Thursday, May 22, 2014

Six Des Moines Attractions to Explore This Spring

Oh my goodness did this winter seem LONG!  Perhaps it was because I lived in Tucson last year, but the transition from winter to spring this year just felt SO GOOD!  I'm so glad it has finally arrived with green grass, leaves on the trees and warmer weather.  I'm just giddy about the fact that I am wearing a tank top and shorts while I am writing this. 

Since I essentially hibernated over the winter, I am in love with the new energy and growth that spring has brought me.  Here are some of the best places I've discovered to explore in the Des Moines area, lately. 

1. Ledges State Park

 Ledges State Park in Madrid is a beautiful area for hiking, sloshing through the water, and camping.  The sandstone ledges provide a beautiful backdrop for serene hikes.  

Ledges State Park
Ledges State Park
Ledges State Park
Ledges State Park
Ledges State Park

2.  Jester Park and Golf Course

Jester park offers a lot of well maintained trails great for short trail runs, as well as a paved road throughout the park that can easily be run on as well.  The Jester Park Golf Course, is a great public golf course located in the same area. 

Check out the bison and elk enclosure and the almost complete cabins they're building! 

The beginning of a run at Jester Park.

My first attempt golfing at Jester Park Golf Course. 

 3. Neil Smith Wildlife Refuge 

The Neil Smith Wildlife Refuge in Prairie City is a short drive outside of Des Moines offers an indoor learning center, outdoor trails, and a large buffalo and elk refuge with a path designed for visitors to drive through. 

The learning center is a great learning experience for younger individuals to learn about Iowa's native prairie and animals.  

Comparing my wingspan with some of the largest raptors in the U.S.

Playing with a large elk shed at the Neil Smith Wildlife Refuge.

4. Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt  

Chichaqua Bottoms offers a HUGE area and extensive trail system for hiking and other activities, like hunting and canoeing.  Several years ago they released river otters back into the wild in this area and some visitors are lucky enough to see some of the otters that live in the area.  There are TONS of duck and bird blinds scattered throughout the park.  

A little bit of hiking fashion.

Exploring the Chichaqua Bottoms area after a controlled burn.

Checking out the crustaceans at Chichaqua Bottoms.

 5. Downtown Des Moines 

If you could find me anywhere on a Saturday morning, it would likely be the downtown Des Moines Farmer's Market.  Des Moines has an amazing farmer's market (even bigger than last year) with tons of fantastic vendors selling wares ranging from produce, to handmade home goods, apparel, and more.  It's hard not to make friends with strangers in this environment. 

My favorite booths are Iowa Coffee Roasters, Storybook Farms, Big Sky Bakery, and Maytag Dairy. 

Iowa Coffee Roasters made my day.  When I went planning just to get a cup of coffee to drink while I was exploring the farmer's market I got a lot more from this booth.  While I just wanted coffee to drink, Patrick asked the roaster a ton of questions about where he got his beans and the flavor of the roast.  The people at this booth went above and beyond, giving us samples of beans, to take home with us and try at home.  The light, medium and dark roast were all amazing.  I plan to return to this booth and purchase coffee every weekend from these individuals. 

Storybook Farms has the BEST strawberries.  Even when it is early in the season and not many other vendors have produce yet, Storybook's strawberries are to die for.

Big Sky Bakery has fantastic bread!  I recommend picking up a loaf of their focaccia bread.  The sweet pepper and garlic is my favorite.  

Then there's the Maytag dairy farm.  P and I visited the dairy farm a few months ago, hoping to tour the facility.  Unfortunately I didn't do my research and the farm no longer does tours of their facility, however they will show you a video shot in the 80s that provides information about their company's roots and you can wave at the ladies that hand wrap each wedge of cheese.  While the cheese is phenomenal, the trek to their storeroom in Newton is a little far, so I was excited to stumble across their booth at the farmer's market.  Pick up an chunk of their flagship blue cheese or a bit of Havarti. 

I am impatiently awaiting the return of Table Top Farm  to the farmer's market with the best heirloom tomatoes I have ever had. 

While you're in downtown Des Moines, park in one of the parking ramps that provides free parking for the farmer's market and explore Des Moines extensive SkyWalk or the well-lit pedestrian bridges.  

A picture of the aftermath of the three alarm fire in the former Younker's building in downtown Des Moines taken from the SkyWalk. 

Some clever street art spotted at the Des Moines Farmer's Market.

A strawberry from Storybook Farms. 

Blue Cheese from Maytag Dairy Farm in Newton, IA.

Pedestrian bridges in downtown Des Moines

 6. The Bridges of Madison County, Winterset, and Madison County Winery

I think just about everyone has heard of the covered bridges in Madison County.  About an hour outside of Des Moines, the drive is short and the bridges are an interesting part of history.  If you're planning on doing a self-guided tour, print a map from the Madison County Webpage.

Definitely check out the Madison County Winery.  The Strawberry Blonde wine is a must try!  Plus, if you're not a wine drinker the beers they have on tap are pretty tasty as well. 

If Westerns float your boat, swing through Winterset and tour the birthplace of John Wayne. 
Holliwell, bridge.  One of the esteemed covered bridges in Madison County.

An adorable theatre in downtown Winterset, IA.

Of course I had to check out this one room school house, located on the way to one of the Madison County covered bridges.       


  1. Katie, this makes me miss Iowa a little, especially Des Moines! Thanks for posting a great guide.

    Cassandra Monroe | a lifestyle blog