Top 5 Things To Do This Winter in Your County Parks!

Oh, the weather outside is frightful!

…so let’s stay cozied up by that fireside - right? No way! A central Iowa winter may be a bit on the side of blustery but also quite beautiful and serene. And if there ever was a time to be outside in the name of health, winter is it as our bodies change with the shifting season. 

Outdoor activities help eliminate stress and winter blues, reset sleep and wake cycles, balance hormones and raise metabolism despite those sedentary longings. Exposure to sunlight also promotes the synthesis of vitamin D in the body (a critical one during cold and flu season!). And we here at Polk County Conservation have got you covered on ways to enjoy the frosty winter months ahead. Without further ado and in no particular order, we give you the top 5 things to do in your county parks this winter:

5) Cross Country Skiing
 Rental equipment is available at Jester Park. Call 515-323-5339 for further details.

Cross country skiing is a great way to exercise and get out and enjoy the natural world in the winter. Whether an avid skier or just beginning, Jester Park and Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt offer groomed cross country ski trails for every ability. Chichaqua is the perfect location for a flat trail as you wind your way through the woodlands and along the oxbows. Jester Park offers over 5 miles of trails through the woods, near Saylorville Lake and along the edge of the golf course. Trails are groomed after a snowfall over 6 inches. 

Bike trails are also great locations to ski. The Chichaqua Valley Trail and the Great Western Trail lead skiers through mile after mile of winding trail through the countryside. A scenic route through Easter Lake Park on the Mark C. Ackelson Trail leads skiers through Polk County’s only covered bridge. Looking for more of a challenge? Head out to Brown’s Woods and Thomas Mitchell Park for the more advanced skiers. 

Classes are also available. Come out learn cross country ski basics and practice your newly acquired skills out on the trail. Join our naturalists on the following dates:

January 30 @ 10:00 a.m. – Raccoon River Park Nature Lodge

February 20 @ 10:00 a.m. - Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt Longhouse

4) Snowshoeing
Recommended Trails:

Brown’s Woods, Yellows Banks Savanna Trail, Easter Lake Park Wymore Trail, Fort Des Moines Park Nature Trail, Jester Park Hickory Ridge Trail

Just because the trails are covered in a thick blanket of snow doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the beauty of your favorite county park - if you can walk, you can snowshoe! You only need to walk with your feet a bit wider than normal. Snowshoeing can be enjoyed by anyone just about anywhere in Polk County. The only places to avoid snowshoeing are on those groomed cross-country ski trails listed above and golf courses.

Snowshoes may also be rented for $7/day.

The following snowshoe classes with a naturalist are also available this winter:

 December 31 @ 10:00 a.m. – Easter Lake Park Shelter #3. 

January 23 @ 1:00 p.m. – Thomas Mitchell Park, meet at the pond parking lot. 

January 23 @ 5:30 p.m. for Shoes and Soup at Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt (meet at longhouse)
Come out to the park to snowshoe by the light of the full moon followed by a warm bowl of soup. 

3) Ice Fishing
Ice Fishing Clinics - Bait and poles will be provided. Bring something to sit on and dress warmly.

Polk County Conservation has several ponds to fish – even in the winter! Fort Des Moines, Thomas Mitchell, Yellow Banks, Easter Lake and Jester Park all are great spots to try out this winter. Pan fish such as bluegill and crappie may be found at each location. Even bass and catfish may be pulled through the ice in county parks. 

New to ice fishing? Not sure how to get started? Be sure to take advantage of ice fishing clinics provided by knowledgeable staff in our Environmental Education department. These clinics allow participants to learn the basics of ice fishing as well as getting some hands-on experience. 

Winter Ice Fishing Clinics:
Anyone over the age of 16 will need a valid fishing license.

January 9 @ 10:00 a.m. - Thomas Mitchell Park, meet at the pond parking lot
February 6 @ 1:00 p.m. – Easter Lake Park, Shelter #2

2) Snowmobiling
Photo courtesy of
Jester Park’s Lakeshore Trail offers snowmobilers a beautiful 5 mile ride along Saylorville Lake. Come check it out! The trail is open for snowmobiling when there is a minimum of 4" of snow. Riders MUST stay on the trail that follows the lakeshore. Signs are posted. Trailheads are located off the Lincoln Access road just north of the Mile-Long Bridge and at Camp Area #6 in Jester Park.

For an update on trail conditions, call the park ranger at (515) 249-3229.
State Regulations Apply. See the Iowa DNR’s Snowmobile Regulations for additional information.

1)      Winter Sleigh Rides and Horse Rides
Call the Center today for further information and to reserve your spot today at 515-999-2818!

Just hear those sleigh bells jingling at the Jester Park Equestrian Center! Sleigh rides are available with adequate snowfall.

Winter Sleigh Rides- December through April
Sleigh Rides for groups up to 6 people. $10/per person for a 45-minute ride thru the snow-covered trails of the Jester Park. 

Pony Express to Santa - December 12th,13th,  19th, and 20th @ 11 am to 3 pm
Bring your child out to enjoy a winter wonderland aboard our ponies and end the trip with a visit to see Santa. Decorate stockings, enjoy Christmas carols on a sleigh ride and much more!

Christmas Sleigh Rides- December 23rd- 27th, when the snow falls. 10 am to 4 pm.
Rides for groups up to 8-10 people for a 45-minute ride through the snow-covered trails of the Jester Park. We will also spread holiday cheer with complimentary hot chocolate, Christmas cookies and holiday crafts for the kids.

Winter Break Camps- December 28th, 29th and 30th   @ 10 am to 2pm.
Need to do some last minute shopping? Are your kid’s going stir crazy in the house? Bring them out for some horsey fun over the holiday season. Winter camps will include safety training, horsemanship skills, a riding lesson, wagon/sleigh ride and a holiday keepsake craft.

Winter is such a beautiful time in Iowa, and fun is right outside your front door! Get outside and enjoy all nature has to offer this beautiful winter season. Be sure to share your winter adventures in your favorite park on our Facebook page!


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