Des Moines Parks and Recreation has incredible parks where visitors can enjoy different types of recreation including connecting with nature and wildlife. Park users of all ages have the ability to explore and learn more about their environment when they attend nature-based programs. Studies have shown that children are smarter, more cooperative, happier and healthier when they have frequent and varied chances to play in the out-of doors. Seniors enjoy the ability to be active and social while they continue their lifetime of learning and new experiences. Everyone can enjoy the hands on learning and experience new activities during every season of the year.
Des Moines Parks and Recreation offers many popular seasonal programs such as Birding Basics (spring), Stand Up Paddleboarding (summer), Monarch Tagging (fall), and Snowshoeing (winter). Fishing events and Bald Eagle nest watching are great family activities along with many other programs for you to enjoy.
2021 Return to Play Nature Programs
Celebrate Earth Day at Home
join us for pop-up programs
such as snowshoeing, bird migrations and more!
To receive the pop up program notices on your cell phone text
DSMPOPUP to 84483
Information will also be on social media
(Facebook, Twitter and Instagram)
Due to Covid-19 conditions Star Viewing Programs are currently CANCELLED
Parks and Recreation partners with the Science Center of Iowa and the Des Moines Astronomical Society to bring stargazing to Ewing Park during the warmer parts of the season and at Birdland Shelter for the winter events. Telescopes and information about what you are viewing in the sky are provided. Everyone is welcome and if you have a telescope of your own, feel free to bring it along.
August 14th , 2021
Ewin Park Lilac Arboretum 6:00 pm start
Activities based on space happen in the evening while there is still light and then when it gets darker, the big screen goes up for a movie in the park and watching for meteors. The Science Center of Iowa along with the Des Moines Astronomical Society DMAS will have telescopes on site for viewing the stars.
The activities and movie are free to the public.
Primitive Camping onsite will be available by reservation for a fee.
Check back later for more details.
Covid-19 is still a factor so please wear a mask, practice Social Distancing protocols and bring your own binoculars. The outside group size currently is limited to 30 people.
March 3rd will be the first walk of the season, weather pending. Participants will meet on Wednesdays at Gray’s Lake in the terrace area, starting at 11 a.m. and together, take a casual walk in search of migrating and residential birds. During the first half of the season, waterfowl are the main focus. Pelicans, Coots, Mergansers and various ducks are common visitors at Gray's Lake. As spring progresses the smaller songbirds arrive to Iowa on their migration and Gray's Lake is a good place to see them as they pass through. Yellow-rumped warblers, Baltimore Orioles and an occasional Scarlet Tanager are bright and beautiful species that can be found as the group walks along the trail. Environmental Education Staff, Joel will lead the group, pointing out birds, talking about their habits and answering questions. This program is great for beginners or people with some birding experience. Bring your own spotting scopes and binoculars.
The 2021 session will begin on March 3rd and run through May 26th.
The group will meet at the Gray's Lake Terrace area in South West Corner until further notice.
A series of Bluebird boxes have been installed in some of our parks. Volunteers monitor the activities in boxes March - August and then record the information they gather on nesting and hatchlings. The boxes create nesting cavities for Bluebirds to utilize in locations that park visitors can easily enjoy their beautiful colors and cheerful singing.
Tuesdays in April at 11, Gray's Lake
Join the Environmental Education Staff as they walk around the lake to monitor the bluebird boxes in the park. We will look for nests, eggs and possibly some chicks.
Meet in the NW parking lot at 11:00 am. Social distancing, masks and limited group size to the firs 29 people. If you have questions contact Joel at 515 681 2027.
To watch a video about the Bluebird Boxes that we have in the Des Moines City parks click Here.
Four Bluebird eggs spring 2019.
|| Single chick
||Single chick 5 days later
| Single chick last check
July 7, 14 and 21 starting at 1:00 we will look for bugs in the yard, under the trees and in the stream. We will supply nets and any other necessary supplies. These events are free and open to the public.
This activity is geared for ages 5 - 12 years old.
Monarch tagging is a great way to get the public involved and excited about monarch butterflies and what conservation practices Des Moines Parks and Recreation is taking to help the monarch butterfly . Most people know what a monarch butterfly is but they do not always know that the number of monarch butterflies in the wild has been dropping drastically since the mid 1990’s. The tagging programs are a local part of a larger citizen science project that has been going on since 1992 to better understand the dynamics of the monarch’s spectacular fall migration. Each year more than a quarter of a million tags are used by volunteers across North America who tag monarchs as they migrate through their area on their way to Mexico.
Watch here for Fall 2021 tagging dates to be posted.
A Walk in the Park Monarch Caterpillar
To watch our Monarch Butterfly video click Here.
Check our this short video about Bald Eagles in Des Moines.
The City of Des Moines Parks and Recreation is teaming up with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Fellowship Baptist Church in February to host Bald Eagle Day on the SE 6th Street Bridge. Between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. there will be spotting scopes and people on the bridge to assist with viewing some of the wild Bald Eagles in Des Moines. Inside Fellowship Baptist Church, you will be able to warm up, relax, have a snack and listen to presentations. SOAR - Saving Our Avian Resources will be present with a live education ambassador bald eagle. All ages are welcome, there will be children's activities and the event is free and open to the public.
2020 offered some great presentations and viewing of Bald Eagles from the bridge.
