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Exploration doesn’t have to mean spending tons of money or driving a million hours in the car. This past week the girls and I had several free hours in Des Moines before a doctor’s appointment and we put them to good use!
Below you will find an outline for a fun filled few hours of free adventuring right in the heart of Des Moines, Iowa.
Our main destination for the day was the combined park wonderland of Greenwood/Ashworth Parks! These parks are located at 4500 Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50312. When you pull into this park you will find yourself on a paved road that curves back through some trees, past a theater seating area (which commonly holds weddings!), and up along a small pond.
Our first activity was to park at the parking spots near the pond and explore!
The path that goes around the pond is wood plank and gravel. It is best designed for walking on but my kids were dying to ride their bikes that we brought along so I unloaded the bikes, we put on helmets, and we began making our way around the pond to the left. Both kids did fine riding their bikes on the wooden platform but on the gravel path my youngest had trouble with her training wheels. I suggest walking this if you don’t want to have to give any young kiddos some bike pushes!
The pond itself is pretty neat! You can tell it has had some flooding this year (2018) but is otherwise in great shape. When we reached a spot where the gravel path meets up with a thinner path we parked the bikes and stroller and continued on foot.
One really neat feature is a sort of “classroom” that is built down into the pond so your kids can go stand level with the water. Ducks were out on the water and the kids loved feeling super close to them and dipping their fingers in the cool pond water.
Continuing on the path there is also a fun observation tower and beautiful flowers that had attracted many butterflies. My oldest is a big fan of any and all monarch sightings!
It should be noted that to get to the observation tower you have to walk on a metal grate trail that drops off one side into water. My 7 year old and 4 year old were fine but I definitely held my two year old’s hand as we walked!
After we explored the edge of the pond and watched the ducks for a while we returned to our bikes.
Our second activity was a bike ride up the hill to the Clare and Miles Mills Rose Garden!
This is a beautifully maintained formal garden! If you don’t want to walk or ride bikes up the hill to the garden (it’s not very far but I did have to help my four year old pedal up the hill) you can certainly get in your car, drive out of the park the way you came, and go around the Des Moines Art Center on the main road to park close to the Rose Garden.
Again, we parked our bikes and started to explore.
This garden contains hundreds of roses. The blooming period varies which makes it fun to return to at different times in the year. My kids love walking the paths, smelling the flowers, and debating over which flower is the best. The flowers are labeled so you can easily tell what type of rose you are viewing. There are picnic tables here if you would like to eat or sit and relax.
You can get a copy of the Rose Garden brochure here which includes a map of the beds!
The Rose Garden also houses some neat sculptures that my kids love!
One other option would be to visit the Des Moines Art Center. We didn’t get there on this day but it is free to enter and has a lot of neat art in it for those who are interested!
After the Rose Garden we biked back to our car and went to the play ground area for a picnic lunch!
The road in the park can be a little confusing. Right where the parking is for the pond the road splits to the left or continues on. You want to pull out of parking and take the left fork uphill to the play ground area!
We were able to find a shady spot with a picnic table to pull out our cooler of sandwiches and fruit. The play area here consists of a tennis court, two play grounds (one small, one big right next to each other), and a spray ground. We didn’t use the spray ground on this visit because we needed to get to the doctor right after BUT it could have easily added 30 – 60 minutes to our fun!
We ate and then the kids went and played on the nice shady playground! All three girls loved both play grounds and we lingered and played for about an hour.
Next we climbed in the van and went to hike some trails!
Going back down the hill to the main entrance road we took a left. This will lead you past Ashworth pool – a small but well maintained public pool – and ends in parking for the trail system the parks house!
The parks house miles of wooded trails used mostly this time of year for mountain/trail biking and hiking. If you want to hike these trails bring your bug spray! There is a creek in the woods which makes the trails fun for exploring but also increases your mosquito count.
We had a lot of fun exploring these trails. My oldest heard the water before anyone else and immediately led us to it. There are a lot of options for crossing back and forth over the creek which my kids always find to be a fun task.
Finally we busted out our bikes one more time!
Off the same parking lot where we connected with the wood trails is a trail head for the Bill Riley Bike Trail. This is a shady, paved, and fairly flat section of bike trail. At the trail head is a bike maintenance station where you can fill bike tires or do minor repairs. Then you can take off down the nice smooth path. This was great for both of my bike riders as they could handle this section mostly on their own. They love feeling independent.
I pushed my two year old in the stroller behind them and enjoyed the day. There are other bikers on this trail, so remind your young ones to stay to the right – but everyone we came across was friendly and understanding that my four year old may or may not be successful in this goal!
When we got back it was time to head to the doctor but WOW what a fun morning we had! We were at the park area from 10:30 am until 1:30 pm and could have stayed longer!
If you are looking for a day of free outdoor fun – give this run down a try the next time you are in Des Moines!
Have you been to Greenwood/Ashworth Park? Did you love it? What park should we check out next?