14+ Creek Splashing Spots around Des Moines

A list of good creeks to play in around central Iowa - the Des Moines metro area. See pictures and find out where to park and play.

Water level

My kids love playing in water, whether it is at a sprayground (here is a list of all the free wading pools and spraygrounds!), lake, or creek. I have the most fun when we take “creek walks” or go “creek splashing” because it is rarely deep enough to be worrisome and we are almost always the only ones there. Throwing rocks, hunting for crayfish, and digging in the sand keeps them busy for as long as I can stand it! Check out all the good creek splashing spots we have found around Des Moines, Iowa; there is a map at the bottom! Let me know if I missed any of your favorites, I will keep it updated. Also check out the artificial “creek” at McHenry Park.

Please keep in mind before you head out that water levels can change depending on the temperature and rainfall. I’ve had people ask me in the past about water quality/safety concerns, and I know the Iowa DNR tracks bacteria levels in the lakes, but I personally don’t worry about it.


Ankeny

Gay Lea Wilson Trail – Ankeny Trailhead

  • Head south from the parking lot, there are probably multiple entry points but the one pictured is maybe 2 minutes from the lot.
  • We haven’t personally played here, but met two families creek walking there while we walked the trail.
  • Paved trail nearby; parking below, it is a very short walk from the lot to the creek.

Chichaqua Valley Trail iowa (4)

Chichaqua Valley Trail iowa (1)

Clive

Clive Greenbelt Park off 100th

  • If you drive all the way to the back and park by the playground, it is roughly 1/4 of a mile walk from the parking lot to the spot we went down, there are probably other access points as well. This spot is visible from the paved trail, with an easy walk down.
  • You’ll pass a pretty waterfall along the path when you walk.

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100

Clive Greenbelt Park off 86th

  • A slightly steeper walk down to the creek, access is right behind the playground and almost visible from the parking lot. Paved trail nearby.

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86

Campbell Recreation Area 

[no pictures yet]
  • We haven’t tried this spot yet, but someone recommended it and said they park by the sand volleyball courts and then walk about 1/4 mile east on the Clive Greenbelt trail until you cross a bridge and then proceed down.

Clive Elementary School

[no pictures yet]
  • We haven’t tried this spot yet, but someone recommended it and said they park in the school parking lot and walk the path down to the stream (visible on the map).
  • 1600 73rd St, Windsor Heights, IA 50324

creek splashing behind clive elementary

Dallas Center

Brenton Arboretum

  • We have not jumped in the creek here, but they hold creek walks here! Map below, you can see parking not far across the street.
  • See a picture here.

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Des Moines

Sargent Park

  • There are multiple spots for creek access, we went underneath the bridge. Roughly 1/4 mile from the parking lot and with a paved trail nearby.

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Granger

Jester Park

  • There is a small stream attached to the natural playscape, and then a larger stream with multiple access points about .5″ from the natural playscape parking lot, right along the Hickory Ridge Trail (marked).
  • There is access to a wider/larger portion of the creek further along the trail towards shelter #5.

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Grimes

Beaverbrooke Park – Grimes, Iowa

  • ” Just to the east of the exercise bars, there is a dirt trail down to the concreted area of the creek.” – shared by a reader!

Madrid

Ledges State Park – Madrid, Iowa

  • One of the most well known spots in the area, there are several fords across the road with shallow water, in addition to a winding creek with beautiful views.
  • The main canyon road is closed for the foreseeable future but I have specific instructions for where you can park and how to get to the water in this blog post.
  • This park is very busy and popular, so don’t expect to have it to yourself!

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Mitchellville

Thomas Mitchell Park

  • Another popular spot, there are concrete steps down into the water at two separate access points. My favorite is shown below on the maps – it is visible from the campground’s parking lot or about a mile’s walk along the Devotie Trail from the main parking lot.
  • There were relatively deep spots when we visited, but no fast currents.

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Urbandale

Rocklyn Park

  • We haven’t visited this spot yet, but a friend said it had easy creek access near the playground.
  • Check out these cool fossils someone found in this creek!

rocklyn park urbandale iowa

Walnut Creek Regional Park

  • Walking from the playground, turn right and go past the climbing trees. After roughly 1/4 of a mile, you’ll see a bridge and a sign for “Little Walnut Creek”, and there is an easy path down to the creek nearby. While you can see the creek closer back behind the playground, proceed with caution because the brush is full of painful pricker-bushes.

