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.

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1 Mile Loop Trail at Kuehn Conservation Area

1 mile loop trail kuehn

We recently camped at the Kuehn Conservation hike-in campsite and had so much fun; I decided to properly map out a trail route we took while we were there (you can find a 2 mile loop we have hiked in the past, in this post). It is mainly in the forest, and goes down over a stream into what I call true “Fern Gully” style woods. So lush, green, and quiet. While you can continue to go deeper into the forest past the tree that I climbed, we turned and went back to the prairie and then back up past the upper campground to form a 1 mile loop.

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2 Mile Loop Hike at Kuehn Conservation Area

trail at kuehn conservation area

For Father’s Day, we took advantage of the cooler temperatures and returned to one of our favorites, Kuehn Conservation Area out in Earlham, Iowa! A short drive from the metro, this park feels like it is on the edge of civilization and we love it. Even on a weekend, we practically had the whole place to ourselves. Last Fall we went East and down into the more wooded area, where we saw a creek (pictures on the main Kuehn page) so today we went west, checking out the primitive camping areas, the river beach, and the prairie.

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Natural Playscapes in Central Iowa

natural playscapes des moines iowa central iowa area

My kids love parks, but I think they love natural playscapes even more. With natural “loose parts” like stumps, rocks, and sticks, kids can go crazy building different structures. Climbing logs and rocks never gets old and it’s nice to find those options without driving too far into the wildnerness. We have found four natural playscapes in (and around) Des Moines, Iowa – I would say that Jester & Brenton have the most impressive natural playgrounds but McHenry and Sargent are super fun to visit and worth the drive with their additional, conventional playground features. You can click through to each page for the nitty gritty details like address and bathrooms, with my notes on each playscape below their titles. They are all free, with the exception of the one at Blank Park Zoo.

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Shady Playgrounds in the Des Moines, Iowa Area

Check out a list of the playgrounds with shade in Des Moines, Iowa and surriounding suburbs.

When summer temperatures hit and your kids still need to get outside and play, check out these shady playgrounds around the Des Moines, Iowa area! This list is partially generated off of other folks’ suggestions; if you disagree or have more to add, please just leave a comment and I’ll happily include it in the notes. Shade can also vary due to the time of day, if I know when the pictures were taken I’ve included that note as well! As I add pictures and update with new pictures, you can subscribe to my newsletter to stay in the loop.

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