Growing at high speed, the small city of Waukee is on the western fringe of the ever-expanding Des Moines metropolitan area.
In Waukee you have the best of both worlds: All the shopping, culture and landmarks of a regional urban center are close by.
Meanwhile rural Iowa rolls out to the west, and can be encountered on foot or by bike along the Raccoon River Valley Trail, which has a trailhead in Waukee.
In summer, Centennial Park and the Triangle set the stage for big festivals like the Independence Day Celebration, and weekly institutions like the Waukee Farmers’ Market, bringing Iowa’s famous natural produce to town.
1. The Triangle
At the very core of downtown Waukee, in the shadow of the Heartland Cooperative grain elevator, is this sweet little park.
Serving as a kind of town green, with a gazebo and three mature linden trees, The Triangle hosts community events, like the Waukee Farmers’ Market (more later) and Waukee’s summer outdoor concert series.
Keep your eyes peeled for other summer programs, like Yoga in the Park. The Triangle is also the linchpin for a central commercial district that is sure to burgeon in the coming years.
Independent businesses close by include an ice cream stand, butcher, furniture store and a cluster of bars.
2. Centennial Park
Waukee’s main park for outdoor recreation is just next to Waukee High School. In 33 acres there’s a wide array of amenities, including three ball diamonds, two sand volleyball courts, a Gaga Ball pit, three playgrounds and a disc golf course with 12 holes.
There’s also a lot of open green space for pickup soccer games and picnics. Set along a tree-lined creek that is crossed by a covered bridge, Centennial Park is a picturesque location for annual events like the Independence Day Celebration.
3. Heart of the Warrior Trail
Starting at the northeast corner of Centennial Park multi-use path, taking you through Des Moines’ western suburbs as far as Lions Park in Clive.
West to east, the Heart of the Warrior Trail is just over three miles long and fully paved, passing through a series of parks along its peaceful green route.
The trail is also a kind of gateway for an adventure along the twisting course of Walnut Creek. At the eastern trailhead you can get onto the Clive Greenbelt Trail, running for almost eight miles next to the creek’s scenic banks, through woodlands and verdant local parks.
4. Warrior Lanes
The current owners of this 16-lane bowling alley took over in 2014 and have made a lot of great updates.
If you’re planning a family outing, all of the lanes now have automatic bumpers for younger bowlers learning the game.
On Friday and Saturday Nights, Warrior Lanes turns into a kind of family-friendly nightclub, with music, special effects, black lights, LED lighting and glowing synthetic lanes.
There’s a full-service snack bar for homemade pizzas and burgers fresh off the grill, as well as an arcade with redemption machines.
5. Kinship Brewing Company
Just off the Raccoon River Valley Trail is a craft brewery that opened its doors in 2021. Purpose-built, the spacious taproom at Kinship Brewing Company features eye-catching work by artists from Des Moines.
Beer-wise, the brewery puts an emphasis on lagers, with an American Lager, Dark Lager, Amber Lager, Light Lager and Corn Pilsner all on tap, to go with a selection of ales, from IPAs to an Imperial Stout.
When we wrote this article the owners were planning to construct a permanent kitchen to expand the brewery’s food menu.
Last but not least, you can also bring your four-legged friend along, as there’s a half-acre dog park on the grounds.
6. Des Moines
Waukee may be on the western edge of the metro area, but downtown Des Moines is never more than 20 minutes away. We could never hope to cover all of this city’s big attractions and experiences.
But for some highlights you’ve got sports action and concerts at the Wells Fargo Area, the nation’s #2 ranked farmers’ market, Adventureland theme park, boutique shopping at the Historic East Village, the much-loved Blank Park Zoo and dozens of miles of trails along the Des Moines River and its tributaries.
We haven’t even mentioned the Iowa State Capitol, which could be the country’s most iconic, for its shimmering gold dome.
If art is your thing then Waukee is especially close to the Des Moines Art Center and Salisbury House & Gardens for a one-two hit of contemporary works and ornate period treasures.
7. Living History Farms
Ten minutes east along U.S. Route 6 there’s a world-class outdoor museum bringing to life more than 300 years of agricultural history in Iowa.
Living History Farms recreates three historical farms, in the form of an Iowa Native American farm from the 1700s, an 1850 Pioneer Farm and a 1900 Horse Powered Farm.
