Best Easy Day Hikes Des Moines  by Michael Ream

Best Easy Day Hikes: Des Moines Guide Book

by Michael Ream (Falcon Guides)
Best Easy Day Hikes Des Moines  by Michael Ream
Best Easy Day Hikes Des Moines includes concise descriptions and detailed maps for nineteen easy-to-follow hikes near Des Moines, Iowa. Discover a surprising bounty of trails hidden in the vast sweep of farmland that defines central Iowa--with everything from majestic views of a scenic river valley to excellent wildflower viewing opportunities to wetlands abounding with wildlife.

© 2011 Michael Ream/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Best Easy Day Hikes: Des Moines" Guide Book
Displaying trails 16 of 16.

Displaying trails 1 to 16 of 16.

This hike is a “double loop,” or two trails linked together, and is located inside the largest urban forest preserve in Iowa: Brown’s Woods, 484 wooded acres that hug the Raccoon River just inside the Des Moines suburb of West Des Moines. Brown’s Woods is also part of the Makoke (MAHkoh- kay) birding trail, which encompasses several sites in central Iowa. The hike is notable for the cacophonous sound of woodpeckers at work, including the yellow-bellied sapsucker and yellow-brown flicker.
West Des Moines, IA - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking - Trail Length: 1.9
A former rail line used by several different railroads, this popular hiking and cycling trail cuts across the southeast corner of Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt and runs for nearly 20 miles from just outside the town of Bondurant to Baxter, passing through other towns along the way. This hike begins surrounded by cornfields, but quickly moves into the woods that run along the bottomlands near the Skunk River. Santiago Creek threads its way along the trail as well.
Bondurant, IA - Hiking - Trail Length: 4.6
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This trail forms a bridge between the Walnut Creek Trail and the eastern edge of the Raccoon River Valley Trail as it heads into the countryside west of Des Moines. Beginning just off a busy road that straddles the suburbs of Clive, Windsor Heights, and West Des Moines, the hike meanders along a bucolic stretch of Walnut Creek, making for an easy escape from the surrounding bustle (although the path can become crowded with cyclists—stay alert!). The hike features a reconstructed prairie alive with flora—it’s probably the best example of prairie you’ll see on any hike in this guide.
Clive, IA - Hiking - Trail Length: 7
Perched atop 150-foot bluffs looking out over the Des Moines River and surrounding countryside, Yellow Banks Park has a wealth of scenic overlooks, as well as trails leading to a Native American burial mound and huge savanna oaks. This short hike takes in two trails at the far end of the park, highlighted by a good spot to watch for the many migrating birds that pass by. Raptors are perhaps the most common— look for them in the spring and fall. This “two-armed” hike begins with a short walk through the woods on the Eagle View Trail, leading to a bluff overlook that gives you a sweeping view of the Des Moines River valley to the west. This is a great spot for bird watching: In addition to raptors, scarlet and summer tanagers, eastern bluebirds, wintering bald eagles, and yellow-billed cuckoos have been spotted here, as have the occasional black-billed cuckoo, indigo bunting, and great-crested flycatcher.
Carlisle, IA - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.7
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Beginning on the edge of Water Works Park, a large open green space south of downtown Des Moines, this trail on a former railroad bed winds past the outer edge of Des Moines International Airport yet maintains a wilderness feel, with thick foliage and the occasional deer sighting. It is very popular with cyclists, who zip out of the city and into open country, stopping every few miles at small-town taverns that serve as popular watering holes. (In fact, this hike is perhaps best done in the middle of the day or early afternoon, before the path becomes crowded with cyclists.)
West Des Moines, IA - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking - Trail Length: 11
This hike begins with the impressive sight of a huge outcrop of sandstone arching over the Middle Raccoon River. The surrounding park, tucked away on a side street in the town of Redfield, includes landscapes of wetlands, prairie, and woods, and the confluence of two tributaries of the Raccoon River is less than a mile downstream from the trailhead.
Redfield, IA - Hiking - Trail Length: 1
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Beginning in the town of Slater, this hike takes you into flat farmland north of Des Moines. The occasional tree and sprinkling of wildflowers provide welcome relief and diversion, respectively, if you are hiking this trail on a hot summer day. A short drive to the west of the Slater trailhead is the High Trestle Trail, and plans are underway to connect this planned 32-mile trail to other trails as well, forming a 100-mile loop of trails in central Iowa.
Sheldahl, IA - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 3.4
Running alongside a small stream through a wooded ravine, this is one of several fine trails in Jester Park, one of Polk County’s best nature and recreation areas. Stretching for nearly 2,000 acres on the west shore of Saylorville Lake, north of Des Moines. Jester Park is a mecca for birders: The park is listed as a globally significant bird area by the American Bird Conservancy, and is a major migration stopover for the American white pelican—some 3,000 to 8,000 of them pass through beginning in late August and peaking around Labor Day. Gulls and waterfowl come through later in the year.
