In honor of National Bike Month, I’m compiling some of my favorite routes, tips, and trips for bike-related travel. Stay tuned throughout the month for even more bike-related content!
The best part about sharing some of my local favorites is encouraging others to see familiar places in new ways. One of my favorite ways to do that is from my bike. In Iowa we’re lucky to have hundreds of miles of trails available to riders across the state. From urban trails to rural byways, there are so many beautiful ways to explore Iowa by bike.
Whether you’re a biking novice or an old pro, these three short bike rides (less than 20 miles) are sure to help you experience the Des Moines metro in a new way. While some of these trails may be more than 20 miles in length, each offer easily accessible places for riders to hop on and off to make your ride longer or shorter.
Great Western Trail – 16.5 miles
By far one of my most-traveled trails is the Great Western Trail, which begins near Des Moines’ Water Works Park and continues south for 16.5 miles. Fun fact: The trail is named for the Chicago Great Western Company whose trains operated on this line from 1892 to 1968. You can see a full trail map here.
While a full loop on the Great Western Trail is always fun, my favorite ride ends in Cumming, Iowa. While Taco Tuesday with Tacopocalypse is a Cumming Tap favorite, I prefer the local bar’s Steak Night. Every Wednesday during the summer, the Cumming Tap hosts a steak night where riders can purchase a raw cut to grill outdoors themselves. With some delicious Texas toast and a cold Moscow Mule, there’s no better way to spend a warm Wednesday evening. If you don’t want to add extra miles by biking from home, park on the edge of Water Works Park near Orlondo’s and begin your ride at the trailhead.
High Trestle Trail – 25 miles
If you’re familiar with the High Trestle Trail, it’s likely because of its gorgeous 13-story bridge across the Des Moines River Valley. The 1/2-mile bridge opened to riders in April 2011, and remains one of the largest trail bridges in the world. The bridge’s iconic spiral architecture is a great photo op especially at night when its arches glow blue.
This trail begins in Ankeny, Iowa and continues north to Slater then west to Woodward. If you’re looking for a shorter ride, I recommend starting in Madrid near the Flat Tire Lounge where you can enjoy some well-earned beers after biking the bridge. You can view a full map of the trail here.
Neal Smith Trail – 26 miles
The Neal Smith Trail connects to the city’s downtown trail systems and heads north of the metro toward Saylorville Lake. Park near the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden and almost immediately you’ll forget that you’re in the heart of the city. No matter where you begin, this trail offers a beautiful ride along the Des Moines River.
Bonus points if you make a quick detour to ride the Des Moines Heritage Carousel. You can view a full map of the trail here.