Union Park- A Gem of Des Moines Parks

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Union Park- A Gem of Des Moines Parks

Walking into Historic Union Park is like walking into the past. From the huge shade trees and historic homes that surround it to the organ music coming from the Heritage Carousel, it is like stepping right into the pages of a picture book. Union Park is a gem of Des Moines-one of the five original city parks in Polk County and the perfect place to relax and play in the Summer months. 

Looking for other splash pads, wading pools, and sprayrounds in Des Moines? Check out our giant guide!


Union Park is located at 725 Thompson Ave in the city of Des Moines in the Union Park Neighborhood. 

Basic Park Details

Type: Places to play and places to get wet
Bathrooms:  Yes
Shade: Yes, shaded shelter
Playground: Yes
Trails: No
Water: Yes, wading pool
Official Website: https://www.dsm.city/business_detail_T6_R92.php

Park Amenities

  • Accessible Playgrounds
  • Enclose Shelters
  • Open Shelter
  • Formal Gardens
  • Splash Pool
  • Restrooms
  • Picnic Tables
  • Benches
  • Charcoal Grills
  • Drinking Fountain
  • Parking Lots
  • Tennis Courts
  • Open Space

The Rocket Slide

Many refer to Union Park as “The Rocket Park” because of the huge rocket slide that is the centerpiece of the park. The slide is over 40 years old and the entire structure has been restored in the last few years. It used to be part of Astro City a playground that was launched in Florida in 1967. On July 23rd, 1971 Des Moines Astro City opened to the public. They do not make playground equipment like this anymore and boy is it fun! I remember a park having a slide like this when I was younger and I was terrified of it but most kids seem to have no fear and were having a blast. It is a great place to use your imagination! 

The Splash Pool

Union Park also features a free splash pool.  Lots of shaded picnic tables surround the area and kids are everywhere, having a good time playing. Taking a dunk or just getting your feet wet is a great way to cool off on a warm morning.

The Heritage Carousel

The Heritage Carousel of Des Moines is a Des Moines treasure. It is a turn-of-the-century replica carousel that features hand-carved animals and paintings of historic places in the city. My favorite part is the little band organ with a real snare drum that cranked out old Sousa marches. Even though it was built in 1998, it still feels very nostalgic. A ride on the carousel is only 50 cents and adults don’t have to pay unless you decide to ride on an animal (which believe me, I spared everyone that show!). In fact, I didn’t see any adults riding the animals so you won’t be out of place if you decide just to stand. You can ride as many times in a row as you pay for and it wasn’t too busy. The Heritage Carousel is a not-for-profit organization run by the Des Moines Carousel Foundation. 

Carousel Hours: May 27  – August 31: Tuesday – Sunday, 11 am – 7 pm; September, weekends only: Saturday & Sunday, 11 am – 7 pm. The Heritage Carousel is closed from October through May.

Union Park Accessibility and Inclusion

Union Park was assessed for accessibility and inclusion by Guest Contributor Whitney Alaniz for ease of getting to the playground, playground amenities, and the playground itself.

Getting to the Playground

1. Public Transportation: The closest bus stop is a 6-minute walk from E 14th Street and Thompson Avenue. 

2. Parking: There are two parking lots near the playgrounds. One is located between the carousel and the Rocket Slide. The second parking lot is next to it between the carousel, splash park, and two other playgrounds. The parking lot is made from cement and there are multiple accessible parking spaces in each lot. 

While accessible parking was located on either side of the first parking lot, accessible parking on the other lot was only on the far side. This may make it harder for those in wheelchairs to get through to the sidewalk. It would be easier if the spots in front were designated as accessible parking.

The sidewalk width of the carousel was standard but wider around the two playgrounds.

Distance from the parking lot is farther to go uphill on a standard size sidewalk to the carousel. The two playgrounds and wading pool are located closer to the parking lot with the second playground for ages 5-12 slightly further and uphill.

Playground Amenities

1. Safety: There is no fencing around the playgrounds except the Rocket Slide which is closed for repairs until Spring 2024. There is also a bike rack to keep bikes safely out of the play area. No hazardous materials were found in the area but there were inappropriate words and phrases that were graffitied onto the inside walls of some of the playground equipment.

2. Resting and Eating: There is a shelter with picnic tables and a roll-in seating option at the end. There are also picnic tables under shelters near the wading pool and several benches with sides and backs around the wading pool. These benches have pull-in space for a stroller or wheelchair. Many trees provide shade for the playgrounds and picnic table areas.

3. Restrooms: There is one public women’s restroom and one men’s restroom. There are grab bars around the toilet and a sink that can be rolled up by a wheelchair user. The women’s restroom had a standard baby/toddler changing table. There was no universal changing bench to hold an adult with disabilities. The water fountain is located between the restrooms.

4. Other Play: There are lots of grassy areas, a tennis court, a carousel, and a wading pool with fountains.


1. Access: Pathways are made of cement to get to the playgrounds. Playground surfaces have mulch and there are no ramps for wheelchair users to access equipment. The two playground areas are designated for ages 2-5 and ages 5-12. 

There is no equipment that a wheelchair user can access without having to transfer out of their chair. There is one accessible swing with a harness.

2. Variety of Play: There are multiple structures for climbing, hanging, swinging, spinning, and sliding. This is a great playground for kids that love to climb and so my two young boys loved it. My two-year-old also loved the spinning equipment. There is no musical equipment or visual play (like mirrors, bubble panels, etc). 

3. Carousel: The carousel animals do not have seatbelts so an adult may want to stand with a younger child. There is one bench for those unable to sit on an animal.

Not Too Far From Union Park

  • Just down the hill is Captain Roy’s right on the Des Moines River which offers live music, food, drinks, and kayak rentals. The perfect spot for lunch after a day in the park!
  • Looking for another park to play at, head to another park full of history Riverview Park just down the way. 


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!

3 thoughts on “Union Park- A Gem of Des Moines Parks

  1. Avatar Ron Field says:

    I lived three blocks from Union Park growing up Till I was 19 years old .I watched the rocket slide being erected when I was there the day they dumped the sand for the base, I must’ve been five or six years old I am now 54 ,It would be a travesty to lose this monument of union parks history .the slide is rare and I believe the only example of this size to exist anywhere in the world, keep this in mind when Considering it’s value To the History of union park and all who have had the opportunity and privilege to enjoy this historical Structure of Des Moines Iowa .

  2. Avatar Ashlee franco says:

    I was just wondering how much it cost to rent the closed in shelter there at union park

  3. Avatar Ashlee franco says:

    How much is it to rent the inclosed shelter at union park

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