Iowa : Safety by City
- Arnolds Park
- Cedar Falls
- Cedar Rapids
- Clear Lake
- Council Bluffs
- Des Moines
- Fort Dodge
- Fort Madison
- Iowa City
- Mason City
- North Liberty
- Pleasant Hill
- Polk City
- Sioux City
- Spirit Lake
- Storm Lake
- The Amana Colonies
- West Des Moines
Iowa is filled with cool town names and cities with deep historical meanings behind their monikers.
Then, there’s West Des Moines, Iowa.
I jest, of course, but even a city as basic as West Des Moines comes with a really cool story.
The city was initially called Valley Junction and at a crossroads for shopping and shipping.
As the city grew, some felt the name “Valley Junction” was outdated and they wanted something connected to an authoritative name.
Des Moines was the best option.
That’s how West Des Moines was born.
The city is still a shopping destination for the metro area and the state.
It’s a wonderful blend of a suburb, city, and outdoor space.
It’s close enough to the city that it doesn’t feel like a trek to go downtown, but it’s far enough away that you can get a good night’s sleep in a safe community.
West Des Moines is also along every major route to get you easily across the metro area.
The Des Moines Tourism Bureau is quite creative and you’ll enjoy looking around the website.
Note the slogan:
“The S’s are silent. Our attractions scream.”
That’s the “Iowa Nice” way of saying you don’t pronounce the “S” in Des Moines.
You do in the word “west”, of course.
That means you’re in “West Duh-MOYNE.”
Warnings & Dangers in West Des Moines
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a low overall risk here with low crime and plenty to do before you even cross the city line into Des Moines. Most of the hotels are centered around the major shopping center here, making for easy meals and exploring.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
Des Moines Area Regional Transit (DART) provides the bus service here. You can buy a day pass for $4 or a weekly pass for $16. Otherwise, the rides are $1.75. Two taxi companies service this area, and rideshares are available. There's low risk with any option.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
There's a low risk, but you'll want to use extra caution at Jordan Creek Town Center when you're shopping or even if you just set your bags down to take a breath. The theft rate here is slightly above the national average. Don't leave cars unlocked or personal belongings inside the vehicle when you park.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
Flooding is a major risk in parts of West Des Moines, especially near the Raccoon River. Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are possible throughout the year, with a special emphasis in spring. Winter can bring ice and snowstorms. There's a medium risk because of all the possibilities, and you should really watch out for flooding if you're there during heavy rains.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
The robbery risk is almost four times lower than the national average. There's a low risk you'll get robbed here, but there's a much bigger chance you'll have a car break-in if you leave a bunch of stuff inside it when parked.
TERRORISM RISK: MEDIUM
Because it is part of the largest metro area in the state, there's medium risk. West Des Moines wouldn't be the target, but there are some military bases and an airport close by that could be. The Iowa Department of Homeland Security can put your concerns to rest with the preparedness information provided on its website.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
There's a low risk of being scammed as a tourist, but there have been reports of identity theft in this city over the years. Since people use credit cards so often at all the great places to shop and dine, their information gets exposed. You should always take receipts with you after making a purchase and shred them before you throw them away. I will either ask the hotel clerk to shred them in front of me, or I'll wash them in hot water and tear them up before tossing them in the trash (because who takes a shredder with them on vacation, right?).
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
Women should feel safe with low risk in West Des Moines. The shopping, spas, and restaurants make for a great way to spend the day, and the outdoor areas can be a wonderful de-stressor. The sexual assault rate is just below the national average, but there were still 26 cases of rape and sodomy in 2021. You should never let down your guard, but you'll sure enjoy paying attention to the surroundings here.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The water in West Des Moines meets or exceeds all requirements. There's low risk when using it. The annual water quality report says you can even store tap water for up to six months without worrying about the disinfectants dissipating.
Safest Places to Visit in West Des Moines
There are two shopping and destination areas in West Des Moines.
One is the historic Valley Junction in downtown West Des Moines.
This is where you can find eclectic shops with an artsy vibe and locally owned cafes and coffee shops.
The Foundry is a unique dining experience with an open table seating area.
Food trucks and brew vendors from across the region set up shop to feed the masses.
Jordan Creek Town Center is on the opposite side of the city and has the exact opposite atmosphere.
Here you’ll find brand-name clothing stores and some of the most popular chain restaurants, like Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang’s, and Joe’s Crab Shack.
Smash Park is a playground for adults, where you can play cornhole, pickleball, ping pong, and so much more while enjoying fresh brew and food.
Be sure to have a designated driver or call a rideshare – especially if you try the Smash Park Boozy Bucket.
Fair is fair, so maybe take the kids to the Des Moines Children’s Museum in West Des Moines.
The exhibits are interactive, from digging in the dirt to playing on a life-sized Lite Brite.
Check the schedule for special events and classes throughout the year.
If you want to spend time outdoors, then Raccoon River Park is the place for you.
There’s fishing available in the lake and a beach on the shoreline.
There are walking trails here and a nature center to explore.
This could also be a great time to try out your archery skills at the Racoon River Park Archery Facility.
There’s an outdoor ice rink in the winter.
Places to Avoid in West Des Moines
The northeast side of town has the higher crime rates, but there’s really not a bad neighborhood here.
You can travel freely throughout the area.
There are some great neighboring cities, like Clive, Urbandale, and Des Moines, so check the safety tips for those cities in the other articles on our website.
Driving in West Des Moines is easy until you leave West Des Moines.
In this metro area, you can go from 1st Street to 63rd Street without ever turning or traveling more than a short distance.