Granger, IA - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking - Trail Length: 1.2
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More of a stroll than a true hike, this trail is located in Kuehn Conservation Area, a hidden gem of a park located quite a ways to the west of Des Moines, down several miles of gravel farm roads. Those who make the trek out here will be rewarded with a site that features both bucolic prairie and forest, home to deer and other wildlife.
Redfield, IA - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking - Trail Length: 0.3
Formerly known as the Ankeny-to-Woodward Trail, this path stretches 25 miles from the rapidly growing northern suburbs of Des Moines out into the countryside. While one leg of the trail heads west to a newly built bridge over the Des Moines River, scheduled to open in 2011, this hike follows another leg of the trail south from the town of Slater through a bucolic landscape of Iowa cornfields and smalltown grain elevators.
Sheldahl, IA - Hiking - Trail Length: 3.6
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A nearly 9,000-acre wildlife refuge that has grown up along formerly drained areas by the South Skunk River, Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt is crisscrossed by oxbow channels that flow through a landscape of restored wetlands, savanna, and woodlands. The refuge is home to numerous animal species: River otters were reintroduced here in 1997, and ornate box turtles in 1998. A nearby area is devoted to sandhill cranes. The park has a good selection of trails, providing lots of hiking through lowland areas along the oxbows. It can get muddy along the Jack Pine and other trails, but it’s well worth the opportunity to see a wide variety of wildlife. The hike begins as you cross the historic, 100-foot, early Warren truss bridge spanning the old channel of the Skunk River, the longest bridge of its kind in Iowa. Green algae blooms in swampy pools along the trail on the far side of the bridge, and water may come well up over tree trunks during the rainy season. Moving through more woods, you pick up the sounds of birds: Over 200 species are here, including the rose-breasted grosbeak, common yellowthroat, and seventeen types of sparrow, including lark and swamp sparrows.
Elkhart, IA - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking - Trail Length: 1.3
Redfield, a farming town 30 miles west of Des Moines, is home to this stretch of the 56-mile Raccoon River Valley Trail, which runs west-northwest from the outskirts of Des Moines into wide open farm country. The hike actually doesn’t go by the river, but it has some nice views, and if you keep going about 9 miles, you come to the historic courthouse town of Adel.
Redfield, IA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2
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This hike takes in the north end of the Summerset Trail, which winds roughly a dozen miles total and includes a nice spot to view herons as they swoop over the open fields. The hike also features numerous wildflowers as the path moves through open countryside outside the town of Carlisle, south of Des Moines. After crossing a bridge over the creek, you will begin to spot wildflowers on the trail’s edge. Keep an eye out for blue iris and blue chicory. White herons soar over the open land on your right, which may have been a buffalo wallow back when this land was all open prairie. Purple spiderwort and white Canadian anemone are other flora you may see, as are yellowish clumps of wild parsnip and the distinctive three leaves of poison ivy—use caution if you step off the path.
Carlisle, IA - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking - Trail Length: 6.8
With lots of neat little pools swarming with flora and fauna alongside the trail as it passes through boggy lowlands along the Des Moines River, this hike is a great opportunity to explore the natural world near the heart of the city. Moving southeast, this hike on a rails-to-trails conversion passes through largely undisturbed areas before abruptly coming to a busy stretch of road on the north side of Des Moines. The paved path also winds north toward Johnston, connecting to that suburb’s trail system.
Urbandale, IA - Hiking - Trail Length: 3.2
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A lowland trail that eventually hooks onto both the Great Western and Clive Greenbelt Trails, this hike takes you through the woods and past a languid stretch of Walnut Creek, dotted with small islands where deer and other wildlife occasionally swim and rest. Like other trails in and around Des Moines, this one is popular with cyclists and can get slightly crowded on weekends and in the early evenings. Note: The trail is not well marked, so pay careful attention to the hike directions.
West Des Moines, IA - Hiking - Trail Length: 9.4
Following a twisting path that winds through thick woods and up and down several hills, this hike is quite a workout. Located down a single-lane gravel road in farmland several miles south of Des Moines, this 325-acre site was inhabited 3,000 years ago by Native Americans who constructed large earthen mounds for use as either burial sites or for religious ceremonies.
Milo, IA - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking - Trail Length: 2
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