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Neal Smith Trail

The designated 13 miles of National Recreation Trail managed by the Corps of Engineers is an internal section of 26 miles, which extends from Des Moines to Big Creek State Park. The Neal Smith Trail has many access points within the parks to allow cyclists a trip that will meet their needs. The bike trail also is an excellent area to rollerblade, walk, or run in the summer months and cross country ski or snow shoe in the winter months. The trail winds its way down through the Des Moines river valley all the way to the Botanical Center, providing one of the most scenic routes within Polk County Iowa.


Length: 24.70 miles
Loop Trail? No
Type: Fitness Trail, Greenway
Agency: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Entry Fee? No
Parking Fee? No

Allowed Uses:

Bicycling (on pavement)
Pedestrian - Walking/Hiking/Running
Snow - Cross-country Skiing
Snow - Snowshoeing

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Location: Saylorville Lake to Des Moines
State(s): Iowa
Counties: Polk
Longitude: -93.74025
Latitude: 41.82141

Driving Directions

Saylorville Lake is on the Des Moines River 7 miles from Des Moines, accessible from I80 and 35.


Originally constructed in 1982, the Neal Smith Trail is one of the oldest trails in the Central Iowa Trail Network. It extends 24.7 miles between downtown Des Moines and Big Creek State Park - establishing the Central Iowa connection of the American Discovery Trail. As the asphalt trail crosses different jurisdictions, it is managed in part by the City of Des Moines, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the Army Corps of Engineers. The trail is available for non-motorized users including bicyclists and pedestrians.

The route in Des Moines begins at a connection with the John Pat Dorrian Trail in downtown, just under University Avenue. It follows the east side of the Des Moines River north to Birdland Marina and Park and on through the Ding Darling Greenway, which is a large, scenic wooded area. There are approximately 260 acres of wooded area adjacent to this segment of trail, as well as 17 acres in McHenry Park that is accessible to Neal Smith Trail users via a half-mile trail connection. The Neal Smith Trail also connects to the InterUrban Trail, which crosses the Des Moines River via a former historic railroad bridge and continues west to Beaverdale Park. The trail safely passes under Euclid Avenue with connections up to the street on both the north and south sides.

Further north, the Neal Smith Trail wanders through Army Corps-managed campgrounds, picnic areas, and fishing spots along the Des Moines River. There are restrooms and bike rentals nearby. The trail also features a butterfly garden with resident and migrating butterflies, yellow-headed coneflowers, zinnias, and butterfly bush. Natural Oak Savannah, wetlands, and a 709-acre prairie brings visitors back to a natural state of Iowa.

Additional Details

Width: 96 inches.
Primary Surface: Asphalt
Secondary Surface: Asphalt

Elevation Low Point: 778
Elevation High Point: Not Available
Elevation Gain (cumulative): Not Available

Year Designated:

Supporting Webpages and Documents

Website: Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation - trail informati

Contact Information

For more information and current conditions, contact the trail manager (listed below). For questions, suggestions, and corrections to information listed on the website, contact American Trails.

Information Contact:
Dayne Magneson
Park Ranger[~] Saylorville Lake
US Army Corps of Engineers
5600 NW 78th Ave.
Johnston, IA 50131
(515) 276-4656
[email protected]

Operations Manager
US Army Corps of Engineers
5600 NW 78th Avenue
Johnston, IA 50131
(515) 276-4656


Trail Management:
City of Des Moines Parks and Recreation
3226 University Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50311
(515) 237-1386
[email protected]



Bicyclists and joggers crossing a bridge on the Neal Smith Trail. Photo by Dayne Magneson.

Bicyclists and joggers crossing a bridge on the Neal Smith Trail. Photo by Dayne Magneson.


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