The south end of the Neal Smith trail connects to the John Pat Dorrian Trail (once known as the East River Trail), providing a safe and scenic route from Des Moines’ downtown to Saylorville Lake and Big Creek. The Neal Smith Trail results from years of planning between the city of Des Moines, the Polk County Conservation Board, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the US Army Corps of Engineers.
The trail, sometimes dominated by a view of the lake, traverses a range of landscapes including bottomland, shaded forest, oak uplands and prairie. Some sections along Saylorville Lake are quite hilly. Observant visitors will see deer, muskrat, beaver and other wildlife species. Rustling cottonwoods and rolling valleys are sprinkled with picnic areas and beaches. Popular rest stops include the Saylorville Lake Visitor Center with its many indoor displays and outdoor butterfly garden, one of the largest butterfly gardens in the state.
Although located in the midst of an urban area, the John Pat Dorrian Trail is home to many natural features. At various points, the trail offers panoramic views of the Des Moines River and the Des Moines skyline. The Des Moines River corridor provides habitat for a variety of birds, including great blue herons, white pelicans and, in winter, bald eagles.
The John Pat Dorrian trail follows the river through the city, passing the Des Moines Botanical Center, Sec Taylor Stadium, Riverview Park and ending downtown. It also connects to Gray’s Lake and other metro trail systems along the Raccoon River. It already connects with the 3.6-mile Inter-Urban Trail, which goes into Des Moines’ Beaverdale neighborhood.