EXPLORE: Beaches, Bays, Lakes and More

By Cyote Williams

There are a number of exciting and many underrated spots for water-centered fun for the whole family in the area, whether it be a relaxing day on the lake or bombing down a waterslide.

3200 Adventureland Drive, Altoona
Adventureland Park has done nothing but grow over the years, and one of the additions it continues to improve is the waterpark portion of the theme park, Adventureland Bay. Complete with a lazy river and swim-up bars for parents looking for a relaxing time, the water attraction has more than enough for the kids — the Kokomo Kove splash factory, waterslides, wave pools and much more to explore.

5000 Merle Hay Road, Des Moines
You wouldn’t expect to find an indoor waterpark experience inside of a hotel in Des Moines, but lo and behold, a great one can be found at the Ramada hotel and conference center on the west side. There are several water slides and a family fun splash park. There are poolside suites available; make sure to book in advance.

5600 N.W. 78th Ave., Johnston
Just outside of Des Moines is one of the state’s best lakes for recreation. Saylorville Lake and the surrounding park give you plenty of access to boating and kayaking fun, including rental opportunities. The 26,000-acre lake has plenty of places and small coves to explore and enjoy, whether you’re with friends, family, celebrating a birthday, or just looking to get out on the water this summer. Give Fleetwood, the only floating restaurant in Iowa, a look if you get hungry during your time there. Just make sure to wait 30 minutes until you swim again — and don’t forget the sunscreen.

8794 N.W. 125th Ave., Polk City
Located just north of Saylorville Lake is another one of Iowa’s fantastic lakes, offering just as much fun as the last. This family-friendly park is fantastic for a day on the beach, an outing on the water, or for a family picnic. Boat, kayak and pontoon rentals are available. The lake is a popular fishing destination if you’re interested in catching crappie, bass, walleye or bluegill.

2500 Grand Ave., West Des Moines
Blue Heron is a 232-acre lake and is the centerpiece of Raccoon River Park. It provides boat access for fishing enthusiasts and a great chance to get in the water (swimming is limited to the roped area by the beach). The lake is designated a no wake zone, which allows for passive recreational experiences. Surrounding the park is plenty of fun as well, with trails, spots for picnics and the chance to see wildlife.

1768 Highway G, 28, Pella
Slightly southeast of Des Moines, Lake Red Rock offers a variety of recreation. Tritons, ski boats, kayaks and paddle boards are available for rental to provide a full day of fun in the sun. This man-made lake was created to be a relief from floods in Des Moines and brings an interesting history with it. Several towns were moved or deconstructed with the creation of this lake (don’t worry, everyone was warned beforehand), but one thing remains from the towns under its waters: a graveyard.

​​2101 Fleur Drive, Des Moines
Gray’s Lake Park becomes an absolute hot bed in the summer for Des Moines residents. The area is a favorite during the sun-soaked months of the season. The trail that winds around the lake is perfect for walkers, runners, joggers and anyone else who feels like moving. The bridge across the lake is one of the most scenic in the city, and the beach is a great spot if you’re looking to get into the water. Gray’s Lake isn’t as large as the others in this listing, so motor boat rentals aren’t available, but there are still paddle boats, kayaks and canoes available.

1635 13th St., Ames
North of Des Moines resides a sneakily good aquatic center in Ames. The waterpark is fully equipped with a lazy river, slides for the young ones and a slide for those who think they can handle its 10-foot drop into the pool. There are also several diving platforms of ranging heights for the thrill seekers. Also, for the kids, a splash park will keep them busy for hours.

2350 S.W. Prairie Trail Parkway, Ankeny
This aquatic center is home to plenty of entertaining amenities. It features plenty of drop and tube slides (make sure you’re tall enough to get on), a lazy river, lap pool, and a FlowRider surf machine (again, make sure you’re tall enough). They also have an area for regular lap swimming if you’re interested in getting some old-fashioned exercise.