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Take a Hike!
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Take a Hike!

It is that time of year again! That much-celebrated time in the Midwest when the dog-days of summer give way to warm days and cool, brisk nights; that time when the many oak, hickory, maple and elm trees that dominate the Iowa landscape ignite in a blaze of color against a backdrop of deep blue autumnal skies. This quiet yet vibrant transitional period of the land from summer into winter is a markedly beautiful one throughout Iowa. What better way to enjoy it than to get outside and hit the trails?!Polk County Conservation, with its 20 parks and trails, provides an ideal setting in which one may enjoy all that nature has to offer this fall season. Peak color in Polk County typically occurs the first through third weeks in October. Want to know fall color conditions in your area? Visit the Iowa DNR website for weekly updates.

Trees are not the only spectacular view this season. Be sure to take in the glory of a prairie’s fall bloom! The dominant yellows of goldenrods, sunflowers, sweet brown-eyed Susan, and multiple species of bidens scatter the land. Adding interest and texture to the rich browns and yellows are the purples of New England asters, gentians and ironweed. Beautiful wild rose hips and the seed capsules of Indian plantain, beardtongue and others all draw the attention of the fall hiker.The constant hum of insects, which make up the vast majority of Iowa wildlife species, is particularly obvious as they prepare for the end of the yearly cycle. Areas where prairies still flourish in Polk County are along old railway corridors, roadsides, and within the hands of passionate individuals and organizations dedicated to restoration of these areas.

Polk County Conservation offers mile after mile of scenic views to enjoy autumn at its finest. Our top four recommended parks to visit this fall are Brown's Woods, Yellow Banks, Thomas Mitchell and Jester Parks. Lace up your boots, pack a water bottle and check out our website for a complete listing of trails. Share your pictures and experiences on our Facebook page or comment below. We look forward to seeing you in our parks!

Brown's Woods (Located just west of 63rd Street in West Des Moines)

The giant oak trees shading this trail system creates a solid canopy of leaves penetrated by dancing rays of sunlight.

Hiking Difficulty: moderate

Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt (Located northeast of Des Moines, 5 miles east of Elkhart)

Tranquil trails wind along the old oxbows of the Skunk River. Keep an eye out for great blue herons, wood ducks, and river otters.

Hiking Difficulty: easy

Easter Lake Park (Located east of SE 14th Street on Easter Lake Drive in Des Moines)

Catch a glimpse of beautiful Easter Lake as you walk along the new Mark C. Ackelson Trail.Hiking Difficulty: easy - moderateFort Des Moines Park (Located on SE 5th Street, south of Army Post Road in Des Moines) The Aspen Ridge Trail winds through a tapestry of sunlight, shadows, and greenery. Listen for chattering chipmunks, scolding blue jays, and whispering wind.

Hiking Difficulty: easy

Jester Park (Located 15 miles northwest of Des Moines near Granger)

You'll enjoy spectacular views of Saylorville Lake and a wide variety of wildlife on many peaceful trails as you hike through beautiful oak/hickory woodland.

Hiking Difficulty: easy - moderate

Thomas Mitchell Park (Located on NE 46 St. east of Altoona)

The DeVotie Trail is part of the old stagecoach trail that stopped at Thomas Mitchell's cabin. Thomas Mitchell was the first permanent Anglo-American settler in Polk County.

Hiking Difficulty: easy - moderate

Yellow Banks Park (Located 10 miles southeast of Des Moines, south of Hwy. 163)

On the Savanna Trail, you can introduce yourself to some of our oldest residents. This trail guides you past Polk County's few remaining 250 year old savanna oak trees.

Hiking Difficulty: easy - moderate

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