Natural Playscapes in Des Moines

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Natural Playscapes in Des Moines

My kids love parks, but I think they love natural playscapes (a natural playground) even more. With natural materials “loose parts” like stumps, rocks, and sticks, children of all ages can go crazy building different structures. Climbing logs and rocks never gets old and it is nice to find those options without driving too far into the wilderness. Many of these fun places offer water features for kids to cool off while playing.  We have gathered an entire list of Natural Playscapes in Des Moines and throughout the metro area. Many are central Iowa’s favorite outdoor playgrounds! 

What is a natural playscape?

You won’t find what you see at other playgrounds and parks in this play area. There isn’t a swing set, slide, or monkey bars. Many would refer to those as a fabricated playground. A natural playscape is not your run-of-the-mill playground. It encourages a different type of play and children to take in the natural world with limitless learning opportunities. There are a lot of options for natural playscapes throughout the greater Des Moines area. 

Barrett Park aka Barrett Boesen Natural Playscape – Urbandale

Address: Located on the corner of 156th Street & Waterford Road in Urbandale, Iowa

Learn more: 

  • Plenty of places to climb on the nature climbing features.
  • Large mud kitchen
  • Water play
  • Walking paths 
  • This perfect outdoor classroom is maintained by Urbandale Parks & Recreation Department.

Blank Park Zoo – Des Moines, Iowa

Address: 7401 SW 9th St, Des Moines, IA 50315

  • Included in regular zoo admission
  • Small sandpit, stumps to climb, a small tunnel, and loose wood pieces to build with to encourage children’s creativity.
  • A great way to have hands-on fun while at the zoo! 
  • Tucked away next to the seals/sea lions. 

Brenton Arboretum – Dallas Center, Iowa

Address: 25141 260th St, Dallas Center, IA 50063

Learn more: 

  • Very open with virtually no shade (a few trees along the edges).
  • Haybales, plant tunnel, log slice swing, lots of stumps to climb, tons of sand to dig in, and other natural elements to encourage your child’s imagination.
  • Within walking distance of a planted roof shelter, grass trails, and a large pond to explore. There are tons of natural areas to play and explore!  
  • Take a look at upcoming programs. 

Enabling Garden – Altoona, Iowa

Address: 1050 1st Avenue South in Altoona, 50009

Learn more:

  • Stump walk, wood balance beam, pole bean tent, sandbox
  • Very close (walking distance) to a splash pad on a hot day. 
  • Lots of flowers and fruit that aren’t supposed to be picked

Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

Address: 909 Robert Ray Drive in Des Moines

Learn more:

  • There is admission
  • Play camp kitchen area
  • Logs to climb on
Nature Play Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, natural playground, Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, Des Moines, Iowa

Howell’s Pumpkin Patch Farm Yard

Address: 3145 Howell Court, Cumming, Iowa 60061

Learn more:

  • Open during the Fall and Summer
  • Mud kitchen
  • Small tractors
  • There is an admission

Jester Park Natural Playscape – Granger, Iowa

Address: 12130 NW 128th St · Granger, IA 50109

Learn more: 

  • Has a fountain and a small water pond for playing in, don’t go here during summer if you want your kids to stay dry!
  • It is bi-level, and near a road, so if you have a runner beware
  • Sandpit, climbing log, bridge, log steps.
  • Right next to the bison herds, elk enclosures, and bison wildlife exhibit.
  • Walking distance to trails, creek access to explore, and a bird blind.
  • Make a stop at the Jester Park Nature Center or the Outdoor Recreation and Wellness Center before you leave.
  • Polk County Conservation manages this 1,675-acre park

MacRae Park – Des Moines, Iowa

Address: 1021 Davis Ave, Des Moines, IA 50315

Learn more: 

  • Newer to Des Moines 
  • Sand play area
  • Water pump and creek for tons of water play fun! 
  • Logs to climbs and walk on
  • MacRae Park has a lot of fun features including beautiful views of downtown Des Moines.
  • Pack a lunch because there are a lot of great picnic areas and open air picnic shelters with picnic tables.

McHenry Park – Des Moines, Iowa

Address: 1012 Oak Park Ave, Des Moines, IA 50313

Learn more:

  • A part of a conventional playground, there is also a splash pad and manmade stream to play in
  • Great overlook of the city
  • Lots of open green space for running and exploring
  • Alongside a paved trail

Reichardt Family Natural Play Area – Des Moines, Iowa

Address: 2201 George Flagg Pkwy, Des Moines, IA 50321

Learn more: 

  • Located in Water Works Park near the Lauridsen Amphitheater where you can catch live music several times throughout the year.
  • Tons of walking and biking trails
  • A short walk under the tunnel to Gray’s Lake
  • Tons of fun, natural features, and climbing opportunities!
  • On a Thursday evening during the Summer, you can walk over to Jasper Winery for the Summer Concert Series. 

Sargent Park – Des Moines, Iowa

Address: 3401 E Douglas Ave, Des Moines, IA 50317

Learn more: 

  • A mix of conventional playground options and natural items also has a large fountain for playing in.
  • Slide, climbing net, sandpit, giant tree
  • Nearby marsh and wetland areas
  • Near the Gay Lea Wilson Trail

BONUS! Check out these natural playgrounds not too far from Des Moines.

Grimes Farm & Conservation Center – Marshalltown, Iowa

Address: 2349 233rd St, Marshalltown Iowa 50158

Learn more:

  • Tunnels to climb through
  • Fun ways to play music
  • A sandbox to dig in
  • A water feature to splash in
  • Replica of Mildred’s Tower with slide children could climb and slide down.

Indian Creek Nature Center – Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Address: 5300 Otis Rd SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52403

Learn more:

  • Incredible outdoor classroom
  • Natural materials
  • Tire swing
  • Music station

North Overlook Playscape – Pella, Iowa

Address: 1007 Highway T15, Pella, IA  50219

Learn more: 

  • Located right on Lake Red Rock just outside of Pella, Iowa.
  • Fun nature hike loop for all ages
  • Fossils

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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