Float Trips-Dolliver SP to Red Rock, With Descriptions and Coordinates


Dolliver to Ledges SP
Des Moines River Float TripsThe Des Moines River is
Iowa's longest trail system
Take a float trip from Dolliver State Park past Lehigh and Carlson Recreation Area, on to Fraser dam, to Boone Waterworks dam and Hwy. 30, and on to Ledges State Park
updated 3/23/24:Estimated Distance:48 miles
for stories and pix, see the DMRWT PBase gallery
This is a 2 or 3 day trip, depending on how the river is running. I made 38 miles in a day ln June of 1998, and 32 miles in July of 1999. Take some time to walk through Dolliver, it is heavily wooded, with an amazing area called the "Boneyard", where Indian hunters ran game off the cliffs. It is 3 miles down to Lehigh, which has a low dam that I just went over, but you may need to portage in lower water. There is a boat ramp at Deception Hollow on the west side of the river about 3 miles south of Lehigh.
It is another 9 miles to the D54 bridge through very pretty county with lots of hills on either side of the river. The Boone River intersects the Des Moines about a half mile above the D54 bridge. The Dragoons camped in this very spot in 1835. It is 8 miles to the Hwy. 175 bridge across some high bluffs, and then 2 miles to Carlson Recreation Area, which has a carry down area and camping. The Skillet Access boat ramp is about a mile north of Hwy. 175 on the river road that runs along the west bank. Norton Ford is about 7 miles downstream from Hwy. 175. It is 2 miles from Norton Ford to the E18 bridge, and another 3 miles to Fraser.
There will be a bit of a workout at Fraser dam, 9 miles downstream. There is a boat ramp just above the dam, and one just below, on the west side of the river. There is a gravel road that takes you the quarter mile portage. There is also a Duncan campground just up the road. After passing under the Fraser bridge, it is 6 miles to Boone Waterworks. You can see the high bridge for the Scenic Valley RR just off to the east. There is a boat ramp above the dam, a gravel road along the river, and a boat ramp below the dam. This was a dangerous dam that has been converted to a much safer rock arch rapids that is paddler friendly. The river bank is often a gentle incline along this part of the river, and primitive camping is possible in many areas.
It is 7 miles to the Hwy. 30 bridge, and you will pass under the world's tallest double track trestle bridge on a very busy rail line, a spectacular sight. This is the Kate Shelley High Bridge, named for the young lady that saved a train from a raging flood in 1881.There is a boat ramp at the Hwy. 30 bridge area, just to the north and west of the bridge. It is about 2 miles to Moingona, the namesake of the river, named for the Indians that inhabited SE Iowa prior to European settlement. Pillars of abandoned rail lines are in the river, and you can see the town from the river. The Kate Shelley museum is a must see. Ledges State Park is another 3 miles, and there is a creek on the east side of the river and wonderful camping and hiking facilities. It is 27 miles from Carlson Recreation to Ledges.
Dolliver State Park boat ramp is 4 miles NW of Lehigh, follow the excellent signs.
Deception Hollow is south of Lehigh 3 miles. Take Hwy. 50 until it ends (past the grocery store), then follow the road that runs along the west bank to the first gravel road (P73), and follow that road (which becomes Samson Road) along the river about 2 miles. Hwy. 50 to Sampson Rd. (P73), E on McGuire Rd., W bank.
To get to Carlson Recreation area, take Hwy. 175, turn south on the gravel road just west of the bridge, follow the signs south 2 miles. The Skillet Area boat ramp is 1 mile north of the bridge on the west side of the river.
Norton Ford: From E18 bridge, W 1.5 miles to J Ave, N 1 mile to "T", E on 118th to Juniper Rd, S to undeveloped access.
The Fraser boat ramps are off E26, just north of the bridge on the gravel road on the west side of the river. Upper is closed as of 4/19.
Boone Waterworks is North on Hwy. 17, then west on E26. The ramp is down the hill on the east side of the river, just north of the bridge. This is to be used if coming downstream from Fraser.
If you plan to paddle south to Hwy. 30, use the boat ramp below Boone Waterworks unless you are looking for an adventure going through the new rock arch rapids that has replaced the low head dam.
The Hwy 30 boat ramp is half a mile west of Boone, on the west side of the river north of the bridge.
Ledges State Park is east off Hwy. 17 just north of Luther.
