10+ Best Parks Near Des Moines, Iowa

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10+ Best Parks Near Des Moines, Iowa

I’ve visited lots of parks in the Des Moines metro area and have put together a list of my personal top ten best parks near Des Moines Iowa! These parks include playgrounds, natural playscapes, ponds, splash pads, tire swings, sand pits, and much more. 

With some of the best playgrounds in the Des Moines area, these great parks are worth a 30-45 minute drive from wherever you are. They are so fun, appeal to multiple ages, and have something(s) that can’t be found anywhere else! 

Below you’ll find a link to each of my favorite Des Moines parks and a little blurb about why my family loves each park so much. Visit the park websites to see more pictures and nitty-gritty details about each spot. 

Ashley Okland Star Playground

Ashley Okland Star Playground is a part of Ewing Park in Des Moines; it is designed to be inclusive and has adaptive swings, rubber footing, a large swing/boat that wheelchairs can fit on, and ramps. It has a unique honeycomb climbing tree and a great combination of climbing webs and spinners.

There is a nature trail nearby perfect for younger kids with lots of bridges, twists, and turns. It’s easy to spend a full morning there and keep everyone happy!

Big Creek State Park

Big Creek State Park is in Polk City, with the biggest wooden playset around. It’s a huge playground with a toddler and bigger kid-sized elements, tire swings, pretend boats, and lots of space to roam. My kids love the tunnels and turrets! State parks always offer a ton of fun things to do besides a playground to play on. Big Creek State Park has several park amenities including picnic shelters and picnic tables, miles of trails, boat ramps, open space, and so much more. This is definitely a popular state park during the Summer months!

Brenton Arboretum

Brenton Arboretum is in Dallas Center and is one of our very favorite places. This is the nature playscape, with lots of loose parts and fun things to build and explore. There is a pond nearby, lots of grass trails, and beautiful views. Bring shovels for the sand!

Des Moines Water Works Park 

Not far from downtown Des Moines, this large park is filled with fun things to see and do. It is the perfect place for picnicking with several picnic areas available, enjoy a walking path and bike path, shade trees, green space, a natural playground, excellent fishing, and more. Des Moines Water Works Park is located right next door to Gray’s Lake Park which offers loads of outdoor activities too! This is definitely a popular spot in the city of Des Moines. 

Greenwood/Ashworth Park

Greenwood/Ashworth Park located off Grand Avenue in Des Moines has a new playground and a splash pad, along with a beautiful pond and dugout, an observation tower, and several docks to observe and explore. This huge park and the surrounding area have hours and acres of land to play on. My kids enjoy playing on the playground tucked into the trees, then walking down to spot frogs and wildflowers at the pond. There are additional dirt trails and walking trails back behind Ashworth Pool for further hiking. 

Make a stop at the Des Moines Art Center located right next door! 

Jester Park

Jester Park in Granger is one of the area’s most popular county parks – and for good reason! There is a traditional playground but we love the natural playscape. With loose parts, climbing logs, sand, and a water pool, my kids can play for hours. There are buffalo and elk, some great kid-friendly trails within walking distance, and a fishing pier. Jester Park is a great place to visit all year round. Enjoy cross country skiing, snowshoeing, the Jester Park Nature Center, and more. 

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Ironwood Park

Ironwood Park in Altoona is often known as “The Pirate Ship Park.” There is a great public art sculpture called “Moai Dude” (created by John Brommel), a fun water monster to climb, a pirate ship playground with a plank, a larger playground for older kids, and huge hills to run up and roll down. 

Miracle Park

Miracle Park in Ankeny is designed to be inclusive and has many adaptive features like a wheelchair-friendly swing and rubber footing. There are a ton of things to do and see, with a cool climbing hut and roller slide.

Raccoon River Park

Raccoon River Park is located in West Des Moines and offers a ton of fun things to do. They are currently updating their playground, but visitors can enjoy the beach, rent kayaks or paddle boats, bring their furry friend to the fenced-in area dog park, and much more. Many community programs are hosted at Raccoon River Park too! 

Sargent Park

Sargent Park is in Des Moines, with another natural playscape. There are lots of spots to climb up and dig in, with huge rocks and a few traditional elements like a slide. There is a creek nearby and paved path for exploring, as well as a giant sundial.

Walker Johnston Park

Walker Johnston Park is in Urbandale, with a million things to do park users will never be bored.  There are two traditional playsets, one of which is tucked away between the softball fields. This park has a cute little toddler area with playhouses, pickleball courts, basketball courts, tennis courts, a wooden playground set back in the trees with climbing elements, an observation tower, and a pond with a short paved trail around it.

Winterset City Park

Winterset City Park is down in Winterset, and while the playground is pretty standard (though there are two!), the special features make this worth the drive if you’re exploring parks in Des Moines. 

There is a hedge maze to search for the sundial, a bocce ball court, a beautiful stone bridge for exploring, and then Clark Tower! This cool turret is fun to climb and look out from. There is a dirt hiking path to get to the tower, or you can walk the paved drive if you don’t want to take your car up. Make it a day of fun in Winterset with this itinerary!

Honorable Mention:

The Enabling Garden in Altoona (not on the map below) is so special and fun, but I left it off because I don’t think all older kids would be amused for very long (but I could be wrong!).

There is a splash pad and a cool pond within walking distance, but everything is more or less geared toward younger kids. There are beautiful flowers, a fun sandpit with trucks, some musical instruments, and a few loose parts to build with.

For younger kids, the Enabling Garden is one of the best parks near Des Moines and I highly recommend stopping by.  And Altoona offers a ton of outdoor fun!


Erin Huiatt

Erin is a reliable resource and stepping stone for women and families to find support and make connections within our community. She wants families to feel confident to reach out and ask for help and advice to get pointed in the right direction. She enjoys traveling and exploring with her two children in tow!

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