Des Moines River --  Love it, Explore it, Support it
 Because the Des Moines River doesn't begin at Hwy 20 and end at Hwy. 92
Ledges to Yellow Banks
  

Des Moines River Float Trips  (Best viewed in Classic mode on mobile devices) 

 

updated 1/16:

for stories and pix, see the DMRWT PBase gallery

 

 

 

The Des Moines River is
Iowa's longest trail system
Take a float trip from Ledges State Park, past Luther and Madrid, on to Saylorville Reservoir, down to the Des Moines Botanical Center, and on to Yellow Banks Park
Estimated Distance: 58 miles

The run from Ledges to Des Moines will involve portages around Saylorville Dam, 9 miles north of the city, and portages around the Center St. and Scott Ave. dams.  Portage options are given in more detail below.  This is a two or three day trip depending on water levels and the amount of water being released from Saylorville Dam.  It is 25 miles from Ledges to Jester Park, at the north end of Saylorville Lake.

It is about 3 miles to the Luther boat ramp, 4 miles to the Sportsman's access south of Luther, and another 5 miles to the Laurie boat ramp, just before the high bridges at Hwy. 210 on the east side of the river.  This is the flood plain for Saylorville, and it is remote and wild.  The rock formations are quite beautiful, and the marsh and wetland areas abound with waterfowl.  The river widens and turns frequently.  A strong southeast wind means high waves and difficult paddling.  At about 5 miles from Madrid, the river splits into a right and left fork, and the right fork has ample water for paddling.  It is another 7  miles down to Jester Park through very scenic territory, but the entrance to the lake is silted in.  Stay near shore, as you may have to pull the boat along the shore to get down into Saylorville (no problem if the Saylorville gauge is above normal, 836).  There are excellent camping facilities at Jester Park.

It is 10 miles down Saylorville Lake, under the mile long bridge, and to the dam outlet and take out point at the southwest end of the lake.  There is also an access point at Lakeview Access with full boat ramp facilities, 2 miles northwest of the dam.  If you are portaging, take the gravel road to the road that goes east over the dam, then take the first right down to Cottonwood.  It is about 3 miles to the fishing pier, where there is a sandy incline to the river below the dam.

The trip down to Des Moines takes you along the Saylorville Bike Trail on the east bank, and you'll see lots of walkers and bikers.  Sycamore Access off NW 66th is a mile from Cottonwood, with an excellent boat ramp.  This is the beginning of the Ding Darling Greenway.  I-80 passes over the river 2 miles south.  Another 3 miles brings you to the Highland Park bridge for the bike trail, a very colorful structure.  After 2 more miles you pass under the Euclid Ave. bridge and under the railroad bridge restored by the Beaverdale Neighborhood Assn. to link up bike trails on the east and west banks.  Another mile brings the Prospect Park boat ramp and park, donated by Ding Darling, and the starting line for the impressive Des Moines River Regatta, which attracts more than 50 rowing crews every fall.

Another mile downstream you pass beneath the 6th Ave. and 2nd Ave. bridges, with lovely houses on the bluffs and the walls of the levee to the east.  Next stop a mile downstream is Birdland Marina, home of the Des Moines area rowing clubs with dock and boat ramp facilities.  The next landmark is the University Ave. bridge, a marvellous structure that is better appreciated from the river.  The Botanical Center is on the east bank just downstream, and there are steps down to the water and a path up to the bike trail and riverfront parking.  Warning: do not attempt to run the dams at Center St.  (just below the Botanical Center) or at Scott Ave. bridge (just below the baseball stadium).  These are dangerous dams.  A kayaker drowned at Scott Ave. dam 8/10/02.

Now you have a choice.  You can load up the boat and drive to SE 14th St., turn east on Harriet St., and launch at the boat ramp south of town.  The purist will portage to the Simon Estes Amphitheater, carry down the steps to the river, and paddle through the downtown waterfront and skyline to the Sec Taylor Stadium on the west bank.  (This unfortunately now illegal)  This is one of the most spectacular river sights you will see anywhere.  The neo-roman bridges, the sandstone government buildings, the skyscrapers to the west, make for wonders in every direction.  There are concrete steps to take you out of the water.  Cross over the Scott Ave. bridge, and take the bike trail about a mile to SE 14th St. and the boat ramp.

