Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Ankeny, IA

  • Published 2022/11/22

Billed as one of the fastest-growing cities in Iowa, Ankeny has also become a popular leisure destination in Polk County.

This city has developed many points of interest, ranking among the top 100 places to live in the U.S., particularly for families.

A couple, John and Sarah Ankeny, founded the city in 1875; John was also instrumental in bringing in the railroad that helped propel the early growth of Ankeny.

Agriculture, coal mining, and manufacturing also contributed to building a robust economic foundation for the city.

Ankeny draws much strength, too, from its proximity to the state capital Des Moines which is just south of it.

This factor provided tailwinds for exciting property projects like the 1,031-acre mixed-use development Prairie Trail in the middle of the Ankeny.

Check out what’s in store in this city with the following list of things to do in Ankeny, Iowa.

Explore the High Trestle Trail

Daytime view of the High Trestle Trail

Life Atlas Photography /

The city of Ankeny is home to over 80 miles of trails, including Iowa regional trails and the city’s community trails.

The longest trail passing through Ankeny is the High Trestle Trail, which extends from the city’s north and links south to the Gay Lea Wilson Trail.

You can access the High Trestle Trail at its south trailhead at Hawkeye Park, Ankeny.

Aerial view of the High Trestle Trail

John Brueske /

Through this 25-mile-long trail, you can access most of Ankeny’s community trails and parks.

This multi-use trail of asphalt and concrete is a former railway bed and is relatively flat and smooth.

Also extending to Ankeny’s neighbors Madrid, Sheldahl, Slater, and Woodward, this trail is suited for hiking, biking, and horse riding.

Stroll, Shop, and Dine in the District – Prairie Trail

Located off Southwest District Drive, The District– Prairie Trail began gaining prominence in 2016 as the entertainment hub of the mixed-use Ankeny development, Prairie Trail.

The District boasts more than 100,000 square feet of commercial space distributed in blocks of two-story and three-story buildings.

This commercial hub’s layout draws inspiration from the classic Iowa town centers and complements the New Urbanism concept of the Prairie Trail.

The District is home to a wide selection of shops, boutiques, bars, and restaurants; most are at its Plaza Shoppes section on White Birch Street.

A movie theatre, fitness centers, and the Ankeny Public Library are among the establishments in the District – Prairie Trail.

Additionally, this commercial center in Ankeny regularly hosts special events like holiday celebrations, summer festivals, car shows, and concerts.

Enjoy the Ankeny SummerFest

Many visitors time their trip to the city during summertime to catch the Ankeny SummerFest.

The Ankeny Chamber has organized this event since 1967, featuring various fun activities in a three-day schedule.

Most of these activities are now held at the 12-acre Promenade Park in the Prairie Trail mixed-use development in Ankeny.

The festival typically kicks off with a Kiddie Parade in Uptown Ankeny and a Grand Parade, which runs more than two miles through the city.

Various organizations in Ankeny coordinate two dozen SummerFest activities, including a carnival, games, live band concerts, and fireworks.

More than 50 local vendors also participate in the Ankeny SummerFest.

Promenade Park is also worth a visit outside the SummerFest, with its convenient location.

Lake Promenade, the park’s centerpiece, has a trail system with a shelter that provides visitors the space to relax and enjoy the scenery.

Grab a Hearty Meal at Jethro’s BBQ LakeHouse

Ankeny hosts Jethro’s BBQ LakeHouse, one of the locations of the famous barbecue chain reputed to have catered a backyard barbecue for then-President Obama.

This specialty restaurant is on Southwest Vintage Parkway overlooking Lake Promenade in Promenade Park at Prairie Trail.

Jethro’s BBQ LakeHouse’s menu includes slow-smoked chicken wings flavored with eclectic homemade sauces.

Many restaurant patrons go for Cajun dinners, each with Texas toast or corn muffins.