Each one has authentic artifacts and buildings populated with costumed reenactors demonstrating time-honored skills, from tool-making to canning.
You can also wander around the 1875 Town of Walnut Hill, calling in at a general store, bank, Victorian mansion and law office, and discovering how settlements like this were rooted in local agriculture.
8. Waukee Farmers’ Market
June through September, the Triangle Park is the fitting backdrop for a market every Wednesday, 4pm to 7pm.
If you like to know where your food comes from this is a chance to pick up groceries directly from the people who grew or made them.
There’s fruit and vegetables, fresh from the farm, as well as herbs, flowers, honey, eggs, kettle corn, handmade candy, irresistible baked goods and crafts you won’t find anywhere else. Every week there’s live music, bringing a party feel to the Triangle.
9. Raccoon River Valley Trail (RRVT)
Waukee is at the southeastern trailhead for an 89-mile rail trail, linking 14 rural communities in the countryside west of Des Moines.
The Raccoon River Valley Trail is open to hikers, joggers, bicyclists, nature spotters and cross-country skiers, and is used by more than 350,000 people every year. In 2018 Waukee unveiled a remarkable piece of public art at the trailhead.
Waukee Railroad Pergola – In the Shadow of the Rails is intended to establish the city as a hotspot for bicycling enthusiasts from across the state.
There’s also a handy sign at the trailhead with a map pointing out the distance to the nearest towns.
10. The Palms Theaters & IMAX
Locally owned, this giant movie theater in Waukee is part of the Fridley Theatres chain, which goes back to the mid-1970s with locations mainly in Iowa.
The Palms Theaters & IMAX is a go-to, not just for Waukee, but a big chunk of the metro area. It’s easy to see why, as all of the auditoriums have Dolby Atmos sound and are fitted with Ultralux Loungers, so you can watch the latest blockbusters in perfect comfort.
For dining experience, check the website for details of Dine & Recline showings. Meanwhile, Tuesday is Bargain Day, with admission for just $6 on regular screenings.
11. Sugar Creek Municipal Golf Course
Waukee has a superb nine-hole municipal golf course bordering farmland in the south of the city.
A par 34, Sugar Creek is a forgiving track for people who are just getting into golf, while more experienced players will still find plenty to enjoy.
You’ll need to look out for the namesake creek, which winds down the east side of the course. And if you need to loosen up your swing there’s a well-maintained practice facility with a driving range and putting green.
12. Jordan Creek Town Center
Shopping is never a problem in Waukee, not when you have the largest shopping complex in the state just ten minutes away.
Jordan Creek Town Center offers almost 150 stores and more than 25 restaurants, to go with a high-end Cinemark movie theater.
The Shopping District is an enclosed two-level mall, beside The Village District, with an assortment of big box stores.
Most special is The Lake District, where casual restaurants like P.F. Chang’s can be found on the shore of a man-made lake with fountains and ducks.
13. Smash Park
Just across the road from Jordan Creek Town Center is a unique entertainment concept aimed at grownups.
Awaiting you at Smash Park are amenities for pickleball, ping pong, cornhole, bocce ball, darts and shuffleboard, along with Iowa’s largest patio, an up-to-date arcade and four bars, stocked with craft beer, premium spirits and making innovative cocktails.
You can order contemporary, street-style bites like wraps and flatbreads, and catch the game with the help of more than seventy HD TVs.
14. Westown Meadows Park
One of a cluster of new parks to serve the ever-growing population, Westown Meadows Park officially opened in June 2020.
This is a place children are sure to love thanks to the splash pad, an active and fun way to cool off during the famously humid Des Moines summer.
As well as these bubblers and sprayers kids also have conventional play equipment.
Elsewhere, the park has a lot of open green space with a shaded picnic area, landscaping and paved walking paths.
15. Independence Day Celebration
Centennial Park is the base for Waukee’s three-day celebration of America’s independence, around the 4th of July.
The main event is a grand parade, taking place along La Grant Parkway on the Saturday morning, with a slew of local businesses and organizations taking part.
This concludes at Centennial Park, the scene for a carnival, numerous food vendors and all sorts of family-friendly activities and contests.
There’s live music, outdoor movies, a fun run, and of course a fireworks show to bring the curtain down the festival.