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Waukee

Centennial Park

  • Long, shallow rocky creek with multiple access points, visible from the playground and parking lots.
  • Close to a pretty busy road.

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West Des Moines

Brown’s Woods

  • We haven’t been to this spot – Polk County Conservation says “Based on this map, the bridge is on the connector trail between the first loop on the left and the second or middle loop. About right where the little icon is. The middle loop used to be our back loop, but not since the put in the longer trail. If you get in the creek at the bridge, hike upstream and you’ll come to the mini waterfall.
[Photo courtesy of Polk County Conservation]

[Photo courtesy of Polk County Conservation]

Southwoods Park

  • Advertised as having a waterfall, but don’t blink or you’ll miss it!
  • Creek access is roughly a mile from the parking lot, along a paved path, down a dirt path with lots of wooden steps, and through brush.

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Winterset

Pammel Park

  • A large ford crosses the river, leaving a shallow place to play in low water with a shallow creek side below the ford. Visible from the parking lot near the ford; we walked across and then walked down (shown below).
  • It is *very* dangerous directly below the ford, the currents can trap people.
  • The opposite of the river has a faster current and is deeper.

IMG_0995IMG_1047 IMG_0958IMG_0955 pammel state park map

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A list of good creeks to play in around central Iowa - the Des Moines metro area. See pictures and find out where to park and play.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. […] This park is tucked away behind the Seven Flags Fitness Center – lots of lush greenery and shade. It has a nice playground in addition to paved trails and several bridges. There is another playground along the greenbelt also named Greenbelt Park in Clive, see below for a picture of which is which, and see details about the Greenbelt Park on 86th in this post. There is easy creek splashing access here, you can see more specific details about how to get into the water in this post. […]

  2. […] Jester Park is a hugely popular park, with lots of options. The natural playscape sits alongside a bison and elk herd, several campgrounds flank miles of wooded trails. Discovery Pond is a beautiful spot to explore, and there is regular nature programming held throughout the park. They are currently building an indoor nature center in the middle of the park, but the detour signs are clearly marked in order to acces both sides of the park. There is easy creek splashing access here, you can see more specific details about how to get into the water in this post. […]

  3. […] Ledges State Park has some of the prettiest scenery in the area, with unique, shallow water crossings over the main road. There are several challenging trails as well as a very accessible one. This is a perfect place to go “creek stomping” with pets and/or kids – be sure to check the DNR website for flooding closings before you go. The main canyon road is currently closed, but read my summer blog post for where to park and walk up! There is easy creek splashing access here, you can see more specific details about how to get into the water in this post. […]

  4. […] Southwoods Park is a hidden gem – there is a short paved trail that loops around a natural wildflower area with lots of birds. A dirt nature trail goes off from the paved one, down a few flights of wood stairs and connects to a shallow creek bed. There is easy creek splashing access here, you can see more specific details about how to get into the water in this post. […]

  5. […] Pammel Park has a lot to offer, with historic sights to see, extensive trails, a nature center, and the only highway tunnel in Iowa. Middle River runs through the park, with a ford providing perfect splashing for kids. There is easy creek splashing access here, you can see more specific details about how to get into the water in this post. […]

  6. […] Greenbelt Park in Clive off of 86th St. is a hidden gem during summer; almost the entire playground is well shaded by trees.  There is another playground along the greenbelt also named Greenbelt Park in Clive that’s off 100th st., see below for a picture of which is which, and see details about the Greenbelt Park off 100th in this post. There is easy creek splashing access here, you can see more specific details about how to get into the water in this post. […]

  7. […] Campbell Recreation Area is a big area, with two separate areas. When you’re pulling in, the softball fields, volleyball courts, and one basic playground are all to the left. To the right/center are the newer playgrounds, with a separate toddler-friendly playset. A small paved loop around the shelter is great for kids to bike or ride toys around. There is easy creek splashing access here, you can see more specific details about how to get into the water in this post. […]

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