Biking the Principal Riverwalk

The Trail

Perfect for a leisurely ride or walk the Principal Riverwalk serves as a crucial link in the Des Moines metro trail system.  It also provides trail users with an opportunity to take in public art, and view the Des Moines River from a series of unique bridges,  The trail was a gift to the city of Des Moines by Principal Financial Group, one of the major employers within the metro.  The project continues to be a work in progress with a new public art installment having taken place recently. The multi purpose trail travels alongside the river bank in a 1.2 mile loop with easy access from the city streets and intersections.

Trail Information

The Ride

I had heard about the latest art installment along the river walk and decided to visit on my bike.  After parking at the Des Moines Botanical Center and a quick photo I made my way towards downtown.

The first spot of interest was the Robert D Ray Asian Gardens.  It’s hard to miss with the bright red pavillion.  Inside the garden area are waterfalls, sculptures and artistic structures all symbolizing the contributions Asian Americans have made to Iowa along with Governor Ray’s work to provide Iowa as new home to Southeast Asian refugees.  This beautiful and peaceful spot links the downtown riverwalk to the Des Moines Botanical Center.

Next up was the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge.  This bridge is a popular Des Moines photo op and shows up often on Instagram.  Only after doing research for this blog post did I learn that one of the pathways on the bridge are for bicyclists the others for pedestrians.  

The new Rotary Riverwalk Park was easily spotted from the bridge.  It’s a fantastic and whimsical touch that gives a nod to the fishing that takes place along the river.  I was surprised to see the fishing rod is actually a structure for a swing set.  The bobber floats in a bouncy play area.  I could easily picture kids having a lot of fun here jumping and swinging.  

My favorite part of the ride was crossing the caboose red Union Railroad Bridge.  I took advantage of the scenic overlooks and stopped to admire the city skyline.  

Making my way back to the Botanical Center I rode past the Brenton Skating Plaza and found one of the city’s B-Cycle kiosks.  For only $6 visitors can check out a bike and see the sites.  (Stations are closed during winter months).

My last stop was the Long Look Garden.  The picture I took does a poor job depicting the creative landscaping design.  The garden is sponsored by Pioneer Hi-Bred (Dupont) and named after their “long look” business philosophy.  

Thanks to projects like the Principal Riverwalk, Des Moines continues to grow as a bicycling community with plenty of character and lots of opportunities for Happy Riding!

Bike Ride to Western Gateway Park

Trail:  Jordan Creek, Walnut Creek, Bill Riley, Meredith

Date:    12-1-2013

Time:    11:00 AM

Weather: 30/Calm/Cloudy

Mileage: 15

Route Map


  • This is a network of trails that travels from West Des Moines to downtown Des Moines.  The asphalt trail is smooth and runs flat other than a couple of spots just outside of Raccoon River Park.  

  • The Walnut Creek and Bill Riley portions travel through wooded areas.  The remaining segments are out in the open.

  • The Quick Trip at the corner of 63rd and Railroad can serve as a location for restrooms and water during the off season for Raccoon River Park's facilities.


  • A portion of the route is closed just east of 63rd street.  Be on the look out for traffic while riding through the marked detour.

  • Just southeast of North Valley drive the Walnut Creek trail is under construction.  I got off my bike and walked it through the rough gravel and dirt.  Thankfully it was a quiet construction area on the day of my ride.

  • When riding through Water Works keep a look out for cars.  Most people drive slowly through the park since it’s a popular location for walkers and cyclists.   

  • Meredith trail stops at MLK and SW 16th Street.  The remainder of this route was on about 3-4 blocks worth of sidewalk.

  • Wool socks and my waterproof hiking boots did the trick on keeping my feet warm in the 30 degree temperatures.  I packed some footwarmers in my bag just in case, but didn’t need them.  


  • Western Gateway Park, located downton Des Moines,  was the destination of my ride.  Here I visited the Papajohn Sculpture Park. My favorite piece was the Three Dancing Figures. It was a cheerful pop of color on a cloudy day


  • Starting my ride next to the softball complex in Raccoon River Park  I immediately noticed tons of geese on the fields.  Not a single goose was outside the fields, just inside.  Weird!  Apparently Canadian Geese like to play softball?

  • With the leaves gone from the trees it was easy to spot birds.  I saw Cardinals, Blue Jays, Juncos, and  Nuthatches.  This time of year Bald Eagles can also be spotted along the Raccoon River.  It was my lucky day.  I saw several sitting majestically at the tops of the trees keeping an eye out for a fish dinner.

  • This time of year Jolly Holiday Lights takes place in Water Works Park.  It is Iowa’s largest light display and a  fundraising event by the Make-A-Wish foundation. Lots of displays were set up waiting for visitors to enjoy during the nighttime hours.

  • The Temple of the Performing Arts building hosts a Starbucks where I warmed up while checking out their list of events.  

  • Between the Temple for the Performing Arts and the Des Moines Public library is the the Temple Chess Garden.  There are several chess tables and a small garden surrounded by fencing. Looking closely I noticed lines of poetry in the fence’s design.


  • A warm soy latte was my treat of choice today.  It was just what I needed to help me warm up before heading back to West Des Moines.