Home > County Spotlight > Polk County

Polk County, IA



(by Population)




Square Miles
Blank Park Zoo
Blank Park Zoo
Des Moines Riverwalk
Des Moines Riverwalk
Hoyt Sherman Place
Hoyt Sherman Place

With a population of nearly half a million, Polk County is the most populous county in Iowa. The county seat is located in Des Moines, which is the capital city of Iowa. Polk County was named after the late US President, James K. Polk, and the construction of its first courthouse in 1846 led to rapid growth and commercial settlement. Polk County is a diverse area with almost 14% of its population being foreign-born. This statistic is slated to steadily rise throughout the next several years. Compared to other counties, Polk County has an unusually high number of finance, insurance, scientific, and technical jobs. Due to this, one of the top domestic products in Polk County is machinery, closely followed by cereal grains due to Iowa's rich, farmable soil.

History of Polk County

In January of 1864, the legislative body of Iowa authorized the creation of 12 counties, Polk County being one of them. This formative and populous area is truly a historical spectacle, with a rich set of archives and records. The first marriages, deaths, and births in the county are very well recorded, as well as other historical events. Polk County held its first election on April 6th, 1846 in one of its old Dragoon buildings. The dragoons have a rich history in Polk County and Iowa in general, as they were the only mounted troops in the United States when they were first organized in 1833. They were considered one of the most elite fighting forces, trained in combat on horseback and on foot.

Polk County Geography

According to the US Census Bureau, Polk County has a total land area of 592 square miles, of which around 18 square miles is water. Most of the wet area is taken up by the Des Moines River, which bisects the county. The Des Moines River is a tributary of the Mississippi River and flows through the county from the northwest to the southeast. The origin of the river's name, which is the namesake of the county seat, is highly debated. However, most agree that early French explorers named it La Rivière des Moines, French for "River of the Monks." This may have referred to the Trappist Monk population which were some of the first people to settle along the banks of the Des Moines. Although this river highly contributed to the development of civilization and Polk County in general, it has a history of seasonal flooding. On May 23rd, 1993, the levee began to collapse, flooding much of the surrounding area and forcing the evacuation of Des Moines and nearby settlements.

Polk County Demographics

In 2018, the largest ethnic groups in Polk County included Non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanic Whites, and Non-Hispanic African Americans. However, the county population is also home to about 5% of Non-Hispanic Asians, 2.8% of Non-Hispanic multiracials, 0.13% of Native Americans, and 0.05% of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. Approximately 94% of residents in Polk County have United States citizenship, which is higher than the national average of 93%.

Polk County Economy

The economy of Polk County, Iowa employs approximately 262,000 people. Although the highest paying trades include public administration, utilities, and scientific services, the majority of the population has jobs in the health care, social assistance, finance and insurance sectors. The median household income in Polk County is $68,291, which is growing at approximately 3.4% per year.

Polk County Attractions

Polk County is full of amazing parks and attractions that suit explorers of all tastes. One of the most beautiful, however, is the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. This attraction will allow you to stop and smell the flowers in the fourteen diverse gardens of this cultural institution. With a large variety of educational programming and outreach events, you can curate your own unique experience in this full-day adventure. The Des Moines Botanical Garden is sure to bring its collection of exotic orchids, flowering plants, shady palm trees, cacti, and bromeliads to your fingertips. This attraction is truly a spectacle and is an activity that will truly kindle your spirit and refresh the senses.

The Des Moines Art Center is another popular destination for tourists and art enthusiasts alike. It is home to an extensive collection of sculptures, modern art, paintings, and mixed media. For those looking to reignite their passion and curiosity, visiting this transformative art center is sure to promote feelings of imagination and creativity.

Blank Park Zoo is another attraction located in the Greater Des Moines area. Not only does this park offer scenic, spacious, and naturally landscaped outdoor environments for its visitors, but also for its animals!! The mission of the Blank Park Zoo is to inspire an appreciation for the natural world through its outreach efforts, research, and recreational activities. The zoo features 49 acres of land, 22 of which have been developed into facilities for their animals. With over 104 different species and upwards of 1,500 specimens, the Blank Park Zoo is truly Iowa's wildest adventure.

A great venue for families of all ages is the Iowa Hall of Pride, located in the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines. It is an interactive exhibit filled with a mind-boggling amount of attractions that tell the stories of Iowa's communities and heroes. Students in grades K-12 are admitted completely free of charge and sports fans will rejoice to relive the stories and glories of notable Iowan athletes. Kids will also have tons of fun in the game room, allowing them to test their skills in virtual football, basketball, soccer, and more.

For those looking for a more laid-back adventure, Polk County is also home to a dazzling amount of parks and trails consisting of over 15,000 acres of prairie, wetlands, woodlands, and parkland. Some of these natural areas include the Jester Park Nature Center, Beaver Creek Greenbelt, Caney Marsh, Easter Lake Park, and Fort Des Moines Park. Most of these facilities offer a wide array of activities such as tent and RV camping, hiking trails, horseback riding, canoeing and kayaking, picnicking, birding, snowshoeing, educational programming, and hunting and fishing. Many of these activities are free and open to the public, allowing visitors to have an enjoyable and memorable experience on a budget.

Additional Polk County Information