playground features double-wide ramps, a music area, wheelchair accessible merry-go-round, a swing, and wheelchair accessible glider.

5. Willow Springs Park

5685 Wistful Vista Dr, West Des Moines, IA 50266

Accessible: This newly remodeled playground was upgraded from a mulch surface to rubber which allows those using devices such as wheelchairs to access it. They also have an inclusive merry-go-round and swing.


Winterset City Park

Address: South St. and S. 9th Street, Winterset, IA 50273

Inclusive: This new all-inclusive playground via Winterset Parks and Recreation and Winterset Rotary just opened in Spring 2024. This is one of the first parks in Iowa to have a height-adjustable changing table that can fit children through adults. This is significant as it allows individuals to transfer more safely and easily from a wheelchair and provides more space and safety for bathroom care. 

Ramps are used on the first level of the main playground but children that use wheelchairs or walkers would not be able to access the second level due to tunnels and climbing structures. There is also at least one step to go down the slides so children with mobility issues may need some assistance. There is no fencing and the flooring is artificial turf. They have two ziplines and one has a molded bucket seat for children needing more trunk and head support.

Read the Des Moines Parent full review of the All Inclusive Playground at City Park in Winterset.


Iowa Arboretum & Gardens

Adele and Dean Bowden Treehouse Village

Address: 1875 Peach Avenue, Madrid, IA 50156

Cost: Free to Members and children 2 and under; $10 per person general admission; Youth (3-12 years): $5

Inclusive: Opening Summer of 2024, the Treehouse Village will feature an all-inclusive playground, treehouses, and a suspension bridge. This will allow children of all abilities to play outdoors together in nature. There will be wheelchair-accessible ramps, swings, and a push zipline. It appears features are connected by ramps which would allow children that use wheelchairs and walkers or those with mobility issues the ability to access the playground.

Follow the Iowa Arboretum & Gardens Facebook page for updates. We are so excited to explore this playground!

Whitney Alaniz, MOT OTR/L

Whitney Alaniz, MOT OTR/L

Whitney Alaniz, MOT OTR/L is an occupational therapist turned (mostly) stay-at-home mom. She has worked with adults to young toddlers and has a special interest in early childhood development targeting fine motor skills, feeding, sensory processing, and coordination. She loves incorporating this knowledge with her own two little boys through play. When she’s not running after her little ones she enjoys traveling, cooking new recipes and eating chocolate from her secret stash.

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