Cajun creole creations headline these picks with a sampler platter consisting of chicken and sausage gumbo, red beans, smokehouse jambalaya, and white rice.

Drinks at Jethro’s BBQ LakeHouse are as tempting, with choices like apple cider mule.

Other picks come with in-house cocktails of Sierra Mist, vodka, triple sec, lemonade, freshly squeezed lemon, and a splash of simple syrup.

Enjoy the Waters at the Cascade Falls Aquatic Center

Billed as Iowa’s largest municipal facility, Cascade Falls Aquatic Center spreads over 16 acres on Southwest Prairie Trail Parkway.

The various facilities of this well-designed aquatic center occupy a total of 20,000 square feet, each featuring a showpiece.

Visitors of Cascade Falls can choose from its heated pool, flow-rider surf machine, or the 640-foot Lazy River with a wave generator.

They can also have fun in the aquatic center’s five slides with a swirl bowl and a drop slide.

Those who want a workout can choose from the eight lanes of Cascade Falls’ 250-meter lap pool.

Kids can choose the aquatic center’s zero-depth recreation pool with water play features.

Swimming lessons and competitions are also hosted at the Cascade Falls Aquatic Center.

Bring the Family to the Prairie Ridge Aquatic Center

Ankeny offers more water-based leisure activities at the Prairie Ridge Aquatic Center, especially for kids.

This facility on Northwest Prairie Ridge Drive offers a kiddie frog slide in one of its two water slides to a heated pool.

In addition, it provides a zero-depth entry pool, a splash park, and floor geysers, all unique aquatic features that appeal most to children.

For adults, this aquatic center offers chaise lounge chairs and a sunbathing area, plus a lily pad walk.

After snacks at one of the concessions here, visitors of the aquatic center can proceed to Horizon Park off Northwest State Street nearby.

The Prairie Ridge Aquatic Center includes a fishing pond, walking/biking trails, open space, and picnic facilities.

Bust a Move at the Prairie Ridge Skate Park

Ankeny further displays the eclectic recreational activities in the city in its Prairie Ridge Skate Park.

Located adjacent north of the Prairie Ridge Aquatic Center, the Skate Park provides a 9,000-square-foot concrete layout.

This fenced facility is open not only to skateboarders but also to skaters and mini-bike riders.

It offers elements attractive to all ages and skill levels, including a 15-foot diameter bowl with six-foot walls.

The skate park also features a fun box, quarter pipes, grinding rails, and a four-foot pyramid.

Rated as one of Iowa’s best skate parks, the Prairie Ridge Skate Park additionally provides a gazebo, benches, a drinking fountain, and a picnic shelter.

Watch a Game at the Prairie Ridge Sports Complex

Sports activities in Ankeny level up at the Prairie Ridge Sports Complex on Northwest Ash Drive, judging by its facilities spread over 90 acres of turf.

This sports complex boasts 16 baseball fields, nine soccer fields, six softball fields, and five football fields.

Many of these ball fields are lighted for extended playing hours of major tournaments.

The complex’s parking lots can accommodate 1,200 cars to fit participants and spectators.

Some of the events held in the complex include lacrosse at the Summer Iowa Games, soccer at the Iowa Rush Tournament Series, equestrian competitions, and Little League games of the Des Moines Warriors Baseball Club.

In addition to its arenas, the grounds of the Prairie Ridge Sports Complex feature walking trails, play equipment, two fishing ponds, and open space.

Enjoy Birding at the Carney Marsh Nature Preserve

‎Spanning over 40 acres, the Carney Marsh Nature Preserve is a popular destination for birdwatchers.

It is in southern Ankeny along Southeast 54th Avenue between Highway 69 and Interstate 35.

Visitors can access this preserve via the regional Gay Lea Wilson Trail, which passes along the east side of Carney Marsh.

As a prime wildlife habitat in Polk County, the Carney Marsh Nature Preserve draws seasonal birds, including waterfowl like herons.

