Yellow Banks Park


Tent Camping
Access to the Des Moines River


The 140-foot tall bluffs at Yellow Banks Park rise above the Des Moines River and offer breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. The bluffs are formed from loess soil deposited by the wind during the time of the glaciers. Hiking trails at this 552-acre park lead to scenic overlooks, an oak savanna, a Native American burial mound, and a unique backpacking camping area. This is a prime area for viewing migrating raptors in spring and fall. 

The History of Yellow Banks Park

Named by the yellowish-colored bluffs that border the park, Yellow Banks Park is great for hiking, wildlife viewing, camping, and relaxing. Glaciers formed the beautifully scenic bluffs that overlook the Des Moines River long ago during the last Ice Age. This nearly 600-acre park has offered breathtaking views and important resources for years. Yellow Banks Park was acquired by Polk County Conservation in 1980, but its history does not start there.

For almost 10,000 years, this favorable spot was home to many different groups of people. It started with the Paleo-Indian culture (about 12,000 - 8,000 years ago), who were semi-nomadic hunters of bison. These people inhabited the land during the last glacial events of the Ice Age; it was very wet, cool, and heavily forested. They crafted spear points to hunt big game, stone knives for butchering, and hide scrapers used for dressing hides.

The Archaic-Indian culture (about 8,000 – 3,000 years ago) were hunters of bison and smaller game animals, and gatherers of several nuts, seeds, and berries. Grinding stones were used to process the seeds and nuts. Stone axes were created for woodworking. This culture also invented the atlatl, a spear thrower designed to help throw spears harder and farther.

The Woodland-Indian culture (about 3,000 – 1,000 years ago) obtained a more permanent lifestyle. Pottery was introduced during this time, made with clay and sand or grit, and were often decorated. Gardens were planted with crops such as sunflowers, pigweed, and marsh elder; some crops were imports from Mexico, like corn and squash. The bow and arrow was innovated by these people, which helped hunting accuracy and efficiency. High on the bluffs, they built burial mounds, usually circular in shape, for loved ones and important belongings.

The Oneota culture (about 1,000 years ago to European settlement) spent their time hunting, fishing, plant collecting, and farming. Crops such as varieties of corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers were grown throughout the seasons. Villages lived along rivers in sturdy longhouses, and tools evolved to be much more efficient in design. This culture prospered in the area for many years; the Meskwaki tribe inhabited the general area until 1845. Not long after, this space was popular for its abundance in timber; it provided this crucial resource during the first settlement. Settlers also used much of the area for pasture.

During the 1960s, the development of the railroad through this area was halted after uncovering a number of irreplaceable artifacts, which were then excavated by archaeologists. From hunting weapons and tools for preparing food, to ceremonial axes and large burial mounds, these artifacts span a range of thousands of years of civilization. Finding these artifacts have given people an incredible insight to what life was like long before we came along. Today, the park still captivates visitors with its natural beauty and fascinating history, showing that Yellow Banks Park truly is one of a kind.


The park, acquired by the Conservation Board in 1980, is located southeast of Pleasant Hill off SE Vandalia Road. 

Yellow Banks Park  

6801 SE 32nd Ave.
Pleasant Hill, IA 50327 

(515) 266-1563


  • Ball diamonds
  • Camping
  • Fishing
  • Geocaching
  • Hiking
  • Picnicking
  • Playground
  • Shelters

Operating Hours & Seasons

  • Summer Hours (April 1 -October 31) | 6:30 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.
    • The north side of Easter Lake Park is open sunrise to sunset year-round.
    • Fort Des Moines Park is open 8 a.m. to sunset year-round.
  • Winter Hours (November 1 - March 31) | Sunrise to sunset

More information on camping can be found on our website at


Polk County Water and Land Legacy Park Improvements

Many exciting park and trail improvements are happening in Polk County thanks in part to the Polk County Water and Land Legacy bond referendum that was supported by voters in November of 2021. This may result in closed recreation areas due to construction. We encourage the public to stay involved and updated on these improvements by regularly visiting our website at