Affordable, Friendly Ankeny, Iowa, Welcomes Families Looking to Put Down Roots

Affordable Friendly Ankeny Iowa Welcomes Families Looking To Put Down Roots

In a Nutshell: In the post-pandemic economy, families are moving to locations that offer affordability, opportunity, an engaged population, excellent schools, and much to see and do. At first glance, Ankeny, Iowa, part of the Des Moines metropolitan area but distinct in geography and identity, may not top your list of cities to relocate to. But dig below the surface and you’ll find it brimming with qualities that make it an ideal place to put down family roots. Ankeny is a city that’s easy to call home.

If you’re like many American families in the less-tied-down society that has emerged since the pandemic, you may be thinking of relocating to a city that meshes with your lifestyle preferences.

And if you’re looking for quality-of-life features — including a safe, clean, engaged community with a hometown feel — that make a place ideal for raising children, consider Ankeny, Iowa.

City of Ankeny logo

We know what you’re thinking. Ankeny may not top anyone’s list of family-friendly cities at first glance. That’s because you’re probably unfamiliar with this vibrant, up-and-coming destination that will tick all your boxes if focusing on what’s most important in a relaxed environment is your goal.

Situated at the junction of Interstates 35 and 80 north of Des Moines, Ankeny is a welcoming crossroads town offering opportunity, affordability, excellent schools, and a lifestyle that allows kids to bike to the ice cream shop on a safe, well-maintained trail network.

Don’t fret if that sounds like a living stereotype. Ankeny is the kind of place where community and family values are paramount because the people who live there want things to be that way. It’s dynamic and receptive to change yet grounded in priorities that have always made America great.

Economic Development Director Derek Lord said Ankeny is a special place, and it is no surprise to see Ankeny on this list. It has what people are looking for in a place to live – it is a safe, family-friendly community with beautiful parks and trails, quality municipal services and a premier school district.

“What draws a lot of people is how easy it is to access and experience that quality of life here,” Lord said. “I can’t think of a place in our community I can’t get to on a wide sidewalk or bike trail.”

A Distinct Community Identity and Sense of Place

Ankeny is a town of 75,000 and is considered part of the Des Moines metropolitan area. But don’t let that fool you. Des Moines, a city of nearly a quarter million population, is separate and distinct from Ankeny.

“I tell people we’re a cornfield away from Des Moines,” Lord said. “Being part of the greater Des Moines region gives us easy access to the amenities of a big city.”

The town has 19th-century origins and was a train stop on the way from Des Moines to Ames for decades. The action really started during World War II when Ankeny became the site of a munitions plant that employed more than 20,000, mostly women. Every morning, the community of a few thousand would swell with munitions workers and then shrink as they left for the night.

Ankeny in summer
Ankeny is a fast-growing community with a hometown feel.

The munitions operation closed after the war, and the John Deere manufacturing company converted the plant from munitions to farm equipment. John Deere is still Ankeny’s largest employer, with more than 2,000 workers.

Lord said that, with Des Moines to the south and Ames to the north, Ankeny is proud that it still manages to claim community cohesiveness.

“You can’t say that about many suburban communities because the borders are all touching,” Lord said. “You spend your life on a four-lane road at a traffic signal and don’t know when you’re going from one community to the next. This is not the case in Ankeny.”

Lord said many people move to Ankeny from rural Iowan communities, each with its own sense of place. They appreciate how Ankeny replicates that in a more modern form.

“People in those communities knew what was home to them,” Lord said. “That’s one of the things that makes Ankeny unique and drives some of our growth.”

Activities Strengthen the Positive Hometown Feel

Ankeny is in Iowa, so winter snow is a factor. There’s a great sledding hill in Northcreek Parkpark and a community ice rink in Sunrise park, so winter is not all bad news for residents.

Another advantage of Ankey’s climate is that the doldrums of winter accentuate the joys of spring and summer. Ankeny is known as a town with a strong Parks and Recreation Department and more than 100 miles of multiuse trails.

Ankeny’s High Trestle Trail is a highlight. Many communities take pride in their rail trail programs, but trails are serious business in Ankeny. They’re a significant quality-of-life benefit for residents and a draw for people outside the community and state.

High Trestle Trail Bridge at night
High Trestle Trail Bridge at night. Ankeny is home to more than 100 miles of multiuse trails.

“Many people come to Ankeny to shop, eat, play, and stay to experience the trail,” Lord said.

The High Trestle Trail extends 25 miles north to the High Trestle Bridge, which Lord characterized as one of the most iconic features in the state. Blue lights adorn the bridge’s half- mile superstructure over the Des Moines River.

“No story about Ankeny would be complete without hitting on the significance of our trail network,” Lord said. “There’s the obvious stuff where families can bike to the ice cream shop. But you can also get on your bike and hit 50 miles.”

Bars, restaurants, and public art along the trail contribute to the trail’s visual appeal. When the weather’s nice, there aren’t many places better to be.

Ideally Situated for Growth and Greater Opportunity

The Parks and Recreation Department doesn’t stop with well-maintained trails. Parks and aquatic centers serve more than 70,000 community members annually. Lord said there’s always something to do in Ankeny.

“We do the small things that create and strengthen our hometown feel incredibly well,” Lord said.

The city offers something for everyone during the summer months; Beats & Eats, Movies Under the Stars, character visits to the aquatic centers to surprise the kids, and a lot of live music and outdoor festivals.

The Ankeny Chamber Summer Fest is a three-day outdoor festival with live music, carnival rides, a grand parade, games, activities for the kids, and a beer garden. A popular farmers market draws about 3,000 people every Saturday.

The District at Prairie Trail
The District at Prairie Creek is a new-urbanist highlight in Ankeny perfect for public gatherings. There is always something fun to do there with a variety of shopping, dining and outdoor festivals with live music and great food vendors.

It’s not all fun and games in Ankeny. Large employers, including a robust advanced manufacturing sector and a growing presence in logistics, provide job opportunities to residents. Iowa State University in Ames and the main campus of Des Moines Area Community College are training grounds that help attract businesses.

The healthcare and education sectors generate significant jobs. Schools are excellent, and the city recently opened the new Albaugh Family Senior Community Center, complete with an indoor walking track, gym and pickleball courts, and a new library to help meet the needs of the growing community.

The median sale price of homes in Ankeny was $328,000 in 2023. Home prices are up, but Lord said the city’s housing market offers prices and floor plans to fit all budgets.

After work and school, families can take advantage of two entertainment districts, a historic downtown with an eclectic feel and The District at Prairie Trail, a new-urbanist development. It all adds up to a place that’s easy for families to call home.

“I always tell people that makes Ankeny unique is a great quality of life in a community designed and built for families,” Lord said.