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A Pup’s Paradise — Dog-Friendly Des Moines Trails

Dog-Friendly Trails

This article includes ideas from Esther Tang, of Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines, and Ann Samuelson, of TrueNorth Companies, on which Greater Des Moines (DSM) trails to check out with your dog:

As an international student who moved to Iowa about 10 years ago, I (Esther) was amazed by the abundance of bike trails and parks in the state and how much they could offer. According to BIKEIOWA, there are 337 bike trails covering 3,174 miles in the state. This number continues to grow in tandem with the popularity of recreational events such as RAGBRAI. To support the continuous growth in the Iowa cycling scene, the state also provides plenty of online resources such as trail maps, trail conditions, trail events, bike rentals, and bike shops for cyclists through the Iowa Department of Transportation, Travel Iowa, BIKEIOWA and Central Iowa Trail Association.

Iowa not only has an abundance of bike trails, but each trail itself presents its own uniqueness — from the attractions along the trail such as rivers, bridges, restaurants and retail shops to the terrains or elevation as well as shaded areas. Whether you are parents with children, regular bike commuters, recreational cyclists, senior cyclists or competitive riders, there is a bike trail that can meet your needs.

Growing up in a metropolitan area of 9 million people, riding my bike is considered a luxury given the lack of accessibility to trails and bike lanes. Hence, exploring bike trails in the summer has become one of my favorite summer activities to do in Iowa to explore different communities, burn some calories and/or check out an ice cream store along a bike trail. Although I do not do well in the heat, biking during Iowa summer could be pleasant and enjoyable as some of these trails are partially shaded or cooled by wind breezes from rivers or lakes. Some trails also offer amenities such as restrooms and water fountains to help riders stay hydrated in hot and humid weather.

Clive Greenbelt Trail

The Greenbelt Trail includes different entry points running through the neighborhoods in Windsor Heights and Clive. This trail is 11.3 miles long and is built on asphalt and concrete surfaces so the ride is mostly smooth and flat. This urban trail runs through Walnut Creek and is densely populated with trees. I like that this trail makes you feel like you are away from the city, yet numerous restaurants, retail stores and parks are within easy reach along the trail. My favorite thing to do while riding along this trail is to enjoy some Thai food and ice cream with my family and friends.

High Trestle Trail

The High Trestle Trail is 25 miles long and runs through five towns (Woodward, Madrid, Slater, Sheldahl and Ankeny) and four counties (Dallas, Boone, Story and Polk). The trail is built on concrete and asphalt surfaces so riders should expect a relatively smooth and flat ride under and through some old bridges and tunnels. Although generally flat, the trail does have a small incline if riding from Slater to the High Trestle Trail Bridge. The trail’s main attraction is the iconic High Trestle Trail Bridge, which is half a mile long and 13 stories high. My favorite thing to do on this trail is to enjoy the panoramic views of the Des Moines River Valley when I get to the bridge or to enjoy the blue lights illuminate the bridge after dark.

Mark C. Ackelson Trail

The Mark C. Ackelson Trail is four miles long and winds around Easter Lake. The trail was named after Mark C. Ackelson, who led the Iowa National Heritage Foundation for 18 years and contributed numerous efforts in Iowa’s conservation of land, water and wildlife. The trail is built on concrete and asphalt surface. There are several picnic shelters and children’s playgrounds along the trail that overlook Easter Lake, as well as boat access and fishing dock. My favorite thing to do on this trail is to ride across the Owen’s Covered Bridge, which is located on the southern lake shore. An interesting fact is that the bridge is the only remaining covered in Polk County.

Favorite Dog Friendly Trails

Being an outdoor enthusiast and lover of nature (Ann), nothing is more exciting than finding hidden gems around DSM to take the dogs out exploring. Iowa Department of Natural Resources is a great place to find State Park Trail Maps or utilize Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation’s Iowa By Trail which has over 2,000 miles of trails to explore through the state. Spring through fall are the most ideal seasons to appreciate all the scenic wonders of Iowa’s landscape.