Gray’s Lake Park has hosted a nesting pair of Bald Eagles for many years. The eagles did not nest for the 2020 spring season but the nest is still visible from the bike trail.
The 2019 nest had three eaglets in the nest. Currently they are out of the nest, but you may be lucky enough to see one of them still in the area.
Des Moines Parks and Recreation is helping Monarch butterflies and other pollinators in our city parks and you can help too. Each Plant.Grow.Fly program is broken down into three parts:
- Learn about what pollinators need to survive and why they are important.
- Decorate and fill a flower pot to help support pollinators to take home
- Plant native Iowa species of plants in a butterfly garden.
Be prepared to get your hands dirty and do a little work to help Monarchs and pollinators. Registration for these events is required.
May 8, 2021 Location TBA
We are growing milkweed plants in the greenhouse getting ready for two planting dates.
May 14, 2021
May 21, 2021
Milkweed for Monarchs was a new program started in 2019. Volunteers worked with staff to help plant over 800 Milkweed plants at Ewing Park and the James W. Cownie Baseball Park to help provide habitat for Monarch Butterflies in Des Moines. In 2020 plantings had to be cancelled but we are back for 2021.
Contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have more questions.
iEARTH day camps, presented in partnership with Des Moines Parks and Recreation and Science Center of Iowa, are for kids in grades 1-8. These weeklong camps get kids into our parks, enjoying the outdoors while learning about the environment through art, recreation, team and hands-on activities.
Contact Science Center of Iowa for more details and registration.
The 2020 Parks and Recreation Free Fishing Friday Program is cancelled. Look for this event to be back in early June 2021.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources still has proclaimed June 5, 6 and 7 as Free Fishing Weekend. On those days you are permitted to fish in Iowa without purchasing a fishing license.
Free Fishing Friday is held annually in June for beginners to try their hand at fishing without needing to purchase a license. If you are interested in giving fishing a try for the first time, come on over and don’t worry, we will be there to help you. Bait and supplies will be on hand to use at no cost. All ages are welcome. This is a Vamos a Pescar event so there will be translators available to make it even easier to catch that first fish.
Des Moines Parks and Recreation teams together with the Iowa DNR, Des Moines Ikes and the Latino Center of Iowa to make this program a success for everyone in the community.
The 2020 CarpFEST program has been cancelled. Look for this program to be back early June 2021.
Parks and Recreation partners with the Des Moines Izaak Walton League and the Iowa DNR to bring you CarpFEST. Join us at Gray’s Lake Park in June, try your hand at Carp fishing and you could win a prize! Gear, bait and instructions are available. Carp caught may be kept by the fisherman or donated onsite to the wildlife rehabilitation organization S.O.A.R. All ages are welcome.
Enter the park from Fleur at the North West Entrance to the park.
Onsite Registration begins at 8:00 am
Fishing begins at 9:00 am and stops at 11:30.
Awards will be given out after all the fish have been recorded.
Saving Our Avian Resources is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1999 dedicated to saving our avian resources through raptor rehabilitation, education, and research. SOAR maintains all necessary US Fish & Wildlife Service and Iowa DNR permits to provide the rehabilitation and education.
Stomps can occur down the trail, at the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park and even under the full moon. All ages are welcome. Pop-up programs will occur when snow conditions are good. Registration is required and includes snowshoes, instructions and even a cup of hot chocolate!
2022 Program Dates will be posted here as the snow season gets closer. For now, enjoy the warm weather.
You can also enjoy the winter on your own when you rent a pair of snowshoes. Contact our office for more information at 515 248 6369.
Owls live right here in Des Moines but you do not get to see them easily. We will learn about the different kinds of owls that live here in Iowa and meet a live screech owl. Dress for the weather so that we can take a short hike in search of wild live owls in the park. Pre-registration is required.
This event usually takes place in January or February, watch for a new date to be posted.
GPS Great Pumpkin Hunt
GPS Pot of Gold Hunt
GPS Egg Hunt
| Skunk Cabbage
|| Freezing Rain
|| Siberian Squill
| Red-Tailed Hawk
|| Early May Apples
| Chorus Frogs
|| Dutchman's Breeches
|| Jack in the Pulpit
||Gray Tree frog
|| Poison Ivy
|Fungus with Ella
|| Compass Plant
|| Monarch Caterpillar
|| Monarch Butterfly Tagging
||Carolina Praying Mantis
||Take a Closer Look
|Aster in the Prairie
||Fall Hike with Veterans
|Pond: Diving Beetle
||Pond: Water Scorpion
|Take A Hike Day
||Praying Mantis Egg Case
||Smooth Penstemon Seeds
|| Winter Squirrel
|| Ring-billed Gull
||Almost a Full Moon Snowshoe
|Ice at Gray's Lake
||Bald Eagle Nest: Incubating Eggs
Introduction to Stand Up Paddleboarding
June 6, 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Register Here
July 10, 9 a.m. - Noon Register Here
Aug. 10, 5:30-8:30 p.m. Register Here
Stand Up Paddleboard with the Naturalist
All start times are 5:30pm except Aug. 28
June 17 Register Here
June 29 Register Here
July 13 Register Here
July 22 Register Here
Aug. 19 Register Here
Aug 28, 10 a.m. start time Register Here
Registration for this event is going to be done by CANOE. You may have more than one person in the canoe with you. Reserve one canoe for your group to use.
June 26, 10:00 am
Gray Lake Peninsula