Natural Playscapes in Central Iowa

natural playscapes des moines iowa central iowa area

My kids love parks, but I think they love natural playscapes even more. With natural “loose parts” like stumps, rocks, and sticks, kids can go crazy building different structures. Climbing logs and rocks never gets old and it’s nice to find those options without driving too far into the wildnerness. We have found four natural playscapes in (and around) Des Moines, Iowa – I would say that Jester & Brenton have the most impressive natural playgrounds but McHenry and Sargent are super fun to visit and worth the drive with their additional, conventional playground features. You can click through to each page for the nitty gritty details like address and bathrooms, with my notes on each playscape below their titles. They are all free, with the exception of the one at Blank Park Zoo.

Don’t forget to pack extra gear – almost all of these are in full sun and may have more bugs than a typical playground!

Jester Park – Granger, Iowa

  • Has a fountain and small water pond for playing in, don’t go here during summer if you want your kids to stay dry!
  • It is bi-level, and near a road, so if you have a runner beware
  • Sand pit, climbing log, bridge, log steps.
  • Right next to the bison and elk enclosures.
  • Walking distance to trails, a real creek to explore, and a bird blind.

jester park natural playscape

McHenry Park – Des Moines, Iowa

  • A part of a conventional playground, there is also a splash pad and manmade stream to play in
  • Great overlook of the city
  • Lots of open green space for running and exploring
  • Alongside a paved trail

mchenry park natural playscape

Sargent Park – Des Moines, Iowa

  • A mix of conventional playground options and natural items, also has a large fountain for playing in.
  • Slide, climbing net, sand pit, giant tree
  • Nearby marsh and wetland areas
  • Alongside a paved trail


sargent park natural playscape des moines iowa

Brenton Arboretum – Dallas Center, Iowa

  • Very open with virtually no shade (a few trees along the edges).
  • Haybales, plant tunnel, log slice swing, lots of stumps to climb, tons of sand to dig in.
  • Within walking distance of a planted roof shelter, grass trails, and a large pond to explore

brenton arboretum natural playscape

Blank Park Zoo – Des Moines, Iowa

  • new as of summer 2017
  • included in regular zoo admission
  • Small sand pit, stumps to climb, small tunnel, loose wood pieces to build with.
  • Tucked away next to the seals/sea lions (see below for map)

natural playscape at blank park zoo where is the natural playscape at blank park zoo

Enabling Garden – Altoona, Iowa

  • stump walk, wood balance beam, pole bean tent, sand box
  • very close (walking distance) to a splash pad
  • Lots of flowers and fruit that isn’t supposed to be picked

natural playscape at the enabling garden altoona iowa

We’ve spent lots of fun hours at all four of these playscapes; let me know which one you like best! Want to pin this post for later?

Natural playscapes are so fun climb trees, get wet, and play with rocks at these natural playgrounds around the Des Moines metro area in Central Iowa.

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