Yellow Banks Park

Yellow Banks Park is a 576-acre park located in Pleasant Hill, IA. The park is named for its 150-foot-high yellow banks towering above the Des Moines River. Artifacts have been found spanning back to the Paleoindian period inhabitants of the area from 13,500 years ago. The park offers a multitude of amenities such as fishing, camping, picnicking, and boating access to the Des Moines River, Oakview Pond and Yellow Banks Pond. My favorite trail sure to stretch out you and your furry companion’s legs is a 3.1 mile out-and-back trail that starts near Yellow Banks Pond with Backpacker Trail, through Oakview Trail and Black Oak Trail, wraps around to Tallgrass Trail and ends at Pond Trail. Maps are located at the trailheads for reference and ease. It’s a very peaceful spot with light hills and maximum elevation of 265 ft. If you go, take a stroll across the bridge and be sure to take a moment to stop and smell the wildflowers.

Greenwood-Ashworth Park

Greenwood-Ashworth Park is located in the heart of Des Moines, just south of the Des Moines Art Center. Greenwood and Ashworth are technically two separate parks spanning about 140-Acres total. Clare and Miles Mills’ Rose Garden, Sylvan Theater, Ashworth Pool and Greenwood Pond (Lagoon) are just a few of the amenities where urban life, art and nature all intertwine. Greenwood is historically famous for being Des Moines’ first park, established in 1894. Ashworth was donated to the city in 1924 by the Ashworth family under the condition the land would house a city park and pool. This pool became Iowa’s first municipal pool. Center Trails Loop is my favorite place to get lost in 5.8 miles of winding trails surrounded within a dense forest. Make sure to wear your hiking boots and look out for the small connecting wooden bridges along the way! This trail is narrow and unpaved, giving the feeling that you are no longer in urban territory anymore. Fall season is right around the corner, and this place is at the top of the list if you are looking to be engulfed in red and orange hues of changing seasons. I find it most ideal to start this trail in the late afternoon or early evening when the traffic is reduced and allows the dogs and me to tranquilly appreciate our surroundings.

Brown’s Woods

Brown’s Woods is 486 acres with over four miles of trails to experience right outside of West Des Moines. Iowa’s largest urban forest established in 1972 houses towering oak and hickory trees, rolling hills and streams. In 2015, multiple improvements were made to the trails including kiosks and trail markers. The Brown’s Woods Loop connects the North Loop, Gateway Trail, Preparation Trail and Wilderness Loop for just a little over three miles of exploration for you and your furry companion. The trail is well shaded with wide trails offering plenty of space. Mornings make for an ideal time to take the pups out to take in the Midwestern sunrise.

Consider the following tips to ensure a memorable & enjoyable outing with your canine companion(s):

  • Leash Regulation: While some trails may allow for off-leash exploration, it’s important to be aware of leash regulations for each trail and/or park. Always be sure to have a maximum length leash of 6ft and prepared to utilize it.
  • Trail Etiquette: Be respectful of land, wildlife and hikers. Keep your dog under control and pay attention to signs along the trails. Always follow the Leave No Trace principles: pack out everything you bring in, stay on designated trails and respect the wildlife and plant life that call the park home.
  • Waste Management: Always remember to clean up after your dog to ensure clean trails and pleasant experiences for everyone.
  • Check Weather Conditions: Weather in Iowa can be unpredictable at times. Always check the forecast before heading out with your four-legged friends to ensure you have adequate clothing and protection for your pup from extreme temperatures.

Whether it’s a morning on the lake or an evening spent exploring Greater Des Moines’ (DSM’s) 800 miles of connected recreational trails, the region has many outdoor options.

Author Profiles

Esther Tang

Esther Tang is a Database Developer at Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines. She moved to Iowa about 10 years ago to study at Drake University as an undergraduate student. She also completed her graduate degree at Iowa State University. She enjoys visiting different cultural festivals in Downtown Des Moines and exploring bike trails and parks in the region.

Ann Samuelson

Ann Samuelson is a Senior Account Manager in Risk Management at TrueNorth Companies, LC in West Des Moines, IA. She has resided in Des Moines for 10 years, starting with attending and earning her bachelor’s degree from Drake University. In her free time, she enjoys exploring the outdoors, traveling with her two dogs and gardening.

Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines and TrueNorth Companies

Esther Tang is a Database Developer at Federal Home Loan Bank and Ann Samuelson is a Senior Account Manager at TrueNorth Companies.