Outdoor Winter Fun in Des Moines - dsm4kids.com

Outdoor Winter Fun in Des Moines

Who says winter is for hibernating? Sure, it’s cold but this is Iowa and that’s how we roll, and we all know cold weather builds character, right? But, I’ll admit I’ve been putting off publishing this post, because this hasn’t been a typical Des Moines winter.  We really haven’t had enough measurable snow fall to enjoy several of the activities listed below.  Maybe we’ll finally get snow in March! ;0

Here are a few ideas to get you out and about this winter.  Please be sure to call ahead to confirm dates, times, location and other information before heading to an event or activity, since it may be cancelled due to lack of snow or inclement weather.


Active Endeavors

Active Endeavors is a local retail store that specializes in outdoor apparel and accessories.  They are located at 4520 University Avenue in West Des Moines near Barnes and Noble. 2017 pricing for snowshoe rental is $15 for one day and $25. You can request poles if needed. A $100 deposit is required. Call (515) 226-9345 for additional information.

Des Moines Parks & Recreation

Put on your cold weather gear and join the snowshoe fun in Des Moines this winter. Des Moines Parks and Recreation has several opportunities for you explore the outdoors. If there is no snow, the daytime events will be cancelled, but the full moon hike will be held as a walk. All require registration and most have a $5 fee that includes snowshoe rental, instructions and hot chocolate. To find out more details about these programs or to register, visit the website.

  • Thursday, January 26, 2017, 12:00 Noon – 1:00 pm, John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park (1416 Locust Street)
  • Friday, February 10, 2017, 5:30 – 7:00 pm, Pioneer Park (1602 E Pioneer Road)
  • Thursday, February 16, 2017, 12:00 Noon – 1:00 pm, John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park (1416 Locust Street)
  • Sunday, February 19, 2017, 12:00 Noon – 1:00 pm, John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park (1418 Grand Avenue)
  • Monday, February 8, 2016, 1:00 – 2:00 pm, Lunchtime Stomp at John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park Part II (1416 Locust Street)
  • Tuesday, March 7, 2017, 12:00 Noon – 1:00 pm, John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park (1418 Grand Avenue)
  • Friday, March 10, 2017, 5:30 – 7:00 pm, Greenwood Park (4500 Grand Avenue)
  • Sunday, March 19, 2017, 1:00 – 2:00 pm, Ewing Park (5300 Indianola Avenue)

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge has many different things to see and do in any season, and winter is no exception! Bring your family and friends and do some snowshoe hiking. Snowshoes are available for visitors to use at no cost.

You can also join an Impromptu Snow Shoe Hike. They’re held on Saturdays; dependent upon snowfall from 2:00 to 3:00 pm. When heavy snow falls, check their Facebook page or join their email list by contacting Brianna_Patrick@fws.gov to know if there is a hike.  Snowshoe rental is FREE and both child and adult sizes are available. Registration encouraged. Winter Visitor Center Hours, December 1 through February 28, 2017 are Monday to Saturday, 9:00 am to 4:00 pm; CLOSED Sundays.

Rasmussen Bicycle Shop

Rasmussen Bicycle Shop rents out snowshoes and poles in men’s and women’s sizes during the winter months.  Snowshoe rental is $12 a day; pole rental is $8 a day or get a break by renting both for $18 a day.  They also offer a weekend Snowshoe/Pole Rental rate for $25.  Pick up your gear on Saturday and return it by close of business on Monday. The bike shop is located at 301 Grand Avenue in West Des Moines.  Check out their website or call (515) 277-2636 for details.

Warren County Conservation Board

Don’t let the winter weather keep you locked up indoors! Join Warren County Conservation to learn how easy and fun snowshoeing can be while experiencing the great outdoors. Snowshoes can be checked out for FREE at the Annett Nature Center in Indianola during business hours. They also have snowshoe hikes scheduled throughout the season in hopes of good snowshoeing weather. Classes will be cancelled if there’s not enough snow. Please register on their website or by calling (515) 961-6169.


  • Saturday, February 4, 2017, 3:00 – 4:30 pm, at Pickard Park in Indianola
  • Monday, February 13, 2017, 5:00 – 6:30 pm, Valentine’s Snowshoe Night Hike at Annett Nature Center in Indianola

Cross-Country Skiing

Active Endeavors

Active Endeavors also has cross country skis, boots and poles available for rent.  2017 pricing for cross country skis, boots, and poles are $17 for one day and $28 for two days. A $100 deposit is required. Call (515) 226-9345 for additional information.

Polk County Conservation

If you’d like to try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing after a fresh snow, consider renting a pair from the Polk County Conservation Board.  They have several sets of cross-country skis, boots, and poles. The equipment is sized mainly for adults and can be reserved in advance by calling (515) 323-5339. Equipment must be picked up and dropped off at the Jester Park Administration Office during normal business hours, Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 4:30 pm. Skis will only be rented if there is at least four inches of snow on the ground. Cross country skis, boots and poles rent for $10 a day.

