Bike, Hike, or Paddle Des Moines: Find the best trail for you

If you think Des Moines isn’t a great place for outdoor adventures, think again! Iowa is a beautiful place to live, work, and play

In fact, Iowa has over 2000 miles of trail systems, with over 800 miles in and around the Des Moines area.

Des Moines’ extensive bike trail system can get you anywhere you want to go in the metro and beyond. But if you prefer hiking or paddling, you don’t have to go far to find some fantastic hiking and water trails either. And, even in the winter, you can enjoy local trails with snowshoes or cross country skis. 

So where do you find the trails in and around Des Moines? Well, we’re here to help. Whether you want to bike, hike or paddle, look no further. We’ve compiled a list of trails and maps in the Des Moines and surrounding areas to help you find the best trail for you today. 

Bike, Hike, or Paddle Des Moines: Find the best trail for you

Bike trails in and around Des Moines

Below is a list of the longest paved bike trails in the area. But Des Moines has an extensive trail system, consisting of many shorter, connecting trails. Check out the Iowa DOT’s interactive bike map to see all area trails and how they connect. (Please note that some trails share the road with motor vehicles). And if you want to rent a bike, for a day or longer, start here.

Gay Lea Wilson Trail – Runs from Ankeny to the Altoona area, winding through the northeast section of Des Moines.

Great Western Trail – Runs from Des Moines Waterworks park south to Martensdale (16.5 miles)

Neil Smith Trail – Runs from Des Moines north to Saylorville Lake and Big Creek State Park (26 miles)

Raccoon River Valley Trail – The loop runs west-northwest of Waukee, through Perry and Herndon to the northwest, through Panora on the west, and to the south through Redfield and Adel. The trail extends north of the loop up to Jefferson. (72-mile loop, 89 miles total)

High Trestle Trail – Runs east/west between Woodward and Slater, and north/south between Slater and Ankeny (25 miles)

Jordan Creek Trail – In West Des Moines, the trail runs from Jordan Creek Parkway, along E.P. True Pkwy and Railroad. To the south of the trail is a scenic loop around Raccoon River Park (8.5-15 miles)

Clive Greenbelt Trail – Runs east/west from Windsor Heights to Waukee and connects to the Raccoon River Valley Trail (11 miles)

Chichaqua Valley Trail – Runs just west of Berwick in northeast Des Moines northeast up to Baxter (26 miles)

For details on even more trails, you can check out TrailLink’s list of Des Moines Trails and Maps. 

Hiking Trails in and around Des Moines

Many of the bike trails listed above are perfectly fine for hiking too. But for more options, below are some useful links to lists and local trail information.

Polk County Conservation’s list of recommended hikes 
Central Iowa Trails Association’s list of area trails

Sycamore Trails – Runs from Euclid Ave. in Des Moines to NW 66th in Johnston with views of the Des Moines River (6.9-mile multi-use trail)

Fort Des Moines Park – Nature trail located within Fort Des Moines park (1.7-mile loop)

Mark C. Ackelson Trail – Located on the southeast side of Des Moines at Easter Lake, this is a paved multi-use trail (5 miles)

Brown’s Woods – Loop through Brown’s Woods forest preserve on the southeast side of West Des Moines (3.2-mile loop)

Walnut Woods – Loop within Walnut Woods State Park, south of West Des Moines (3 miles)

Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt – Located northeast of Ankeny near Maxwell, this county park offers multiple nature/hiking trails (from .25 – 2.6 miles)

Jester Park – Located on the north side of Saylorville lake near Granger, Jester has 8 miles of hiking trails (from .2 – 4.6 miles)

Ledges State Park – Located north of Des Moines and just south of Boone, Ledges has 13 miles of trails with views (from 1.2 miles with many connecting for longer hiking options and hike in camping)

Heart of Iowa Nature Trail – Located in Story and Marshall counties, just north of Des Moines, this multi-use trail of crushed limestone runs along a section of the old Milwaukee railroad (17 miles)

Water Trails in and around Des Moines

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources now has an interactive paddling map to help you find and navigate water trails near you. You can also check out their maps and brochures for water trails in the area. Below are a few of the water trails closest to Des Moines.

Des Moines River Water Trail – Located south of the Saylorville Dam, ending near Carlisle (updates on the trail can be found here).

Middle/South Raccoon River Water Trail – Located west of Des Moines in Dallas County.

Middle River Water Trail – Located south and west of Des Moines in Adair and Madison Counties.

Winter Trails

Don’t let winter stop you from getting out there and enjoying all mother nature has to offer! Polk County has a few cross country skiing trails. Rent skis and snowshoes at Jester Park


Regional Trails Map
Greater Des Moines Interactive Trail Map
Downtown Trails Map
Central Iowa Trails Map
Iowa by Trail App
More maps from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources 

There you have it! Proof that the Des Moines and surrounding areas offer lots of great outdoor recreational opportunities.  

Whether you prefer biking, hiking, paddling, or winter activities, you don’t have to go far to find the perfect place for you. Now get out there and enjoy!


Buying, selling, or investing in the Des Moines area? At Coluzzi Real Estate, we answer all your questions and simplify the buying and selling process. We’re here for you every step of the way. Please don’t hesitate to contact us today!


About the Author:

Amanda has lived in the Des Moines area since 1999, where she and her husband have bought and sold a handful of homes over the years, including a recent flip. Amanda enjoys writing, obsesses about personal finance and is fond of looking at houses. She loves sharing useful tips and info to make life easier for anyone wanting to buy or sell a home. In her spare time, Amanda cherishes time with her family, volunteers with IHYC, gardens, hikes, and practices TaeKwonDo. You can read more of her writing at whywemoney.com