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Downtown DSM Outdoor Recreation & Trails

Whether it’s a morning run along the river or an evening spent riding through Downtown Des Moines’ (DSM's) extensive bike trails, the city has many outdoor options. Lace up your skates and zip across the smooth ice at Brenton Skating Plaza. Whatever you choose, Downtown DSM is full of fun outdoor options for people of all ages to enjoy.

Parks & Plazas

Usually the heartbeat of the city, Downtown DSM parks and plazas are plentiful and widely used. These beautiful areas act as meeting places for friends, while in some cases — for example, with the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park — they also offer the perfect ambiance for artistic types. The Principal Riverwalk, with its expansive views from all sides, is a treat for Downtown DSM enthusiasts. Cowles Commons not only offers unique sculptures, such as the familiar Crusoe Umbrella, and lush greenery — more than 12,000 perennials and 40 trees — on both sides of its red carpet pathway, but also a place for families to dip their toes in on hot summer days. Cowles Commons was recently updated in 2016.

Western Gateway Park

Western Gateway Park in Downtown Des Moines

Western Gateway Park is a 13-acre space located at the western entrance into Downtown DSM. It incorporates a mix of green space and buildings as well as private and public spaces, including:

  • The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park — 4.4 acres and home to 28 sculptures by some of the world's most celebrated artists. It was designed as an outdoor museum in the open air. Learn more about the artists and the park.
  • The Des Moines Central Library — Designed in 2006 with an unconventional building shape by renowned British architect, David Chipperfield. The Library was architecturally designed to serve as a link between the park and Downtown DSM, and includes Des Moines' first green roof.
  • The University of Iowa John and Mary Pappajohn Education Center — Developed/built for continuing education geared toward the Downtown DSM business community. A water runnel spans across a block and a half of the Education Center and Library.
  • The Temple for Performing Arts — A Masonic Temple built in 1913 that was renovated by private owners and now houses a theater, offices, restaurants, the Des Moines Symphony Academy and a high-traffic Starbucks.

The Park is an exemplary collaboration between the public and private sectors, including partners such as the City of Des Moines, John and Mary Pappajohn and other private donors, the Des Moines Art Center, Operation Downtown (Downtown's safe, clean and beautiful initiative), private redevelopment and the Downtown DSM business community.

John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park

Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Downtown Des Moines

The 4.4-acre John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park opened in 2009 and has been delighting residents and visitors alike with unique, larger-than-life artwork ever since. The park is open sunrise to midnight.

Western Gateway Park is in the heart of the new mixed-use district and is a memorable entry into Downtown DSM. It is an attraction for the entire community and a tourist destination.

The Principal Riverwalk

Principal Riverwalk in Downtown Des Moines

The Principal Riverwalk is located in the heart of Downtown DSM. It features lighted, landscaped public spaces, world-class public art and unique pedestrian bridges and pathways that connect to 300 miles of trails. Focal points of The Principal Riverwalk include Brenton Skating Plaza, Hansen Triangle Park, The Riverwalk Hub and many others.

Featured Artwork

  • Des Moines Public Art Foundation
  • "Untitled" by artist Joel Shapiro, located in Long Look Garden.
  • "Quantum Leaf" by artist Sally Pettus, located in Hansen Triangle.
  • "Dangos" by artist Jun Kaneko, located at the Hub Spot.

The project was a gift to the City of Des Moines in honor of the 125th anniversary of the Principal. The Principal Riverwalk was completed in early 2013. As hoped, the project has helped strengthen the heart of the city, unite the east and west sides of Downtown DSM and provided opportunities for outdoor recreation. It has also spurred additional development in the surrounding area, adding to a more vibrant Downtown DSM.


BCycle in Downtown Des Moines

DSM has an active cycling community. If you like to get around on two wheels, there are plentiful options to take advantage of your favorite mode of transportation in Downtown DSM. Check out the links below for more details!


DSM has plentiful trails and Downtown DSM is no exception. Run, bike or walk through our connected city and enjoy the scenery of Downtown DSM. For more interactive trail information, try the Iowa By Trail app. The Central Iowa Trail Association updates trail conditions daily for Center Trails such as Greenwood/Ashworth Park, located on the western edge of Downtown DSM. There are more than 600 miles of connected walking, biking and running trails in the region, with Downtown DSM as the culminating point for many of these trails. Additionally, mountain biking and hiking trails are nearby as well.