Des Moines

Des Moines skyline

Des Moines, capital of Iowa, is in the western region of the American Midwest.


Des Moines is the largest city in Iowa and the annual site of the Iowa State Fair. Because of Iowa's early presidential caucus date, the city is also a hotbed of political dreams and discourse every four years when presidential candidates tour the state and have multiple debates within the city.

The meaning of 'Des Moines' itself is not clear as local Native Americans, the Moingona, had already been using a term (which meant 'river of the mounds') due to the number of burial mounds which were popular in the area. French Trappist Monks (Moines de la Trappe) called their settlement areas at the mouth of the Des Moines River 'La Riviere des Moines' which, in English, translates to 'the river of the monks.' "De Moyn," which means "middle," may have been used on the map of explorer Jacques Marquette to help others locate the Des Moines River-area (equidistant between the larger Mississippi and Missouri rivers). "Des Moines," today pronounced "duh MOIN," is located at the junction of the Des Moines River and the Raccoon River.

Fort Des Moines was settled in 1843 by a group of dragoons from the Sac and Fox Agency (Fort Sanford) led by Captain James Allen. Originally, Allen was going to name the area Fort Raccoon but was instructed by the War Department to use the name Fort Des Moines. In 1846, the Fort dissolved and the city was officially created.

In 2010, U.S. Census Bureau data estimated the population of Des Moines proper to be at 203,433; the metro area has more than 500,000 residents.


 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°F) 29 35 48 61 72 82 86 84 76 64 47 33
Nightly lows (°F) 12 18 29 40 51 61 66 64 54 42 29 17
Precipitation (in) 1.0 1.2 2.2 3.6 4.3 4.6 4.2 4.5 3.2 2.6 2.1 1.3

Due in part to the moist and rich soils that make Iowa an agricultural powerhouse, summers are filled with very humid air. Coupled with heat, this can result in a very high heat index. This can make outdoor life very uncomfortable (and sometimes dangerous) for those unaccustomed to such conditions, even visitors from hot climates, such as the Southwest, where the heat lacks the coupling of humidity. In the winter, it is not at all unusual to have road closures due to snowfall or ice.

Get in

By car

Most travelers to Des Moines are likely to come via interstate, on either I-80 (from the east or west) or I-35 (from the north or south). Travelers will not have to worry about encountering any tollways or major traffic jams. Once in the area, those wishing to enter the city will use I-235 to get into Des Moines proper. The majority of area residents get around by use of their automobiles, so bringing or renting one is a good idea. The roads are in good shape and most drivers would not be classified as aggressive.

By plane

  Des Moines International Airport (IATA: DSM), 5800 Fleur Dr,  +1 515 256-5050. Des Monies' airport is fairly small for a major airport, consisting of only a single terminal. Although the airport has had a reputation of being expensive in the past, many flights are now more affordable and travelers have noticed, breaking usage records year-in and year-out. Most hotels offer free shuttle service and rental cars are also available. Long-term parking varies in price from $5-12/day. The following airlines have services to Des Moines: Allegiant Air, American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, and United, all of which operate non-stop flights between Des Moines and their respective major hubs.

By bus

The   Burlington Trailways-Jefferson Lines Bus Terminal is at 1501 2nd Ave. Greyhound doesn't serve Des Moines directly but they do offer through-ticketing with both bus lines.

By train

Get around

By car

Drivers who are used to warmer climates should be advised that the colder weather months (Nov-Feb) often bring snow and ice to area roads. Visitors who park their cars should be prepared in case their car is "snowed in" by snow removal trucks. Also, strict attention to parking rules and snow emergencies is recommended to avoid being towed away at the car owner's expense. During the winter months, a snow brush, ice scraper, and plenty of windshield washer fluid is essential, and many natives opt to carry a shovel, some sand, and a bag of ice melt/road salt in the trunk just in case.

Gasoline is reasonably cheap in the Des Moines area, partially from subsidies afforded to ethanol which is widely available at most gas stations to travelers. The most popular mixture, 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline, is generally considered safe for newer autos (not to be confused with 85% ethanol/15% gasoline blend). Ethanol and its usage can stir up quite a debate even in the corn-loving state of Iowa.

The Des Moines River serves as the marker for street names having the prefix "East" or not (and occasionally "West" when on the western side). This is especially important for streets running north-south. "1st Ave" would be on the west side of the river, E 1st Ave the eastern side and are thus completely different streets. Streets running east-west and which exist on both sides of the river typically have an "East" prefix if east of the river. There are some "West" prefixes for those on the other side of the river but this is less common. Perhaps more confusing, there are streets which lie on both sides of the river, such as Grand Ave, which is "E Grand Ave" east of the river but simply "Grand Ave" west of the river; yet "E University Ave" is officially named "W University Ave" when on the western side of the river. Unlike the north-south streets, it is possible to arrive at your destination by simply continuing east or west—depending on your final destination. The demarcation for "SE" and "SW" prefixes is a bit more ambiguous but would certainly refer to a street south of Grand Ave/E Grand Ave and either the western or eastern side of the river. For most part, "NW" refers to streets west of the river and "NE" east of it, but not always so. Additionally, there is no standard reference point for determining when a street gains a "NW" or "NE" prefix.

Downtown has several one-way streets to ease traffic flow during rush hours. Turning left is allowed unless otherwise designated.

