By Natalie Maughan
Jester Park, located in Granger, is an outdoor escape from the city life while not being that far from Des Moines. It’s a chance to get outside, get dirty, explore together with your kids, learn new things about Iowa creatures and spend some time away from technology for an afternoon. We love going to Jester Park no matter the time of year, especially since the Nature Center and Rec Center opened last year.
Jester Park Nature Center and Outdoor Recreation Center
When you enter the Nature Center you are greeted by a large and welcoming fireplace, so cozy for winter months but beautiful any time of year. The view out the windows is calming and relaxing as you can see prairie grasses, trees and bird feeders set up close to the building. I could grab a book and cuddle up in one of their big leather chairs and watch the birds for an afternoon and feel perfectly content.
The basement has a hand-on nature exhibit perfect for little kids. There are some live animals (in tanks) to admire as well. Little-little ones can crawl through tunnels and pretend to be prairie animals as they navigate their way around. Puppets and natural artifacts are available for handling and discovering nature more up close.
The Recreation Center is right next door, easy to walk to from the Nature Center. They are open Saturdays and Sundays, Spring Break week, and Thursday through Sunday during the summer months. The activities offered include a bouldering wall, indoor archery and air-rifle rentals, cross-country ski and snowshoe rental in the winter and canoe, kayak and paddle boards in the summer. Each activity has a day use fee with the exception of air rifles being limited to 25 pellets for $5. Please check their website for times available before you go to make sure they’re open and to see what’s available.
My kids loved playing on the bouldering wall. What is the difference between a bouldering wall and rock climbing, you ask? The bouldering wall isn’t quite as tall as a rock-climbing wall and the floor is one giant foam pad for easier falls. The walls are marked by level of difficulty so anyone can play, young or old. While we were there both kids and adults were attempting to climb the wall. You must be at least four years old to play in this area so definitely something for school-aged kids or adults.
What to do in the colder months?
If cross-country skiing is a hobby or you’d like to give it a go, Jester Park Rec Center will rent skis as long as there is six inches of snow on the ground. They have five miles of trails you can take around the park or you’re welcome to take the skis elsewhere for the day. When the snow is high enough, they will have groomed trails you can take and maps to figure out where to go. Same with snow shoeing; they only ask that you not use the groomed ski trails with snow shoes.
What to do during the warmer months?
When the snow melts and we start to see green on the trees again, there are some fun activities to do outside. There is a natural playscape with a small man-made pond that kids are welcome to play in and cool off when it’s hot outside. My kids love this part of the park. They spend quite a bit of time in the pond area. Elk and Bison roam through part of the park and are fun to watch near the playscape.
The hiking is great for families as most of the trails are easy even for little ones. Many of the trails are short so your kids can walk without you carrying them! If camping is your thing, they have 168 campsites available to rent. Jester Park also offers many programs throughout the year, most of them need prior registration and may have a small fee but they are fun! My daughter recently attended a class where they made bird feeders to take home. Following Jester Park on Facebook is the best way to keep up to date with classes available.
The Jester Park Equestrian Center offers trail rides throughout the year and sleigh rides in the winter. There are education classes you can take as well. Although we’ve never done this aspect of the park, it sounds like a great opportunity for those interested in the care of horses. Miniature golf is another option; rates and times can be accessed here. It would make a fun birthday party! For a full list of all the amenities offered at Jester Park visit their website and find something that fits your family.
We love to head to Jester Park for a weekend afternoon and get away from technology, TV and chores and enjoy the fresh air, the trails, the animals and the rejuvenation it all provides. It’s so nice to have a place like this so close where we can escape even for a few hours. Add Jester Park to your list of places to explore over and over again.
What’s your family’s favorite activities to do at Jester Park?
Featured photo was provided by Jester Park Nature Center. All other photos by Natalie Maughan.