Dolliver St. ParkN42 23 24.1W94 04 44.2
LehighN42 21 40.0W94 03 02.0
Deception HollowN42 19 38.5W94 01 14.1
Cliffs,near D54N42 20 22.7W93 58 39.6
Stratford, D54 bridgeN42 17 51.8W93 55 58.1
bridge, Hwy. 175N42 15 08.7W93 59 51.9
Carlson RecreationN42 13 53.7W93 58 56.7
Norton FordN42 11 04.0W93 58 28.8
bridge, E18N42 10 04.8W93 57 53.7
Fraser ramp closed as of 4/19N42 07 43.6W93 58 54.3
Fraser damN42 07 31.4W93 58 37.8
Fraser rampN42 07 19.0W93 58 12.4
Boone Waterworks, E26 bridgeN42 04 53.9W93 56 17.3
Kate Shelly High BridgeN42 03 49.5W93 58 12.7
Boone boat ramp, Hwy. 30N42 02 13.1W93 55 39.9
Ledges State ParkN41 59 34.9W93 55 39.5


Ledges to Yellow Banks
Des Moines River Float TripsThe Des Moines River is
Iowa's longest trail system
Take a float trip from Ledges State Park, past Luther and Madrid, on to Saylorville Reservoir, down to the Des Moines Botanical Center, and on to Yellow Banks Park
Estimated Distance: 58 miles
updated 3/23/24:
for stories and pix, see the DMRWT PBase gallery
The run from Ledges to Des Moines will involve portages around Saylorville Dam, 9 miles north of the city, and portages around the Center St. and Scott Ave. dams. Portage options are given in more detail below. This is a two or three day trip depending on water levels and the amount of water being released from Saylorville Dam. It is 25 miles from Ledges to Jester Park, at the north end of Saylorville Lake.
It is about 3 miles to the Luther boat ramp, 4 miles to the Sportsman's access south of Luther, and another 5 miles to the Laurie boat ramp, just before the high bridges at Hwy. 210 on the east side of the river. This is the flood plain for Saylorville, and it is remote and wild. The rock formations are quite beautiful, and the marsh and wetland areas abound with waterfowl. The river widens and turns frequently. A strong southeast wind means high waves and difficult paddling. At about 5 miles from Madrid, the river splits into a right and left fork, and the right fork has ample water for paddling. It is another 7 miles down to Jester Park through very scenic territory, but the entrance to the lake is silted in. Stay near shore, as you may have to pull the boat along the shore to get down into Saylorville (no problem if the Saylorville gauge is above normal, 836). There are excellent camping facilities at Jester Park.
It is 10 miles down Saylorville Lake, under the mile long bridge, and to the dam outlet and take out point at the southwest end of the lake. There is also an access point at Lakeview Access with full boat ramp facilities, 2 miles northwest of the dam. If you are portaging, take the gravel road to the road that goes east over the dam, then take the first right down to Cottonwood. It is about 3 miles to the fishing pier, where there is a sandy incline to the river below the dam.
The trip down to Des Moines takes you along the Saylorville Bike Trail on the east bank, and you'll see lots of walkers and bikers. Sycamore Access off NW 66th is a mile from Cottonwood (warning-do not use the Cottonwood access), with an excellent boat ramp. This is the beginning of the Ding Darling Greenway. I-80 passes over the river 2 miles south. Another 3 miles brings you to the Highland Park bridge for the bike trail, a very colorful structure. After 2 more miles you pass under the Euclid Ave. bridge and under the railroad bridge restored by the Beaverdale Neighborhood Assn. to link up bike trails on the east and west banks. Another mile brings the Prospect Park boat ramp and park, donated by Ding Darling, and the starting line for the impressive Des Moines River Regatta, which attracts more than 50 rowing crews every fall.
Another mile downstream you pass beneath the 6th Ave. and 2nd Ave. bridges, with lovely houses on the bluffs and the walls of the levee to the east. Next stop a mile downstream is Birdland Marina, home of the Des Moines area rowing clubs with dock and boat ramp facilities. The next landmark is the University Ave. bridge, a marvellous structure that is better appreciated from the river. The Botanical Center is on the east bank just downstream, and there are steps down to the water and a path up to the bike trail and riverfront parking. Warning: do not attempt to run the dams at Center St. (just below the Botanical Center) or at Scott Ave. bridge (just below the baseball stadium). These are dangerous dams. A kayaker drowned at Scott Ave. dam 8/10/02.