The run to Yellow Banks Park is a mix of great beauty and an industrial landscape.  The greenbelt is well established, but gives way to an industrial park and the wastewater treatment plant.  Never fear, the water is just fine.  About 5 miles down river, the remains of the C46 bridge are on the east and west bank near the power plant.  The bridge was rustic and convenient, but now the only river crossing is a mile north, at the new Hwy. 65 bridge.  The river turns north and west, then south and east  as it runs down the last 4 miles to Yellow Banks Park, where the boat ramp is down a steep road that winds through the glorious loess hills.  The is a new paddler camping area just west of the boat ramp.  Contact Polk County Conservation for more information.

Note: the water trail kiosks in Polk County are a wonder.  Each access kiosk has information specific to that section of the river.  Dick LeCroy is smiling down from heaven.
 

Driving Directions Ledges State Park is west off Hwy. 17, just north of Luther. 

The Luther boat ramp is 2 miles west of Luther on E57.  It is on the northeast side of the river.

Sportsman's Access is west of Luther on E57, south on the road to the Iowa Arboretum.  E57 2.4 miles W from Luther, 1 mile S on Peach St. at the Arboretum sign, at T intersection, turn W .5 miles on 280th, at Opal continue W for 1 mile, at 285th and Opal, turn S  at the "road closed" sign, .5 mile,  E bank

Laurie boat ramp is 2.6 miles west of Madrid, take Hwy. 210 off Hwy. 17.  The boat ramp is on the east bank north of the Hwy. 210 bridge. 

Woodward sub-1 access is 2 miles east of Woodward off 130th Court.

Jester Park is off NW Beaver Rd. on the west side of the lake.  Take 415 to the mile long bridge, then west to NW Beaver and north.  Follow the excellent signs. 

Cottonwood access is off Hwy. 415 just south of the Saylorville dam.  Follow the signs. 

Sycamore is off NW 66th St., on the east side of the river north of the bridge.  NW 66th intersects NW Beaver Rd. and 12th St. 

Prospect Park is off Hickman Rd. in Des Moines, just east of ML King Parkway. 

Birdland Marina is off University Ave. on the east side of the river, then north on Pennsylvania about 1 mile. 

The Botanical Center is on E. 1st Ave. between Grand and University. 

SE 14th St. boat ramp (also called Harriet St.) is off  SE 14th St. south of East Grand Ave.   There is a bait shop across from a city park, turn east, go straight ahead and down the hill at the piles of dirt and mulch. 

The new Pleasant Hill boat ramp is off Hwy. 65 on Vandalia Road

Yellow Banks Park is off Vandalia Road about 3 miles east of new Hwy. 65. 

 

Coordinates
Access/Landmark Latitude Longitude
Ledges State Park N41 59 35.8 W93 53 32.1
Luther, boat ramp N41 58 00.0 W93 53 46.3
Sportsman's Access N41 55 59.8 W93 53 11.4
Madrid, boat ramp N41 52 26.6 W93 51 52.0
Woodward sub-1 ramp N41 50 57.2 W93 51 04.2
Hwy. 17 bridge N41 48 14.1 W93 48 47.2
Saylorville, Jester Park N41 46 57.4 W93 46 04.0
Saylorville, dam take out point N41 42 12.6 W93 41 24.4
Fishing pier, Cottonwood N41 41 33.2 W93 40 48.1
Sycamore access N41 40 51.3 W93 40 06.6
I-80 bridge N41 39 02.7 W93 40 00.4
Des Moines, Prospect Park N41 37 05.7 W93 38 12.2
Des Moines, Birdland Marina N41 36 36.2 W93 36 41.5
Botanical Center N41 35 49.5 W93 36 53.7
SE 14th St. (Harriet St.), boat ramp N41 34 32.5 W93 35 35.9
Pleasant  Hill, Hwy. 65 bridge ramp N41 33 56.2 W93 30 36.2
Yellow Banks Park N41 32 42.8 W93 28 30.3
     

 

 
   
Journal Entries The river rises up on thunderous wings near Easter Lake
  Near the ice line, an eagle was less than 100 feet away

6 boats and ten folks from the Paddler's Club made the Sycamore to Birdland run
 

University Ave. bridge is the gateway to Des Moines, with its complex texture of shapes and reflections

   

 
 
 
 

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