The Longest Biking Trail in Iowa

Published: September 21, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/Nastco
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Iowa is a state full of natural wonders. Whether you want to look at stunning, steep rolling hills, towering bluffs that were shaped by glacial deposits from a different era, or fascinating caves, you can find them in Iowa. One great way to explore the state of Iowa is riding through it on a bike. 

If you want to take a tour of part of the Hawkeye State, you’ll be happy to know that there are more than 260 trails here that cover over 5,200 miles of ground. Read on to learn more about the longest biking trail in Iowa!

The Longest Biking Trail in Iowa

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The Raccoon River Valley Trail is the longest biking trail in Iowa, at 89 miles long; 72 miles of this trail form a loop.

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The longest biking trail in Iowa is the Raccoon River Valley Trail, an 89-mile paved trail that starts at the northern trailhead in Jefferson. This trail goes through four counties: Polk, Dallas, Guthrie, and Greene Counties.

This trail follows a path that was once a railway. The majority of this trail (72 miles) is a loop that goes through all sorts of diverse landscapes. These include farmland, woodlands, wetlands, and prairie land. The railroad used to connect the 14 communities through which this trail runs. Now, the trail serves that same purpose.

The Raccoon River Valley Trail Route

Although the Raccoon River Valley Trail is not divided into officially recognized sections, we can divide this very long trail into smaller segments: 

  • Jefferson to Herndon: The northern trailhead is at Jefferson, the location of a former Milwaukee Road depot. Here, there is a drinking fountain, so you can fill up your water bottles for the ride. There are also plenty of parking spaces. When you start biking, you’ll ride south to the farmland of Cooper. Then, you’ll go over a 600-foot trestle bridge over the North Raccoon River. After this, bike 5 more miles to get to Herndon.
  • Herndon to Perry: Herndon is the site of your first trail junction. If you want to continue south and skip ahead towards Yale and Panora, you can. In order to continue around the loop portion of the trail, turn left to travel east. In 7 miles, there is another depot at Dawson, and 6 miles after that is Perry.
  • Perry to Waukee: Perry is one of the larger towns that you’ll see on this trail, and it’s very welcoming to people coming in on the trail. There are many options in terms of lodging and restaurants here. After this, you’ll go southeast through Minburn and then Dallas Center, arriving back at Waukee shortly afterward.
  • Waukee to Herndon: At Waukee, if you’ve decided you’re done riding, you can take the short segment east along Hickman Road (US 6) to the end of the trail in Clive. Alternatively, continue on the loop by going west towards Adel. Then, you will quickly go through Redfield, Linden, and Panora. Here, the trail will veer north, and after 6 miles, you’ll get to Yale. At Yale, there is a huge grain silo and a city park. Bike 5 more miles to get back to Herndon.

Planning for a Tour of Iowa’s Longest Biking Trail

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The Raccoon River Valley Trail is a relatively easy route to ride; the roads are paved with concrete and asphalt and the path is relatively flat.

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Because the trail is so long, if you’re planning to go around the entire loop, there is a chance that you might have to split it up into more than one day. It would then be a good idea to plan out where you’re going to be staying and make sure you have enough money for food as well.

Additionally, you should be aware that using the Raccoon River Valley Trail is going to cost every adult on your trip $2 per day on the trail. All of these proceeds go to conservation boards in counties that are part of the trail. The money will be used for improvements and maintenance of the trail. 

As with any long trail, it’s a good idea to know what the weather is going to be like before setting out on your journey. Even though the trail surfaces are made of asphalt and concrete and won’t be severely altered by inclement weather, most people don’t prefer to ride during heavy rain or snow.

Navigating the Route

Generally speaking, this trail is fairly easy to navigate. It is well-maintained throughout, and there is signage to guide you all around the loop. Depending on when you take your journey, there may be some construction along the way that forces you to take detours. However, for the most part, there generally aren’t too many problems on this trail.

It would be a good idea to know the order of the many communities you are going to pass through while riding along this trail. Having a map of the trail would also be smart. You can find maps on the trail’s official website.

The Raccoon River Valley Trail Difficulty

The Raccoon River Valley Trail is considered to be moderately difficult to easy. The only reason it’s even considered to be somewhat difficult is because of its length. Outside of that, it’s a relatively flat trail. The grade is an average of about 1% or 2% in most locations. Also, the entire loop is paved with either concrete or asphalt.

Additionally, there are many communities situated along the trail. This means there are plenty of places where you can stop for food or lodgings if necessary.

Wildlife on the Longest Biking Trail in Iowa

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The Raccoon River Valley Trail gives cyclists an opportunity to see many of the 1,100 native animals of Iowa.

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Iowa has a temperate climate, although it lies in the humid continental zone of the country. There are many animals and plants here who thrive in that sort of climate.

Iowa is home to more than 1,100 species of wildlife. When you are on the Raccoon River Valley Trail, you are likely to see many of these animals in their natural habitats. These include a variety of birds, including songbirds, shorebirds, and the bobolink – a famous prairie bird of Iowa.

You will also see a variety of amphibians and reptiles if you stop along the lakes and creeks. Bullfrogs and turtles are common. If you go fishing at any point, you are likely to see crappies, walleye, and catfish. There is also a variety of waterfowl, including cranes and ducks.

You’re also pretty likely to see a variety of dragonflies and butterflies flying past you as you ride. There will also be many mammals, small and large. You are likely to see opossums, muskrats, otters, and eastern moles, in addition to white-tailed deer, coyotes, bobcats, and gray foxes.

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