Hickory Ridge Trail, Jester Park, Iowa

Des Moines, IA
Length: 1.50 mi.
Type: Out & Back

About This Trail

[Total: 0    Average: 0/5]

ACTIVITIES: Hiking, birding, geocaching, camping

LENGTH OF HIKE: 1.5 miles

OUT AND BACK OR LOOP: Out and back










There’s also a great water feature (bring swim gear and water shoes!), sand pit, wood blocks, and other perfect toddler things to explore throughout the park. The hike is a short out and back if you turn around at the creek crossing. Stop here, pause, and explore, depending on the time of year. If you cross the creek, the trail continues. But with walking toddlers, this might be a good turnaround point, which makes the hike 1.5 miles total.

There is some minimal elevation on this hike, but little walkers can do fine for most portions of it. This trail is allterrain stroller-friendly, but be mindful that there are stairs at the beginning of the hike and loose gravel on another section.

To access the trailhead from the Natural Playscape, you have to cross the park road. It’s not a busy road, but if you have kids who run ahead, just be aware of this. May and June are the best times to visit for the wildflowers and mild weather (no mosquitoes yet!), and September and October are best for cooler temps, fall colors, and less mosquitoes. If you get “bugged” easily, avoid this park in the summer months or have your spray handy at all times. At least you won’t melt from the summer sun, because the hike is almost all shaded —perfect for hot-weather hiking.

While we want to get you on trail, it’s hard not to mention the Natural Playscape because it’s so much fun for kids! There are also some benches there for nursing. There are a few hidden surprises along the trail that kids love to find—a teepee-like structure made out of sticks and a few other gems. The Discovery Pond just up the road from the Natural Playscape is also worth a stop for more exploration. Bring water nets and see what you can find—snails, frogs, fish, and bugs galore!

Speaking of wildlife, the Hickory Ridge Trail is also where the bison and elk exhibits are located. If the animals are nearby, take some time to watch them graze on the prairie grasses as they slowly amble through the landscape. But that’s not all that you’ll find here. Once a year, a huge migration of 3,000 to 8,000 American white pelicans stop off here in late August as they migrate for the winter. There are no park rangers, but Polk County Conservation owns the park, and they do a ton of family-friendly activities throughout the year at this location. There is also a new Nature Center which opened 22 Feb 2021. There is an equestrian center at the park for year-round horseback riding, snowshoe rentals in the winter, and other fun seasonal activities.

INSIDER’S TIP: There is a back entrance to the park that brings you directly to the Playscape, so you can avoid the long, winding main road all through the park (which takes forever, but is beautiful!). At the main intersection of NW 120th Ave. and NW 128th St., you would normally turn right to get to the main entrance of the park. Instead, turn left and follow NW 128th St. all the way until it ends, then turn right to enter the park from the back entrance. The Playscape will be on your right after you turn the first corner.

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Trail Features

Seasons Fall, Spring, Summer, and Winter
Surface type Dirt
Elevation gain 96 ft.
Stroller friendly Yes
Stroller terrain All Terrain
ADA accessible No
Water fountains No
Bathrooms Yes
Cell reception Excellent
Pet friendly Yes
Nearby convenience store Yes
Camping Nearby Yes
Emergency support
within 5 miles

Trail highlights

Camping Nearby, Creek / River, Fishing, Lake, Mud Puddles, Natural Play Area, Picnic Area, Playground, Ranger Led Hikes, Shaded Hike, Shelter, Visitor Center, and Wildlife Viewing

We love this park and this trail season round. I love that each season brings something different to explore and notice. In the spring, we love watching for the bison and elk babies as well as the monarch butterflies. In the summer, I love dipping my feet in the water feature at the playscape after hiking while my son collects and stacks rocks. I also love watching other kids explore and play with the different features in their own unique ways. Some kids like to take the wood blocks and haul them over to the water feature to see if they float or sink or if they can create a dam with them. In the fall, the colors here are beautiful, and it’s fun to notice how different animals prepare for winter. We feel so lucky to have this park nearby!” —KATY SEVERE

Trail Contributor

[Total: 0    Average: 0/5]

Hike it Baby Trail Guide is managed by the Family Trail Guide team. If a trail has been “abandoned” by the initial owner, it gets adopted by the team. Also, if there are no trails in the area, the Family Trail Guide team researches trails that are family friendly in the area to insure that hikes cover all areas where Hike it Baby hikes.