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.

My kids love playing in the 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 keep 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.


Gay Lea Wilson Trail – Ankeny Trailhead

  • Head south from the parking lot, there are probably multiple entry points but the one pictured is maybe 2 minutes from the lot.
  • We haven’t personally played here, but met two families creek walking there while we walked the trail.
  • Paved trail nearby; parking below, it is a very short walk from the lot to the creek.

Chichaqua Valley Trail iowa (4)

Chichaqua Valley Trail iowa (1)


Clive Greenbelt Park off 100th

  • If you drive all the way to the back and park by the playground, it is roughly 1/4 of a mile walk from the parking lot to the spot we went down, there are probably other access points as well. This spot is visible from the paved trail, with an easy walk down.
  • You’ll pass a pretty waterfall along the path when you walk.



Clive Greenbelt Park off 86th

  • A slightly steeper walk down to the creek, access is right behind the playground and almost visible from the parking lot. Paved trail nearby.


Campbell Recreation Area 

[no pictures yet]

  • We haven’t tried this spot yet, but someone recommended it and said they park by the sand volleyball courts and then walk about 1/4 mile east on the Clive Greenbelt trail until you cross a bridge and then proceed down.

Clive Elementary School

[no pictures yet]

  • We haven’t tried this spot yet, but someone recommended it and said they park in the school parking lot and walk the path down to the stream (visible on the map).
  • 1600 73rd St, Windsor Heights, IA 50324

creek splashing behind clive elementary

Dallas Center

Brenton Arboretum

  • We have not jumped in the creek here, but they hold creek walks here! Map below, you can see parking not far across the street.
  • See a picture here.


Des Moines

Sargent Park

  • There are multiple spots for creek access, we went underneath the bridge. Roughly 1/4 mile from the parking lot and with a paved trail nearby.


Jester Park

  • There is a small stream attached to the natural playscape, and then a larger stream with multiple access points about .5″ from the natural playscape parking lot, right along the Hickory Ridge Trail (marked).
  • There is access to a wider/larger portion of the creek further along the trail towards shelter #5.

jester park granger iowa (1) jester park granger iowa (2)


Beaverbrooke Park – Grimes, Iowa

  • ” Just to the east of the exercise bars, there is a dirt trail down to the concreted area of the creek.” – shared by a reader!
  • When traveling to this park, it may be hard to find. The easiest way to find it is by taking James Street north. If Google takes you to Golden Rule, follow the bike trail west.


Ledges State Park – Madrid, Iowa

  • One of the most well-known spots in the area, there are several fords across the road with shallow water, in addition to a winding creek with beautiful views.
  • The main canyon road is closed for the foreseeable future but I have specific instructions for where you can park and how to get to the water in this blog post.
  • This park is very busy and popular, so don’t expect to have it to yourself!

places to creek stomp ledges park iowa

ledges state park boone iowa (7)


Thomas Mitchell Park

  • Another popular spot, there are concrete steps down into the water at two separate access points. My favorite is shown below on the maps – it is visible from the campground’s parking lot or about a mile’s walk along the Devotie Trail from the main parking lot.
  • There were relatively deep spots when we visited, but no fast currents.

thomas mitchell park mitchellville altoona des moines iowa (7)

thomas mitchell park mitchellville altoona des moines iowa (9)

thomas mitchell 2 thomas mitchell 1



Walnut Creek Regional Park

  • Walking from the playground, turn right and go past the climbing trees. After roughly 1/4 of a mile, you’ll see a bridge and a sign for “Little Walnut Creek”, and there is an easy path down to the creek nearby. While you can see the creek closer back behind the playground, proceed with caution because the brush is full of painful pricker-bushes.

walnut creek urbandale iowa (2)

walnut creek urbandale iowa (3)

walnut creek urbandale iowa (1)


Centennial Park

  • Long, shallow rocky creek with multiple access points, visible from the playground and parking lots.
  • Close to a pretty busy road.

centennial park waukee (13) iowa

centennial park waukee (19) iowa


West Des Moines

Brown’s Woods

  • We haven’t been to this spot – Polk County Conservation says “Based on this map, the bridge is on the connector trail between the first loop on the left and the second or middle loop. About right where the little icon is. The middle loop used to be our back loop, but not since they put in the longer trail. If you get in the creek at the bridge, hike upstream and you’ll come to the mini waterfall.

Southwoods Park

  • Advertised as having a waterfall, but don’t blink or you’ll miss it!
  • Creek access is roughly a mile from the parking lot, along a paved path, down a dirt path with lots of wooden steps, and through the brush.




Pammel Park

  • A large ford crosses the river, leaving a shallow place to play in low water with a shallow creek side below the ford. Visible from the parking lot near the ford; we walked across and then walked down (shown below).
  • It is *very* dangerous directly below the ford, the currents can trap people.
  • The opposite of the river has a faster current and is deeper.





pammel state park map

Pin this post for later!

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *