Featured Photo by Catch Des Moines

5 Biking Trails in Iowa Near the Des Moines River Valley

Fall is an excellent time to hit the trails on your bike, enjoy the cooler temperatures, and catch some epic glimpses and views of the fall leaves. Central Iowa is full of scenic trails that pop with color as the leaves begin to change into vibrant reds, oranges, yellows, and browns, and the Des Moines River Valley is no exception. This region of Iowa, in Des Moines and the surrounding areas, has many opportunities for cyclists of all ages and skill levels to hop on their bikes and hit the trails, many of which are paved and accessible for all. From the famous High Trestle Trail that topples over the Des Moines River to the Neal Smith Trail that takes bikers through wildlife and forested areas, here are a few bike trails to check out this fall as the season changes!

5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River

Photo by Catch Des Moines/@justin.p.conner

Originally a railroad line, now decommissioned and turned into a multi-use trail, the High Trestle Trail is one of the most popular and famous rail-trails in Des Moines and is an epic spot to go for a long bike ride. The High Trestle Trail passes through five cities, Woodward, Madrid, Slater, Ankeny, and Sheldahl, stretching for 25 miles, providing the perfect trail destination for bikers who wish to cover several miles on their ride. Perhaps what makes the trail most popular, though, is where it crosses over the Des Moines River on a 13-story high, ½ mile long bridge, making The High Trestle Trail Bridge one of the largest trail bridges in the world. There are six overlooks with interactive panels that trail users can stop at while crossing the bridge, and it even lights up with bright lights after dark throughout the year. Along the path, bikers can find breweries like Firetrucker Brewery and Mistress Brewing Company, cafes such as the Whistlin’ Donkey and Nite Hawk Bar & Grille, plus Swede Point Park in Madrid for those who want to stop and enjoy the surrounding nature.
5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River
The Meredith Trail is a 5.2-mile trail that connects downtown Des Moines to Gray’s Lake Park. Along the way, cyclists will get a beautiful view of downtown Des Moines and the Des Moines River. You can hop on the trail to do some casual riding, or make a fun night out of it and head downtown for some food or a drink. During the fall the path pops with color as the leaves start to change color on the trees following along the trail. One great place to stop that can be reached along Meredith Trail is the Confluence Brewing Company. The brewery is devoted to “creating a confluence of great beer, good friends and wonderful times,” making it a welcoming place to stop for a pint on your ride.
5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River

Photo by Pexels

however, this trail weaves alongside the banks of it, giving cyclists a great view throughout the whole ride. Going through the Ding Darling Greenway conservation area and then continuing on, this trail is a haven for bikers who like to immerse themselves in wildlife and nature while hitting the trail. The Neal Smith Trail takes bikers through various landscapes like riverbanks, wildflower meadows, lakeshores, and dense forests. There are also plenty of places to stop for a break along the trail where you can catch a glimpse of the wildlife, such as deer, rabbits, butterflies, and more while taking a rest.
5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River
Combine history, cyclists, and bikes, and you’ll be describing the West Des Moines Historical Bike Tour. This 8-mile looping bike trail offers cyclists an enjoyable ride in West Des Moines on which they can also learn about the history and culture of the area. The trail will take you to significant historical landmarks of West Des Moines, including the Jordan House, the Red Caboose, Racoon River Park, and nine other locations. The nearby Historic Valley Junction is a great place to stop along the way for lunch or dinner, or to support small, local businesses. This route keeps cyclists in the hustle and bustle of the city, but cyclists can still enjoy the colorful leaves on the trees in town come the fall season.
5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River
A final route to explore on two wheels in the Des Moines River Valley is the Chichaqua Valley Trail. Paved the entire 25 miles from Berwick to Baxter, the trail is a multi-use path used by runners, cyclists, rollerbladers, and all other non-motorized machines. The Chichaqua Valley Trail is an excellent spot for families with kids still learning to ride their bikes, or for skilled cyclists looking to cover a lot of miles. The trail also used to be a railroad route, and trail users can try to spot the mile markers to Kansas City along the way.
Content Writer and Social Media Coordinator. I paint, listen to music, and play with my dogs a lot. When I’m not doing all that, I love to read and try new things.
Maeve Miller

Writer , River Travel Magazine