Polk County Conservation

Cross Country Skiing

skiing near a stream with frosty trees

You don’t have to dread the winter season! Why not entertain the idea of cross-country skiing? Fresh snowfall creates perfect conditions for prime skiing and physical exercise.

There are many benefits of cross-country skiing. Skiing is a great way to exercise in the winter. It burns more calories per hour than any other sport as almost every muscle in your body gets used. It’s also a peaceful way to enjoy the winter season. Whether it’s seeing animal tracks in the snow or listening to birds sing, cross-country skiing offers you an opportunity to enjoy and become a part of the winter landscape.

Learning how to cross-country ski is as easy as walking. The motion of your arms and legs alternating when you walk is the same when you ski. Your left arm and right leg come forward, then your right arm and left leg.

Whether you are an avid skier or just a beginner, it’s often frustrating finding a place to cross-country ski in Central Iowa. You will find groomed cross-country ski trails in Jester Park and Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt as well as at Big Creek State Park.

At Jester Park (ski trail map), you’ll have an opportunity to ski over five miles of trails. Shelter # 2 will serve as the trailhead. Due to drifting, the majority of trails on the golf course have been closed. Trails will lead skiers through the woods, near Saylorville Lake, and along the edge of the golf course. Skiers may break their own trail in the park but must remain on the groomed portions if skiing the golf course. 

If it’s a flat trail you’re looking for, then check out Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt (ski trail map - blue routes) in northeastern Polk County. Trails will wind through the woodlands, following the old Skunk River channel. You may see deer, fox, and otter tracks along the trail. Many different loops will be groomed, all beginning from the campground.

Trails will be groomed after a snowfall over six inches. A groomed trail is maintained with a groomer and tracksetter pulled by a snowmobile. The groomer packs down the snow and the tracksetter makes a track for cross-country skiers to ski in. Walkers, runners, and bicyclists are asked not to recreate on groomed trails.

There are many other places to cross-country ski in Polk County parks that do not have groomed trails. Beginning skiers will enjoy skiing along the Chichaqua Valley Trail and Great Western Trail, two recreational trails through the countryside on abandoned railroad lines.

A scenic route beginning at the covered bridge at Easter Lake Park leads skiiers along the shoreline of this beautiful lake on the southside of Des Moines. Brown's Woods and Thomas Mitchell Park also offer trails for more advanced skiers.

The Gay Lea Wilson Trail, when completed, will extend for approximately 35 miles throughout the eastern and northern parts of Polk County. Recreation and nature enthusiasts will find this multi-use trail useful for a variety of activities including hiking, cycling, birding, in-line skating, and cross-country skiing.

Ski Rental

If you don’t have your own cross-country skis or snowshoes, consider renting a pair from Polk County Conservation. Thirty sets of snowshoes, cross-country skis, boots, and poles have been purchased to use for education classes and rental. The equipment is sized mainly for adults. Equipment can be reserved in advance by calling (515) 323-5339. Equipment must be picked up and dropped off at Jester Park during normal business hours, Monday - Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Skis and snowshoes will only be rented if there is at least 4 inches of snow on the ground.

Skis, boots, poles: $10/day
Snowshoe Rental (snowshoes only): $10/day

Ski rental is also available from: Active Endeavors in West Des Moines 226-9345, Jax Outdoor Gear in Ames 292-2276, and Skunk River Cycles in Ames 232-0322.

Contact Us

Administration Office
11407 NW Jester Park Drive
Granger, IA 50109

P: (515) 323-5300
F: (515) 323-5354

Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

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