Jester Park – Polk City, Iowa
Jester Park has been one of central Iowa’s favorite outdoor playgrounds since 1958.
This 1,834-acre park on the western shore of Saylorville Lake offers camping, picnicking, and golfing in a quiet country setting just a half-hour from downtown Des Moines.
This Polk County Conservation Board park stretches from the Hwy. 17 bridge north of Granger to the Mile-Long Bridge that crosses Saylorville Lake to Polk City.
No other location in central Iowa offers such a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities. Jester Park is easily reached by taking exit 127 off I-80 and I-35 and traveling 6-1/2 miles west on Hwy. 141. Rental Information about the Jester Park Lodge can be found in the "Rental Facilities" link.
Jester offers more than 252 campsites along the lakeshore and across the wooded hills overlooking Saylorville Lake. There are 52 electric sites and 205 non-electric sites, as well as 18 equestrian campsites. Two campground showerhouses are open mid-April through mid-October, during which time camping rates are $17 for electric sites and $12 for non-electric. A special discounted rate of $100 for electric and $70 for non-electric is available for a 7-day camping stay. Off-season special discounted rates are $90 for electric and $60 for non-electric.
Campers should set up at their campsite before registering at the campground registration booth located one mile from the park entrance. Campsites cannot be reserved in advance. Firewood is available near the registration booth.
Your first glimpse of the park from NW 121st Street is of the Jester Park Golf Course, 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. Tee times may be made in advance by calling 999-2903. 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.
Before entering the park from NW Jester Park Drive you’ll spot the turnoff for the Jester Park Equestrian Center. The Equestrian Center offers boarding, riding lessons, shows and clinics, team building, trail riding, wagon & sleigh rides, pony rides and birthday parties. For more information, go to www.jesterparkec.com.
The Equestrian Center can be reached by turning off NW Beaver Drive/NW 107th Street onto NW 114th Avenue about 1-1/2 miles southeast of the park entrance. The 6-1/2 mile Lakeshore Trail is open to horseback riding, with access providing at staging areas at the Equestrian Center and at Camp Area # 6 located 3-1/2 miles from the entrance to the park. Layovers are available at the Center.
Bison and Elk Herds
At the end of the 3-mile-long park drive you’ll be rewarded with a vision of the wildlife that were abundant in Iowa more than 200 years ago. The bison and elk herds that live in this wildlife animal enclosure have been popular attractions at Jester for almost four decades.
There are five picnic shelters within the park. Several offer views of the lake and others are located in private, wooded settings.
Shelter # 3 near the children’s playground (and the only shelter with electricity) is the most popular shelter, with shelter # 5 near scenic Two-Dam Pond being the second-most popular. Shelters can be reserved in advance. Shelter #3 rents for $60 per day (includes water and electricity). Shelters #2,4,5, & 6 rent for $40 (primitive). Call 323-5300 for lodge and shelter reservations.
For those who want to launch their own boats onto the upper reaches of Saylorville Lake, Jester Park offers two boat ramps. 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.
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 September.
Jester offers more than 8 miles of trails to explore, including the 5-1/2 mile Lakeshore Trail from the Mile-Long Bridge to the Highway 17 bridge. The Stagecoach Trail brings one to an especially scenic view of the lake, while the Hickory Ridge Trail follows a small stream through a wooded ravine. The Red Pine and Red Cedar trails are perfect for young people.
The 5-1/2 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 323-5366.
Polk County Conservation Board naturalists offer many year-round nature programs at Jester Park. Call 323-5300 and request a Nature News to learn about upcoming programs at Jester and other parks in Polk County.
For a map of the park go to http://www.conservationboard.org/Pages/jp.aspx