Offering a breathtaking landscape to explore, and plenty of opportunities to enjoy outdoor recreational pursuits like hiking, fishing, sight-seeing, swimming, canoeing, kayaking and SUP, many of these state parks are situated near Iowa’s capital city.
If you live, or are currently vacationing there, and need some inspiration of where to visit, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!
Outlined below is a list of 5 state parks near the city of Des Moines you should go to, whenever you feel like enjoying some quality time in nature.
Map of State Parks Near Des Moines IA
Here is a map of the Iowa state parks covered in this post:
List of State Parks Near Des Moines
All five of these state parks near Des Moines can be accessed within a 3 hour and 15 minute drive of the city.
While you can visit them all in a day, to really appreciate their beauty, you should look to spend a few days at them all.
Doing this will involve securing overnight accommodation, which all of these destinations provide by way of camping.
1. Wapsipinicon State Park
Location: 21301 Co Rd E34, Anamosa, IA 52205
The wonderfully named Wapsipinicon State Park is a gorgeous 394-acre park that resides along the limestone and sandstone bluffs of the Wapsipinicon River.
It will take you around 2 hours and 30 minutes to drive there in a north easterly direction from Des Moines. Once you are there you will find many fascinating structures within the park that feature within the National Register of Historic Places.
This includes a lodge, stone arch bridge and other shelters handmade by prisoners from a nearby Penitentiary. Not made by prisoners, but notably nonetheless, is a 9 hole golf course that features in the park.
Fishing and hiking are very popular activities here, while in the winter snowmobiling and cross country skiing is regularly practiced.
The shaded, modern campground here offers electric and non-electric campsites, which feature restrooms and showers.
2. Pilot Knob State Park
Location: 2148 340th St, Forest City, IA 50436
Founded all the way back in 1923, Pilot Knob State Park is one of the oldest public recreational spaces in Iowa.
Close to Forest City, the park is a 2 hour drive north from Des Moines and boasts stunning panoramic vistas and distinctive ecological areas.
One of the main drawcards of the park is an iconic Observation Tower, which has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Be sure to make your way to the top of the tower, on ‘Pilot Knob’ and drink in the magical sweeping views.
Hiking through this landscape is a very popular activity, while there are also equestrian trails to explore too. This scenic public recreational space also boasts a 15-acre lake which is well stocked with catfish, bluegill and bass.
During the winter the park becomes a haven for ice fishing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.
Camping facilities at the park incorporate electric hookups, as well as more primitive sites. There are showers, restrooms and a dump station too. While around a quarter of the campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
3. Black Hawk State Park
Location: 228 S Blossom St, Lake View, IA 51450
Just a 2 hour drive northwest of Des Moines resides the Black Hawk State Park.
Situated within the town of Lake View, the park accommodates the southernmost glacial lake within continental America. It also features several structures that were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and make excellent locations for picnics.
The park offers lots of hiking and wildlife spotting opportunities, while the 957-acre natural lake is a haven for swimming in the summer, as well as kayaking, canoeing, SUP and boating all year round. There are also beaches to sunbathe on as well.
Anglers enjoy plenty of opportunity to catch sunfish, channel catfish and bluegill, from a fishing pier that is universally accessible. While mini golf and disc golf are also present in the park. Children will enjoy playing on the playground, as well as the sand volleyball courts.
Overall there are two campgrounds onsite which offer electric and non-electric sites for tents, RVs and trailers. There are also modern restrooms at both sites that provide toilet and shower facilities.
4. Ambrose A. Call State Park
Location: Call Park Rd, Algona, IA 50511
Located a 2 hour and 15 minute drive from Des Moines, the Ambrose A. Call State Park is a historic state park that honors the first European settlers in nearby Kossuth County.
Spread across 138-acres of rugged hills and old-growth forest, which flanks the East Fork of the Des Moines River, this park enjoys a spectacular location. Its centerpiece is a historic log-cabin-style lodge that was built in 1928.
Hiking here takes the form of a secluded and heavily forested trail that meanders its way through the woodland, down a steep ravine and along a twisting creek. It’s a very picturesque walk, which will make you want to snap plenty of photos.
The park has a campground that offers both electric and non-electric sites. Reservations are on a first-come first-served and purely done by self-registration. There are no showers or modern restrooms here, but there is a pit toilet available.
5. Gull Point State Park
Location: 1500 Harpen St, Milford, IA 51351
At 3 hours and 15 minutes Gull Point State Park is the situated further away from Des Moines than any other state park on this list.
However, its picturesque position on West Okoboji Lake makes it a fabulous place to visit for those who love fishing, swimming, and water based recreational activities like kayaking, canoeing and paddleboarding.
Hiking and wildlife spotting opportunities go hand-in-hand in the park, while there are also several scenic picnic spots for families, couples and groups to enjoy.
The campground here is very popular and features a number of sites that range from rustic to those that offer electrical hookups. It is well shaded and also boasts paved roads, a children’s playground and modern restrooms that have toilets and showers.