The weather in Des Moines is unpredictable; especially as the seasons change. It may be chilly trench-coat weather one week, and summer shorts warm the next. The constant change makes life feel more adventurous and less monotonous. I hate monotonous. Hence, I like Des Moines.


When the weather is nice, I just want to be outside. There’s so much to do, like lying on the grass reading the book I’ve had for months, going for a run around my beautiful neighborhood, or walking in a park; just to enjoy the breeze that ruffles through my hair, reminding me that I am alive. There is beauty in the little things.

I like to visit a park just five minutes from my house when I need somewhere quiet to clear my head. For a spontaneous picnic, it is one of those sufficiently spacious and well-equipped parks. It not only is the right size, it also has great atmosphere. I’ve gone on several picnics here with my friends. Let me introduce you to Witmer Park on 34th, in the Drake University neighborhood. There’s a pond right by the east entrance, encircled by a walking trail; complete with benches. A small playground marks the center of the park, with tennis courts in the southeast corner. There are also picnic tables scattered about and a gazebo for community parties and gatherings.

I also frequent Gray’s Lake Park. One of the more popular parks in the area; it is significantly busier than Witmer. It’s not overly crowded, though, people walk and jog on the trail that wraps around the lake quite comfortably. The bridge over one side of the lake lights up at night with changing colors. Opposite the bridge is a beach that attracts many families; especially in the summer. Grills and picnic tables are sprinkled across the southeast corner of the park; making it a hotspot for grilling out.

In the heart of downtown Des Moines is the Papajohn Sculpture Park. It has an urban and artsy feel to it as opposed to the typical neighborhood park. Taking a full city block, sculptures and art pieces by various world-renowned artists are surrounded by open lawn. Picnicking here is definitely a different experience; the surroundings make everything feel more hip and refined.

Near 17th Street and Forest Avenue is Evelyn Davis Park. Home to two open-air shelters for gatherings and community events, and a big water fountain system designed for children--and adults--to cool off in the summer heat. There is a wonderful vibe here. The playground equipment makes it even more family-friendly. For active visitors, there are basketball and volleyball courts. When it’s nice out, many happy summer enthusiasts are in the park grilling, picnicking, or just taking a leisurely stroll.

Riverfront Gardens is located near the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, and offers a unique and refreshing experience. A Chinese Pavilion is adorned with beautiful waterfalls and ponds surrounding it. From a distance, it almost looks like a painting. With the Des Moines River in the background, the view here is spectacular. The garden project was completed in 2010 to highlight the importance of diversity in the greater Des Moines community.


Whether I want think, grill with friends, share a quiet picnic just us two, take a quiet walk, or throw a big bash, the parks of Des Moines offer the perfect venue.

Credits // Author & Photos: Sue Ann Chong

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