Yellow-throated warblers, red-winged and yellow-headed warblers, and blackbirds, are also frequent visitors of the preserve.

Practice Your Swing at the Otter Creek Golf Course

The Otter Creek Golf Course municipal links is an award-winning facility initially constructed in 1982, with its park-style layout upgraded to a links-style setup in 2008.

This 18-hole course plays at par 71 over 6,895 yards from the longest tees, chalking up 72.9-course and 125-slope ratings.

Multiple tee placements are set on each course hole, with challenges posed by 17 ponds and 44 bunkers.

Tall grasses and mounding are in abundance in the links of Otter Creek.

Complementary facilities of the course include two practice putting greens, a pitching green with a bunker, and a double-ended driving range.

The Otter Creek Golf Course flaunts a beautiful clubhouse with a fully stocked Pro Shop and two dining venues.

Swing Clubs at BackSpin Indoor Golf & Bar

Work on your driving and putting out of the greens and fairways with a fun session at BackSpin Indoor Golf & Bar.

Near the corner of West and 1st Street Southwest State Street, BackSpin Indoor Golf & Bar offers its guests five TruGolf Simulators.

Typically, four players work best in the indoor, virtual golf setup where state-of-the-art technology gauges each stroke, shot, or putt seen onscreen.

A twosome in BackSpin can complete a nine-hole play in about one hour, while a foursome can finish play in about two hours.

BackSpin has a full bar serving tap beer, wine, liquor, and light snacks.

Try Shore Fishing at the Chautauqua Park Pond

There are about a dozen fishing holes within the city limits of Ankeny; the Chautauqua Park Pond is one of the most popular.

Located on the east flank of Southwest White Birch Drive, this pond spreads over nearly five acres.

Shore fishing here can yield a potential catch of bluegill, yellow perch, and largemouth bass.

The pond’s host, Chautauqua Park, is notably Ankeny’s biggest at 46 acres.

This park also features quiet community trails around its pond, making it convenient for shore fishing.

Watch or Play at Ankeny 12

The Ankeny 12 is one of the Iowa locations of the Liberty, Missouri-based family-owned chain B&B Theatres and B-Roll Bowling.

As an entertainment anchor in the District at Prairie Trail, Ankeny 12 is on Southwest Market Street.

This is a one-stop destination for family entertainment, with a modern movie theater as its banner offering.

The theater boasts the immersive ScreenX multi-projection system creating a remarkable movie viewing experience.

An arcade, a bar, and a grille with various food and beverage options, plus the lanes challenge of B-Roll Bowling, complete the lineup of Ankeny 12’s offerings.

Make a Toast at Firetrucker Brewery

Established in 2014, Firetrucker Brewery is on Southwest 3rd Street and offers its patrons picks on where to chill and toast to the good life.

Their options include a great bar area and a separate seating section with booths/tables.

They can also drink in a chillax couch lounge zone or a large covered patio.

Beer garden patrons have Adirondack chairs for seats, with heaters set in the area for warmth during winter.

The customers drink beer from 16 taps that keep flowing courtesy of Firetrucker Brewery’s 20-barrel brewing system.

Catch an Exhibit or Craft Show at the Ankeny Art Center

The Ankeny Art Center, located on Southwest Ordnance Road, is a staunch promoter of Iowa artists.

Once every eight weeks, this nonprofit mounts new and inspiring exhibits in its gallery.

The gallery is open free to the public, along with its artist receptions.

The Ankeny Art Center is also noted for its long-running Santa’s North Pole Village Craft Show, typically held in early November.

This annual show features 300 vendors who tempt shoppers with various wares, including artworks.

Final Thoughts

Don’t miss out on a chance to visit Ankeny when the opportunity presents itself.

Its parks, alone, present an eclectic selection of activities and points of interest, promising a wealth of activities and attractions in this city.

Plan your trip today and discover the best things to do in Ankeny, Iowa!

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