The street numbering systems don’t carry from one city to the next.
So, 1st Street is the same road as 63rd Street, it’s just in a different city.
Since you’re so close to Des Moines and interstates, you might have a lot more traffic than if you were in the more rural areas.
Be sure to allow plenty of time to get to where you are going.
Don’t assume there won’t be traffic because “it’s Iowa.”
Safety Tips for Traveling to West Des Moines
- For non-emergency calls, you can reach out to the West Des Moines Police Department at (515) 222-3320. This is the general number to call if you have safety questions. For non-emergency calls, dial Dispatch at (515) 222-3321.
- There’s an online reporting form on the police department’s website. You can use this if you see something suspicious or notice things like graffiti or other vandalism. Police encourage you to use it stating, “Trust your instincts! If you think something is wrong, then it probably is. Citizens can be a huge help in preventing criminal activity before it occurs and before someone is a victim.”
- Des Moines is a strong news market and many of the local television stations have their own news and weather apps. Downloading these apps and turning on alerts can help you stay aware of things happening during your visit. In June of 2022, there was a shooting in a large crowd at a West Des Moines shopping center. This kind of incident can lead to rumors, but having a news app can give you the safest information on where to go and what to do.
- 511ia.org is the website for all the roads in the Des Moines area and across Iowa. You can see real-time traffic and accident reports, construction projects, and live road cameras. During the winter, you’ll even see the snowplows have cameras and will show you where they’ve plowed and what the roads look like.
- The swimming beach in Racoon River Park is the only place you can swim in the lake. There are no lifeguards on duty, so you are swimming at your own risk. Check for water quality signs as you arrive, as the water is tested for E. coli every three weeks during the summer.
- The Archery Facility upholds top safety standards for what could be a dangerous sport. You will need to sign up for a permit before you can take part in archery activities. They don’t have equipment for rent, so you’ll need to bring your own.
- Sign up for CodeRED alerts through the city website. You’ll get emergency weather notifications and flood information, should it occur. Especially near the Raccoon River, you really need to watch out for flooding. If you look at FEMA flood maps for that region, you can see exactly where the water inundates during heavy rain.
- One of my best friends is from Iowa and I can assure you – the cold weather doesn’t stop Iowans from going outside. It does stop me from visiting her in winter. There are sledding hills, snowshoe/cross country skiing trails, and ice rinks. Many of the locations don’t offer rentals for equipment, so you can either buy some at places like Sheels or check with the park service to see if they do rentals. Des Moines Parks offers snowshoe rentals, but I haven’t found any parks that do in West Des Moines. You can also check if the local REI store still does winter sports or bicycle rentals. The pandemic might have put the brakes on sharing equipment, but it doesn’t hurt to ask as we recover from the pandemic.
- I don’t know about you, but for me, parking in a new city is always so stressful. Des Moines makes it easy with a parking app called “Park DSM.” That does just apply to the city of Des Moines. For West Des Moines, most of the parking is free and clearly marked. If there is snow on the ground, you need to check with the city to see if there is restricted street parking for the snowplows to get through. Parking on the street during a snow emergency can get you ticketed or towed.
- If you want to go fishing anywhere in the Des Moines metro area or statewide, you’ll need a non-resident fishing license from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. While you’re there, check to see what local lakes are stocked with, and the DNR is really clear about where to find the best fish.
So... How Safe Is West Des Moines Really?
West Des Moines is much safer compared to Des Moines.
It’s also 1/3 in population size.
Here’s a comparison of crime rates between the two cities:
- Violent Crime (399 per 100,000 is the national average)
- West Des Moines: 114 per 100,000
- Des Moines: 611 per 100,000
- Theft (1398 per 100,000 is the national average)
- West Des Moines: 1,421 per 100,000
- Theft/Des Moines: 2,174 per 100,000
- Robbery (79 per 100,000 is the national average)
- West Des Moines: 24 per 100,000
- Des Moines: 77 per 100,000
West Des Moines is one of the safer suburbs, along with nearby Clive and Urbandale.
It’s a much safer idea to stay in a suburb and visit the city than risk staying in the city if the higher crime data makes you uneasy.
However, no community is guaranteed to be 100% safe and crime can happen anywhere.
You still have a lot of personal responsibility to not make yourself a victim of a crime of opportunity.
How Does West Des Moines Compare?
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Anyone visiting from outside the United States will need a U.S. Visa. This process can take up to four months, so start planning early. You won't be able to make a last-minute trip if you don't have a visa.
You can only use the U.S. Dollar here and all locations take cash, credit card, or mobile pay. There are places to exchange currency in West Des Moines, but taking care of that in the security of the airport is a safer plan.
Winter will require several warm layers on the coldest of days. You need to look at the "wind chill" and not just the temperature because Iowa is a windy state. The winds can add a bitter sting to already bone-chilling temperatures. Spring and fall can fluctuate daily, so a jacket is always a good idea and some layers of sweatshirts and t-shirts. Summer will be beautiful, but it's also humid here. You'll sweat more than you'd like to. Be sure to bring bug spray, as mosquitoes are abundant in the summer. I live in the Midwest and this morning there was a beautiful sunrise I wanted to get a picture of quickly on my porch. I was out there less than five minutes and came back in with three fresh mosquito bites.
Des Moines International Airport is 20 minutes away from West Des Moines. That's a big enough airport for any travelers to get to their destination, so you don't need to look for backup airports.
Travel insurance is a great plan because storms can wreak havoc on air travel here. Even some tough winds can put planes in a holding pattern, much less a tornado-warned storm.
West Des Moines Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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