By rental car

The airport is a popular place to get a rental car and has the following rental companies present next to the baggage claim area: Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, and National. There are other locations throughout the city to rent.

By bus

By bicycle

Drivers tend to not be overly aggressive in Des Moines, and there is ample shoulder room or sidewalks to avoid a date with a jalopy. Some corridors to downtown have bike-only lanes and all city buses allow bikes on board. (See the Do section for more information on getting to your destination on a nicely-shaded, groomed trail.)

By taxi


Even on a cloudy day, two of the capitol domes still glisten
Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens along the Des Moines River


The city and surrounding area has a vast array of activities for all ages, from the annual Iowa State Fair, rated by USA Today as one of the Top 10 best things to do in the summertime in the U.S., to the Des Moines Arts Festival in downtown, also rated as a Top 10 member for the nation's arts festivals, indeed there are plenty of sights and sounds to make your experience a memorable one.


Professional and college sports

While the city is not host to any of the "big league" teams, events are a lot of fun and there's plenty left in your wallet after you've purchased a ticket. Home games are well-attended and oftentimes the team is tops in its own respective league in terms of attendance.

Get up and move

  • Gray's Lake. Busy at all times of day, urbanites of all ages come to breath in the fresh air or get in their workout before heading heading home or to their cubicle. 167-acre park with a 1.9-mi paved track encircling the lake. Paddle boats, canoes, sailboats and bikes may be rented. A small beach area for swimming. Restrooms and grills provided, while some fishing and bird watching also takes place around the edges.


Further from Des Moines are two casinos of mention:

Host events

Many of the state athletic tournaments, for both girls and boys take place in Des Moines. For three consecutive weekends, wrestling, girls' basketball, and boys' basketball brings much activity in February and March to the Wells Fargo Arena area and downtown. The state track meet is held at Drake Stadium and boys' soccer tournaments at Cownie Park in May. The boys' baseball tournament, in July, is played at Principal Park.

The following are events not unique to Des Moines but the city will have the pleasure of being host to listed events:


Des Moines is home to a few institutions of higher learning, the largest being Drake University with enrollment around 5,000.



For general information about employment and employers in the area, the Greater Des Moines Parternship is a good starting place. Also check out Iowa Workforce Development.

Des Moines—and Iowa in general—has fared quite well despite the realities the 2008 recession brought to several economies in the world. As recently as 2012, Forbes ranked the capital city of Iowa only behind the nation's capital, Washington DC, in terms of best cities for jobs.


The shopping experiences in East Village can be described as progressive, as it's a pedestrian friendly area downtown which offers a variety of small businesses and boutiques. The streets are nicely lined and there's much to do after hours to fill a hungry traveler's stomach. In West Des Moines, the historic Valley Junction is also an outdoor line-up of shops and local businesses with much to offer, including live music and art and craft fairs throughout the year. Jordan Creek Town Center and Valley West Mall both lie in West Des Moines, the former being the state's largest shopping mall with a variety of stores and entertainment, including ice skating in the winter. Merle Hay Mall and Southridge Mall rest on the northwest and southeast corners of the city, respectfully. Altoona, on the east side, will have an enclosed outdoor shopping experience available once The Shoppes at Prairie Crossing is completed.


This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:
Budget $15
Mid-range $15-30
Splurge $30+




Cook it yourself


Travelers would likely find the Court District district downtown enjoyable. There, one can find a variety of bars, breweries, dance clubs, live music hot spots and restaurants. It also draws a larger crowd when events downtown take place, such as games for the Iowa Cubs and Barnstormers. East Village rests near the capitol and has several restaurants featuring wine and mixed drinks which can be classified as upscale, but also has bars and live music venues. From the Western Gateway on westwards, bump elbows at any number of sipping places along Ingersoll Avenue. On the west side, in Clive on NW 86th Street, rests a bevy of bars, dance and comedy clubs, which tend to be particularly busy on Fridays for the "Clive after Five" event, where live music and vendors gather to enjoy the end of the work week.

Alcohol sales cease at 2AM for all locations selling alcohol (stores included) in accordance with state law.

Coffee and tea

Easy Going

Dance and live music

Theme bars


This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget $60
Mid-range $60-120
Splurge $120+




Stay safe

In case of an emergency requiring police, fire, or medical assistance, dial 911 for help. The Des Moines Police is the local law enforcement agency. Each suburb also has its own police department, such as the Windsor Heights Police Department.

Des Moines is an extremely safe city during all parts of the day. One can take the evening air without feeling nervous. Just like in all other cities with a sizable amount of people, there are areas and neighborhoods that may be more troublesome for some groups of people than others. Visitors are likely to avoid these small pockets, however.

Pickpockets and grand ripoff schemes that plague other cities in the U.S. and across the globe are not pervasive in the area. Still, the best thing to do is use your judgment—if you don't want attention, don't do things to draw people's attention.

Stay healthy

In any emergency which requires medical assistance, call 911.

All hospitals—not clinics—have 24-hour emergency services available.





Go next

Routes through Des Moines

Minneapolis-Saint Paul Ankeny  N  S  West Des Moines Kansas City
Omaha West Des Moines  W  E  Ankeny Davenport
Omaha West Des Moines  W  E  Newton Davenport
END West Des Moines  W  S  Carlisle Boonville
END  W  E  Pella Ottumwa via

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, February 29, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.