Raccoon River Park Guide (What You Should Know)

Raccoon River Park is the biggest public park in West Des Moines, Iowa, with roughly 632 acres. It is without a doubt the most well-liked as well, with its unending range of leisure activities. You can get everything you need right here, whether you’re wanting to unwind outside or want to get some exercise in the great outdoors. In the lovely surroundings of Raccoon River Park, you may go paddling, fishing, swimming, biking, hiking, playing, picnicking, and more. In this Raccoon River Park guide, they plan to share more details on what it is all about.

History of Raccoon River Park

What was formerly an open-pit gravel and sand mine became Raccoon River Park. There was mining from 1950 and 1991. What is currently Blue Heron Lake, and its surrounding wetlands were made possible by the trenches. In the late 1980s, the City of West Des Moines bought the park’s acreage. Additionally, they created conservation and leisure areas in collaboration with the Iowa DNR.

A phased development plan for the park was finished in 1991, and construction got under way in 1994. The park is currently being expanded with new features, and it is now a part of the Five Waters Project, a bigger project.

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Activities at Raccoon River Park

1. Check out Blue Heron Lake

At the heart of the park, on 232 acres, lies Blue Heron Lake. Blue Heron is a no-wake lake that is ideal for paddling, fishing, and swimming.

2. Beach in Raccoon River Park

On the northeastern side of Blue Heron Lake, there is a roped-off area designated as the swimming beach. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, it is open from 10:30 am till dusk. Bring your beach toys and inflatables so you can cool down on those scorching summer days! There are no lifeguards on duty. Every three weeks, the water is tested for harmful E. coli levels (signs will alert beachgoers of high levels). Swimmers may get permission to swim in open water.

3. Fishing

The hobby of fishing is very well-liked in Raccoon River Park! The waters of Blue Heron Lake are home to several fish species, including bluegill, catfish, bass, and carp.

On the northwest side of Blue Heron Lake, there is a 225-foot fishing pier. The parking space for the pier may be found on the right side of the main road if you turn left at the entrance. ADA access is available at the fishing pier.

An approachable fishing pier is located along the western bank. Fishing aficionados of all ages and skill levels have easy access to the water thanks to the 225 foot long pier. This park feature is extensively used all year due to nearby parking and disabled access to the pier. Once you get to the park, it’s simple to locate the pier. As soon as you enter the park, turn left, and the pier will be on your right.

4. Paddling

You may bring your own kayak, canoe, or paddleboard or rent one from the boathouse. The ideal place to spend the day on the lake is Blue Heron Lake.

5. Boathouse on Raccoon River

The Raccoon River Boathouse, which opened in 2020, provides boat rentals and convenient dock access. Rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and canoes. Additionally, future plans include for offering paddling lessons. The boathouse may be easily reached from a nearby parking lot and is ADA accessible.

The modern boathouse with facilities provides boat rentals, including canoe, kayak, and standup paddleboards, giving guests additional opportunities to explore Blue Heron Lake. The boathouse provides extra parking for convenient access to the water as well as serving as a river path and land trail nexus. The LOSST (Local Option Sales and Services Tax) income and an Iowa DNR REAP (Resource Enhancement and Protection) grant were used to build the Raccoon River Park Boathouse.

6. Bathing Beach

The 500-foot-long beach, which offers a nice area to cool down on a hot summer day, overlooks Blue Heron Lake. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, the beach is open from 10:30 am until sundown. Enjoy a day outside in the sunshine by bringing your picnic basket, beach ball, and blanket! The beach is a swim at your own risk area since there are no lifeguards on duty. With the exception of organized activities that have the director of parks and recreation’s approval, swimming is only permitted in the authorized roped area. Swimming from boats is not permitted. Only defined locations are permitted for the use of inner tubes, air mattresses, and other beach-related products. On the beach, glass bottles are not permitted.

They are happy to announce the installation of a LIFE JACKET LOANER STATION at the beach at Raccoon River Park. To safely enjoy lake activities, park visitors may take up a free life jacket loan. (At the Boathouse, life jackets are given with every rental.) The life jackets at the loaner station are in sizes ranging from newborn to adult. The Beach will remain open throughout the whole summer or until it shuts for the year.

They appreciate the assistance in making this accessible to park guests from the West Des Moines Fire Department and West Des Moines Firefighters Association. Through an application process, one may receive an open water swimming permit. For additional information and to submit an online application for a Blue Heron Lake open water swimming permit, click here.

At the beach on Blue Heron Lake, regular water quality checks are done. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, E. coli bacteria levels are checked around every three weeks. Testing for microcystins (Cyanobacteria/Blue-Green Algae Toxins) started in the middle of the summer of 2021 and will continue until Labor Day at a rate of around every three weeks. A warning notice will be put if test results are higher above the state’s swimming standards.

7. Aquatic Habitat

Lake fans have easy access to Blue Heron Lake thanks to the boat ramp and parking area located just inside the entrance to Raccoon River Park.

On Blue Heron Lake, any size boat is permitted, however the whole lake is a No Wake Zone. Swimming from boats is prohibited. On the Lake, sailboats with masts no higher than 36 feet above the water’s surface are permitted. When water levels rise one foot over the concrete dock at the boat ramp, sailing is not permitted. If your canoe or kayak is beyond 13 feet, you need a license. For license, see your county recorder’s office.

Fish Habitat Although Blue Heron Lake is not stocked, it is home to a variety of fish species, including walleye, crappie, blue gill, bullheads, catfish, carp, and bass. To improve the variety of fish habitats and angler usage at the lake, volunteers from the Central Iowa Anglers fishing club erected underwater structures in 2011.

8. Soccer complex

The West Des Moines Soccer Club is based at Raccoon River Park. The soccer facility, which is on the park’s southwest side, has many fields set up so that local kids of all skill levels may play in a welcoming environment.

9. Softball complex

Additionally, the WDM Adult Softball and Kickball Leagues are located in Raccoon River Park. This five-field facility, which is of tournament caliber, is available for league play, competitions, and rentals. This is one of the prettiest and most sought-after softball complexes in the Midwest because to its modern amenities and irrigated fields. Along with a full schedule of local league play, the Raccoon River Park Softball Complex regularly hosts a variety of national, state, and regional events.

The Raccoon River Park Softball Complex is irrigated by water obtained directly from Blue Heron Lake rather than being irrigated by treated water from WDM Water Works in an ongoing attempt to use sustainable techniques in the parks system of West Des Moines. Even while you may not see much happening at the park, remember that crucial operations are happening “behind the scenes”. Approximately 13 feet below, on the bottom of Blue Heron Lake, is a submerged pump with two self-cleaning filters.

The pump is connected to the existing irrigation systems at the Softball Complex via a network of subterranean pipes that are 6 and 12 inches diameter. An above-ground control box houses the electrical components.

10. RRP of Nature Lodge Nature Retreat

On the lake’s northwest side is where the Raccoon River Park Nature Lodge is located. Parks & Recreation activities take place in the multifunctional Nature Lodge. The structure may be hired out for a variety of events, including weddings, family reunions, business meetings, and more. The employees at the Nature Lodge also provide a wide range of environmental education programs for classes or other groups.

Final words

The centerpiece of the park, the 232-acre Blue Heron Lake, offers boat access to local anglers and water lovers. A no-wake zone has been established over the whole lake, allowing for a more sedate leisure experience. The lake, which is home to several fish species, is administered by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Keep this Racoon River Park Guide in your mind and make sure that you get the best experience out of your stay.

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