Now you have a choice. You can load up the boat and drive to SE 14th St., turn east on Harriet St., and launch at the boat ramp south of town. The purist will portage to the Simon Estes Amphitheater, carry down the steps to the river, and paddle through the downtown waterfront and skyline to the Sec Taylor Stadium on the west bank. (This unfortunately now illegal) This is one of the most spectacular river sights you will see anywhere. The neo-roman bridges, the sandstone government buildings, the skyscrapers to the west, make for wonders in every direction. There are concrete steps to take you out of the water. Cross over the Scott Ave. bridge, and take the bike trail about a mile to SE 14th St. and the boat ramp.
The run to Yellow Banks Park is a mix of great beauty and an industrial landscape. The greenbelt is well established, but gives way to an industrial park and the wastewater treatment plant. Never fear, the water is just fine. About 5 miles down river, the remains of the C46 bridge are on the east and west bank near the power plant. The bridge was rustic and convenient, but now the only river crossing is a mile north, at the new Hwy. 65 bridge. The river turns north and west, then south and east as it runs down the last 4 miles to Yellow Banks Park, where the boat ramp is down a steep road that winds through the glorious loess hills. The is a new paddler camping area just west of the boat ramp. Contact Polk County Conservation for more information.
Note: the water trail kiosks in Polk County are a wonder. Each access kiosk has information specific to that section of the river. Dick LeCroy is smiling down from heaven.
Ledges State Park is west off Hwy. 17, just north of Luther.
The Luther boat ramp is 2 miles west of Luther on E57. It is on the northeast side of the river.
Sportsman's Access is west of Luther on E57, south on the road to the Iowa Arboretum. E57 2.4 miles W from Luther, 1 mile S on Peach St. at the Arboretum sign, at T intersection, turn W .5 miles on 280th, at Opal continue W for 1 mile, at 285th and Opal, turn S at the "road closed" sign, .5 mile, E bank
Laurie boat ramp is 2.6 miles west of Madrid, take Hwy. 210 off Hwy. 17. The boat ramp is on the east bank north of the Hwy. 210 bridge.
Woodward sub-1 access is 2 miles east of Woodward off 130th Court.
Jester Park is off NW Beaver Rd. on the west side of the lake. Take 415 to the mile long bridge, then west to NW Beaver and north. Follow the excellent signs.
Cottonwood access is off Hwy. 415 just south of the Saylorville dam. Follow the signs. Use not advised.
Sycamore is off NW 66th St., on the east side of the river north of the bridge. NW 66th intersects NW Beaver Rd. and 12th St.
Prospect Park is off Hickman Rd. in Des Moines, just east of ML King Parkway.
Birdland Marina is off University Ave. on the east side of the river, then north on Pennsylvania about 1 mile.
The Botanical Center is on E. 1st Ave. between Grand and University.
SE 14th St. boat ramp (also called Harriet St.) is off SE 14th St. south of East Grand Ave. There is a bait shop across from a city park, turn east, go straight ahead and down the hill at the piles of dirt and mulch.
The new Pleasant Hill boat ramp is off Hwy. 65 on Vandalia Road
Yellow Banks Park is off Vandalia Road about 3 miles east of new Hwy. 65.
Ledges State ParkN41 59 35.8W93 53 32.1
Luther, boat rampN41 58 00.0W93 53 46.3
Sportsman's AccessN41 55 59.8W93 53 11.4
Madrid, boat rampN41 52 26.6W93 51 52.0
Woodward sub-1 rampN41 50 57.2W93 51 04.2
Hwy. 17 bridgeN41 48 14.1W93 48 47.2
Saylorville, Jester ParkN41 46 57.4W93 46 04.0
Saylorville, dam take out pointN41 42 12.6W93 41 24.4
Fishing pier, CottonwoodN41 41 33.2W93 40 48.1
Sycamore accessN41 40 51.3W93 40 06.6
I-80 bridgeN41 39 02.7W93 40 00.4
Des Moines, Prospect ParkN41 37 05.7W93 38 12.2
Des Moines, Birdland MarinaN41 36 36.2W93 36 41.5
Botanical CenterN41 35 49.5W93 36 53.7
SE 14th St. (Harriet St.), boat rampN41 34 32.5W93 35 35.9
Pleasant Hill, Hwy. 65 bridge rampN41 33 56.2W93 30 36.2
Yellow Banks ParkN41 32 42.8W93 28 30.3
Journal EntriesThe river rises up on thunderous wings near Easter Lake
Near the ice line, an eagle was less than 100 feet away
6 boats and ten folks from the Paddler's Club made the Sycamore to Birdland run
