In the thick of winter, many of my favorite “indoor nature’ spots feel a little cramped. One of the few places to really let loose and run like you might on a hiking trail is the downtown skywalk system! If you drive downtown, you can see the glass walkways above the road that connect all of the buildings. During the week, they are filled with downtown residents and business people walking to and fro. On the weekends, they are much quieter (and colder!). Also keep in mind that most restaurants in the skywalk are closed on the weekends.
I’d recommend going on the weekends if you’re nervous about getting dirty looks or rolled eyes when your kids are giggling loudly or taking up half the walkway! There were just as many people who chatted my kids up or smiled at their rambunctiousness, and one skywalk vendor even had a little treasure chest of goodies for them to pick through. (I don’t want to misrepresent our dynamic; I definitely try to be respectful of other peoples’ time and space and corral the kids out of the way as quickly as possible if they’re blocking traffic, but I’m of the mind that it is a public space and we are welcome there too.)
It can be a bit intimidating to go check it out for the first time, there are a ton of places to park and enter, so I wanted to share some introductory info all in one post. I’m no expert though – please chime in if you have a route or a note that you think would help other people!
I’d suggest looking at a map before you drive down; there is a PDF download of the skywalks at the Downtown Des Moines site. That map also shows wheelchair accessible entrances – we saw lots of people using wheelchairs and scooters while we walked. There’s also an app that you can download here.
One of the biggest questions is where to start. There is virtually no free parking downtown during the weekday but there are several ramps you can pay to use and metered street parking. “Parking downtown is FREE on the weekends. Beginning at 6 a.m. on Saturday, parking in all City ramps are free of charge. Parking at meters is free all weekend, as well as after 6 p.m. during the week.” (source).
The 5th and Walnut garage was my favorite spot, however it is currently closed. My friend and I looped back and parked in the 5th and Locust pay lot for this visit, which was connected to the skywalk through the garage.
Some other suggested starting points that I’ve seen shared in the Hike It Baby group:
- Park on the street and start inside the Temple of the Arts by Starbucks at the corner of 10th and Locust
- Park on the street and start inside Panera Bread at the corner of Walnut and 10th Street
If you’re walking with kids like we were, bathrooms are always a concern. The only bathrooms I’m aware of that would be open during the weekend would be inside Panera or Burger King restaurant (of course, I’d suggest buying something when using their bathroom!). During the weekday, there is a public bathroom on the top floor of the Kaleidoscope Mall near the food court and one in the Capitol Square space, skywalk level, next to Amigos Mexican restaurant. Also scroll down to the comments for another idea, from a reader.
Children on the loose!
This is a shot near the entrance we parked by, you can see the overhead informational signs and then the wall map. I loved these cool decals with silhouettes from the sculpture garden.
My kids are all about trucks, so spotting construction and vehicles is always one of our favorite things to do. Right now construction is booming, so we spotted a ton of cranes working, a dump truck, and several delivery trucks. We walked in a few loops, going back to the food court in the Kaleidoscope Mall for some cookies!
You can see a list of all the restaurants they have there, we hit up Do-Biz for some delicious cookies to fuel our walk back. It was a perfect wander for a rainy day without having to leave the car!
If you’re not familiar, they also have a cool annual event where they set up putt-putt holes in the skywalks. It’s a fundraiser and lots of fun – check out the 2017 event here.
My friend Kris was kind enough to let me share her pictures – apparently this cool “light wall” is over by Panera, we need to check it out next time!