Things To Do
Jester Park Nature Center
The Jester Park Nature Center is a focal point within our community where recreation, education, tourism and conservation efforts all intersect into a gathering place for people of all ages to engage in the natural world. We want all to enjoy the outdoors and learn about Iowa's natural heritage.
Outdoor Recreation & Wellness Center
Located adjacent to the nature center, is the Outdoor Recreation & Wellness Center. Within the building there is indoor archery and air rifle range, as well as a bouldering room. You can also rent summer and winter equipment such as canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, cross-country skis, and snowshoes.
Bison & Elk Herds
The bison and elk herds that live in this wildlife animal enclosure have been popular attractions at Jester Park for almost four decades. In 2012, renovations were made to the area and the Elk and Bison Educational Plaza was opened to the public. Improvements include an accessible observation deck, educational displays, spotting scopes, high quality art components, an inviting viewing and picnic area. An electric fence surrounds the animal exhibit. Please use caution and stay away from exhibit fencing.
Jester Park offers two boat ramps leading into Saylorville Lake. One is located off Jester Park Drive near the main campground, with the other located at the Lincoln Access beside the Mile-Long Bridge. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warns boaters to use caution upstream from the Mile-Long Bridge. A "No Motorized Vessel Zone" is located north of the Mile Long Bridge during April 1 to August 31. During periods of flood storage, restriction may be lifted. Click here for more information.
Camping and Cabins
Jester Park offers more than 148 campsites along the lakeshore and across the wooded hills overlooking Saylorville Lake. There are 80 electric sites, 62 non-electric sites, 4 walk-in primitive sites, and 2 youth areas. Two campground shower houses are open mid-April through the end of October (weather permitting). View more information on Polk County Conservation's website here.
Cross Country Skiing
At Jester Park (ski trail map) there are almost five miles of trails. Shelter # 2 and the campground registration area will serve as trailheads. Due to drifting, the majority of trails on the golf course have been closed. Trails will lead skiers through the woods, near Saylorville Lake and along the edge of the golf course. Skiers may break their own trail in the park but must remain on the groomed portions if skiing the golf course.
The Jester Park Golf Course is an 18-hole championship course judged by the Des Moines Business Record in 1997 to be Greater Des Moines’ “best public golf course.” Excellent playing conditions and challenging holes have helped make Jester Park a popular course for state tournaments. Jester Park also offers a 9-hole par 3 course especially popular with beginning golfers, as well as a modern Golf Learning and Practice Facility with driving range and practice greens. More information here.
Jester Park Lodge
The Jester Park Lodge is a full service banquet and conference center nestled along the northwest shore of Saylorville Lake at Jester Park with all of the amenities you expect. Minutes away from Des Moines and yet a world apart. More information here.
Located next to the Jester Park Driving Range, the new Jester Park Miniature Golf Course is an 18-hole, nature-themed miniature course packed full of fun obstacles with the added bonus of a beautiful park view. More information here.
Polk County Conservation naturalists offer many year-round nature programs at Jester Park. View their complete calendar to learn about upcoming programs at Jester and other parks in Polk County.
There are five picnic shelters within the park. Several offer views of the lake and others are located in private, wooded settings. More information here.
Playground & Playscape
The children’s playground in the main picnic area 1-1/2 miles from the park entrance includes separate play areas for pre-schoolers and for older children. Nearby restrooms are open mid-April through mid-October. More information here.
Located near the elk and bison herds, the Jester Park Natural Playscape is not a run of the mill playground. It is a play area constructed using natural materials such as boulders, earth mounds, and water features, avoiding plastics, metals, concrete, or signs explaining how to play.
Children that climb trees, roll down hills, scramble up rocks, dam up water, and hide in grass experience natural play. This type of play frees the child’s imagination to limitless learning opportunities. By using the approach of a Natural Playscape instead of a fabricated playground, children’s creativity will be challenged with adventurous natural activities and objects. Read more about the Jester Park Natural Playscape.
The 5 mile Lakeshore Trail is open for snowmobiling when snow conditions permit and offers a beautiful ride alongside Saylorville Lake. For an update on trail conditions, call the park ranger at 515-323-5338.
Snowshoeing can be enjoyed by anyone just about anywhere in Polk County. The only places to avoid snowshoeing are on groomed cross-country ski trails found at Jester Park, Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt and golf courses.
Jester Park offers more than 8 miles of natural trails to explore, including the 5 mile Lakeshore Trail from the Mile-Long Bridge to the parking area at Trailhead #21. View map of Jester Park here.