Neal Smith Trail

Trail Map

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The Neal Smith Trail, which connects to the John Pat Dorrian Trail in downtown Des Moines, runs through a portion of Des Moines itself before leaving the city limits and ending in the north at Big Creek State Park. An aquaphile's paradise, the Neal Smith Trail traces the Des Moines River for most of its route before it skirts massive Saylorville Lake and finally ends at the beach at Big Creek Lake.

While the trail is a popular scenic route for bikers and joggers, it is also home to abundant wildlife, including beaver, muskrat, and deer. The Saylorville Lake Visitor Center on NW Horseshoe Road includes an outdoor butterfly garden and is a popular rest stop on the trail. Unfortunately, the Neal Smith Trail is prone to flooding due to its proximity to two large lakes and the Des Moines River; be sure to check the Des Moines Trails website for information on possible closures.

Despite the beautiful scenery, the Neal Smith Trail is not only used for recreation. In fact, the trail connects to many trails in central Iowa, making it a great route for commuting. In the south, the trail connects to the John Pat Dorrian Trail, allowing for travel deeper into the heart of downtown Des Moines. Farther north, the Neal Smith Trail directly connects to both the Inter-Urban Trail and the Trestle to Trestle Trail. These trails provide off-road routes to the beautiful Beaverdale neighborhood of Des Moines and the northern suburb of Johnston on the opposite side of the Des Moines River. Just north of NW 66th Avenue, the Neal Smith Trail links with the Oralabor Gateway Trail, granting easy access to the city of Ankeny in the east.

Parking and Trail Access

Parking for the Neal Smith Trail is available at many dedicated parking lots. At the southern endpoint, park at Birdland Park and Marina on Saylor Road. Farther north, there is a parking lot on NW 66th Avenue at the Des Moines River. The Saylorville Lake Visitor Center also has available parking on NW Horseshoe Road. In Polk City, there are parking lots where the trail meets NW 90th Avenue and just north of NW 94th Avenue. Additional parking can be found at the Saylorville Lake Marina on NW Polk City Drive and at another lot to the west. North of the marina, there is a dedicated parking lot on NW Madrid Drive. There is a large parking lot at the Neal Smith Trail's northern endpoint at Big Creek State Park and several lots farther south. Be sure to take a look at the TrailLink map for the trail to view all of your many parking options.


Very Scenic

   September, 2014 by dannyjay

My wife and I rode this trail in its entirety. We started at Birdland Park in Des Moines, which is about 2 miles north of 235E. The first 8 miles were fairly flat; unfortunately, the surface was pretty rough in spots. You really needed to pay attention. more


   July, 2013 by jvonhoff more

Great Trail

   June, 2013 by jjhare

We rode the trail from the north end at Big Creek Lake to the parking area along I-80 on Morningstar Drive. I agree with one of the other reviewers – this is one of the prettiest trails I’ve ridden. It isn’t a rail-trail but that makes it really fun and more