Hiking With Kids in Central Iowa

Katie Nyberg Hiking with Kids Des Moines Moms Blog
Clark Tower in Winterset

One our favorite family activities is hiking on a nice day. We started hiking as a family in Colorado when our boys were babies and haven’t stopped.

If you are looking for a leisurely stroll or a more invigorating workout, hiking is adaptable for all levels. We typically pick “easy” hikes whether we’re in Colorado or Iowa. With warmer weather in Iowa around the corner, it is the perfect time to try some trails!

How to Find Trails

The first step in hiking with kids is finding a good hike. We typically turn to a free app like All Trails and head to the filter option. When it is just my boys with me, I typically like to hike under 2 miles. You can also select the difficulty (we pick easy hikes) and whether there is a feature like a lake or river. We like hiking by water so I typically look for those types of hikes. I’ve learned that the destination is very important when hiking with kids.

Here are some great places to look for hikes:

Our Favorite Places to Hike

Clark Tower in Winterset. This was a big hit with our kids because the destination is a tower that you can climb and see for a long distance.

Jester Park Hickory Trail. This trail has a neat little bridge over a stream and depending on what path you take, you can hike to see the bison or Saylorville Lake. Hiking along the lake’s edge was a big hit!

State Parks. Walnut Woods, Browns Woods, and Ledges State Parks all offer beautiful and well-maintained trails. Ledges is a great place to hike on a warm day since you can hike in the creek too.Katie Nyberg Hiking with Kids Des Moines Moms Blog

What to Bring

Since hiking in Iowa is generally safer than the mountains, we don’t pack a lot for our hikes. We highly suggest leaving the flip flops at home and wearing supportive shoes and comfortable socks. While all of the trails we use are very well maintained, proper shoes are important. We also have one person carry a backpack with water bottles, band-aids, and snacks.

Pro tip: snacks can be used as bribes. “We’ll have a snack at the lake!” or “If you can go five minutes without asking if we’re there yet, you can have a snack!”

Just be sure to follow the rule of “leave no trace”. This means if you bring it to the trail, you can have to carry it out with you including your garbage.

Some of the items listed below are “extras”. Since I imagine we will be hiking with our kids for many years, they are in the habit of hiking with their own gear. Even the littlest of hikers can carry a small backpack with a snack and a small water bottle! We also have other non-essential items like hiking sticks, whistles, Camelbacks, and compasses.

If we were ever to find ourselves in trouble, it would be easy to call for help in Iowa. However, we still carry the other items with us out of habit.

We all love our hiking sticks wherever we are! If you don’t have fancy ones, challenge the kids to find one on their hike. Just be careful not to wander off the path. Poison Ivy is no joke!

  • Water and Snacks
  • Hiking Sticks
  • Charged phone with camera
  • Compass
  • Whistle
  • Sunscreen and Hats
  • Supportive shoes and socks (no flip flops!)
  • Tick Removers. This tool is good for playing at home in the yard too. Ticks are everywhere in Iowa, not just the woods.

Where are your favorite places to hike?

hiking in central Iowa


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