University Ave. bridge is the gateway to Des Moines, with its complex texture of shapes and reflections


Yellow Banks to Red Rock
Des Moines River Float TripsThe Des Moines River is
Iowa's longest trail system
Take a float trip from Yellow Banks Park to Hartford Access, past Runnells Bridge,, Bennington Access and the Boxcar Bend, across Lake Red Rock, to Red Rock dam
updated 3/23/24: for river stories and pix, see the DMRWT PBase galleryEstimated Distance:48 miles
This is a 1 or 2 day trip through the Red Rock flood plain, and some very wild and remote territory. There are several access areas where you can camp, including Yellow Banks Park, at Webb's Camping near Hartford Access, and numerous camping areas above and below Red Rock dam. There are also numerous sand bars along this stretch, except in very high water (above 20,000 cfs)
From Yellow Banks Park, after 3 miles, the river begins to bend about every mile. There are 6 mile long bends in the river (which also mark the border between Polk County and Warren County) that lead to the remains of old Hartford access point. The narrows approaching Hartford have high banks and some of the deepest water along the river. The run to Hartford is about 10 miles. Another 2 miles brings you to Hartford Access (watch for duck hunters) then under the bridges of Hwy. 316 near Runnells. The river banks are very low to the water, and the river is frequently spread out over several miles on either side. Another 6 miles brings you to Bennington Bridge boat ramp and some very scenic bluffs.
From Bennington, the river winds through wetlands bursting with herons and egrets. It's about 10 miles through this wilderness to the Boxcar Bend area, where boxcars have been sunk as fishing reefs. The marsh area adjacent to the Boxcars is home to hundreds of egrets and herons. It is about 26 miles from Yellow Banks to Boxcar Bend.
The Boxcars are the launch point for the trek down Lake Red Rock. Don't try this trip in low water. The river looks wide and deep, but it is only a foot deep in most places. There is a sand island about a half mile from Boxcars, and there is usually enough water to pass around the island and set out for the mile long bridge, about 9 miles to the south and west shore. I was in awe of the red cliffs, the trees in the water, the wind and waves, and the vastness of the lake. Once you go under the bridge, you can stop at the Elk Rock ramp or continue on to the South Access, 9 miles further south and west.
For more options as to paddling routes from Boxcars to the numerous access points on Red Rock, see the Red Rock Water Trail Map, https://www.mvr.usace.army.mil/Portals/48/docs/Recreation/ODR/121102-A-NN408-010.pdf
Yellow Banks Park is off Vandalia Road about 2 miles east of new Hwy. 65. Go south 1 mile at SE 68th. There are excellent signs along the route to the park.
To reach the Hartford access, take the 3rd gravel road to the left past Hartford, which is Delaware, and which is marked with a Webb's Camping sign. After .6 miles, the gravel road becomes 228th. Go 1.4 miles, past the KIOA transmitters, turn right on the gravel road at the campground sign onto Carpenter Pl., 1 mile to the river.
Bennington and Boxcar Bend boat ramps are on the east side of the river off in the wilderness. North of Runnells on Hwy. 316, take F70 east (also called SE 64th), then go south 2.5 miles on 117th. Follow the boat ramp signs.
The south ramp is Boxcars. The Boxcar ramp can be reached off Hwy. 14 on Carpenter Ave. south of Monroe. Turn West on Carpenter (follow the signs), turn South on 68th (all other roads dead end). Or, off F70 take W 93rd South to Carpenter, West on Carpenter, South on 68th.
Elk Rock boat ramp is just south of the intersection between G40 and Hwy. 14.
South Access is just to the west of Red Rock dam, off T15, which crosses over the dam
Yellow Banks, near CarlisleN41 32 42.8W93 28 30.3
First bendN41 30 40.5W93 26 12.8
Third bendN41 30 41.2W93 25 04.5
Fifth bendN41 30 07.0W93 23 54.9
Sixth bendN41 29 26.4W93 24 13.1
goneN41 29.15.8W93.23.43.7
Hartford accessN41 29 10.2W93 21 32.4
Bennington boat rampN41 29 12.3W93 16 25.9
BoxcarsN41 27 58.0W93 12 39.4
Elk Rock boat rampN41 24 09.5W93 06 08.3
South AccessN41 21 54.8W92 59 37.2
Great blue herons showed me the way from the
Boxcars out onto the lake


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