  • Saturday, February 5, 2017, 1:00 pm Cross-Country Ski Basics at Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt Longhouse in Maxwell, $10

Ice Fishing

Polk County Conservation

Learn the basics of ice fishing and get some hands-on experience. Anyone over the age of 16 will need a valid fishing license. Bait and poles will be provided. Bring something to sit on and dress warmly.  At Fort Des Moines Park, Shelter #1 on Sunday February 12, 2017 at 1:00 pm.

Warren County Conservation Board

Learn the basics of ice fishing and try it out yourself! Start out in the Annett Nature Center to learn about equipment, ice safety, fish species, fishing locations and more! After checking out the gear, head to Lester Pond to try to catch some fish through the ice. Poles and bait will be provided, but you are welcome to bring your own. Bring something to sit on and dress warm! Anyone ages 16+ must have a current Iowa fishing license to participate in the fishing portion. This program will only be held if ice conditions are safe. On Saturday, February 28th at 8:30 am – 11:30 am.

Bird Watching

Dallas County Conservation

Owl Prowl

The, “Owl Prowl”, hike will begin around a bonfire, with hot chocolate, as your introduced to the owls of  Dallas County and their signature calls. Next you will venture out on the woodland trails of Kuehn Conservation Area and try your luck at calling the owls. If we are successful, you will experience the thrill of hearing an owl answer back to our calls. Tuesday, February 7, 2017 at 6:30 to 8:00 pm.

Iowa DNR

Des Moines Bald Eagle Days

On February 10, the Iowa DNR will be hosting a Lunch with Eagles at Grays Lake, 2100 Fleur Drive in Des Moines.  There will be outdoor viewing and a replica eagle nest from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. On February 11, 2017, Des Moines Parks and Rec will host an outdoor viewing with an indoor live eagle at Fellowship Baptist Church, 1503 SE Sixth Street, in Des Moines.

Polk County Conservation

Owl Prowl

Bundle up and join a naturalist for a campfire program to learn about owls. After a brief discussion about these flying predators of the night, we will go for a hike and learn how to call three different species of owls. On Friday,January 27, 2017 at Jester Park, Camp Area 5.

Swan Soiree

Come and meet a live trumpeter swan up close! This is a rare opportunity to see, touch and learn more about swans. Trumpeter swans were once common in Iowa, but were gone from the state by the late 1880s. By the early 1930s, only 69 trumpeter swans remained in the lower 48 states. As the largest North American waterfowl, these magnificent all-white birds can weigh up to 32 pounds with an 8-foot wingspan. Public support is vital in restoring trumpeter swans to Iowa.

  • Friday, January 27, 6:00 to 8:00 pm, Blank Park Zoo Discovery Center (7401 SW Ninth St., Des Moines)
  • Saturday, January 28, 2017, 10:30 am to 2:00 pm, Walnut Woods State Park Lodge (3155 Walnut Woods Dr., West Des Moines)

Bald Eagle Watch

Stop by the Saylorville Visitor’s Center to learn about our national symbol, the bald eagle. Then venture outside to view them in their natural setting. Jester Park Lodge will host a live eagle used for education. Hourly programs start at 1 pm will give you a close look at this amazing species. On Sunday, February 26, 2017 at 12:00 PM in the Saylorville Lake and Jester Park Lodge.

Warren County Conservation Board

Owl Prowl

Learn about the Owls of Iowa, learn to identify their calls, and head out for a hike down the trail to listen for owls living in the park. Winter is a great time to call for owls, but be sure to come bundled up for the cold February weather. February 2, 2017 at 6:30 to 8:00 pm at the Annett Nature Center in Indianola

Star Gazing

Dallas County Conservation

bet you know the Big Dipper, but did you know it is really a large bear known as Ursa Major? The sky is full of stories. Dallas County Conservation invites you to join them in this stellar library, with books written not in letters and sentences but in star light. Join them in the night time wilds of Dallas County as they share a few winter constellation stories. Registration is required for this program at Kuehn Conservation Area – Bear Creek Nature Center on January 26, 2017 at 6:30 to 8:00 pm.

Science Center of Iowa

Experience the out-of-this-world space observation! Join SCI staff and members of the Des Moines Astronomical Society (DMAS) to take a look through high-powered telescopes and get a quick lesson on the basics of telescope operation. Guests will have the opportunity to observe celestial objects, colorful double stars and star clusters, meteor showers and more.

  • Saturday, February 11, 2017, 6:30 to 8:30 pm, Ewing Park – Lunar penumbral eclipse, Mars and Venus
  • Saturday, March 4, 2017, 7:30 to 9:30 pm, Ewing Park- Waxing crescent Moon, Mars and Venus

Winter Hikes

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

Join a ranger to discover the secrets and beauty of nature in winter or discover the prairie flowers and wildlife using your photo lens. Meet at the Learning Center. Be prepared for the weather and walking off the trails.

  • Saturday, January 28, 2017, 10:00 to 11:00 am – Winter Naturalist Hike
  • Saturday, February 18, 2017, 7:00 to 9:00 am – Winter Photo Hike

Polk County Conservation

Winter Hike

Join a naturalist on a peaceful winter hike as you focus on what animals do to survive winter. Saturday, February 11, 2017 at 10:00 am.  Meet at the Jester Park, Shelter #5.   


What’s your families’ go-to outdoor winter activities? Sound off in the comments below.


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