Top 10 Best Parks around Des Moines, Iowa

A list of the top 10 parks that are worth a 30-45 minute drive, around the Des Moines, Iowa metro. Unique playground elements, cool structures nearby, and themed parks.

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while and finally made a list, it’s my personal top ten parks around the Des Moines metro! These are the parks that I think are worth a 30-45 minute drive from wherever you are because they are so fun, appeal to multiple ages, and have something(s) that can’t be found anywhere else! I’ve included a little blurb about why we love each park and you can click on the link to see more pictures and nitty gritty details about each spot. There is a map at the bottom to see where they all are, let me know if you think I left any place out that deserves to be here!

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Glow Wild 2017 at Jester Park!

glow wild at jester park 2017 event

We had so much fun at the inaugural Glow Wild event last year and have been looking forward to this year’s event all summer! This is a fundraiser for the Jester Park Nature Center (yay!!) and sponsored by Charles Gabus Ford & Firetrucker Brewery. If you went last year, you know the attendance way exceeded their expectations but they have planned a bigger and better event to accommodate even more crowds.

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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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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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