We have never had much luck finding a good bike trail in Iowa City — especially compared to the many well-laid out trails in Des Moines. But maybe this story will help. (I’m not a huge fan of “sponsored content” stories in the Register but this one may be worth a read.)
Iowa City offers a wide variety of urban and rural bike adventures
Biking has grown in popularity over the past year, and that’s expected to continue as the weather warms up this spring. But finding the right cycling route — whether it’s a leisurely countryside trek or a thrilling gravel ride –– can be challenging. Iowa City, however, is a cyclist’s paradise.
Whether it’s in the city or country, on paved or bumpy roads, or along flat or hilly paths, Iowa City has excursions for every biking enthusiast. At BikeIowaCity.com, riders can find maps, points of interest and special alerts for their biking adventures. Cyclists can even easily locate brewery and winery stops along the way of their planned ride!
“The Iowa City area is the perfect destination for cyclists of all styles,” said Jennifer Horn-Frasier, Iowa City resident and cycling enthusiast. “The community is designated as Bike Friendly, and that’s reflected in the hotel and restaurant amenities. Iowa City and Coralville have so much diversity in the biking options available. From mountain biking along the river to cyclocross in the woods to gravel grinding across the country roads to paved routes with conveniently placed taverns, this area really is the hidden gem for cycling destinations.”
In addition to customized excursions, the city will host the granGABLE powered by Scheels cycling event on May 1 in honor of legendary wrestler and coach Dan Gable. Cyclists can choose from the 60-mile gravel grinder, 60-mile road ride, or challenge themselves in the honor of Gable and ride the full 100-mile fondo.
Looking to ride your own adventure in Iowa City? Here are some biking excursions for people of every experience level.
Road Ride and Paved Trail Adventures
Whether it’s a short 10-mile ride along city streets or a 66-mile excursion through Amish communities, Bike Iowa City has identified road and paved trail adventures for beginner, immediate and advanced riders.
The 10-mile Lake and Fields excursion takes beginner bicyclists on streets and paved trails to ride around the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area and a soccer park –– and even makes a recommendation for a taproom stop on the way back. Meanwhile, the Peaceful Roll, also geared toward beginners, is an easy 14-mile spin over gently rolling hills and includes a recommended stop at one of the eateries in downtown Solon.
Intermediate riders will enjoy the 23-mile To the Bridge excursion, which takes them over the historic Sutliff Bridge and provides picturesque views of the Cedar River. Buggy Traffic Jam, also for intermediate riders, offers a 30-mile trek through the local Amish community.
And while Bike Iowa City’s 27-mile The Wall might not sound too taxing for advanced riders, it has 1,305 feet of climbing. For an even higher climb — and to boldly go where no man has gone before — the Everything from Buggies to Starships, a 66-mile, 1,921-foot climb, goes through the Amish communities and past the Star Trek Museum in Riverside.
Gravel Bike Adventures
The 25-mile beginner excursion Pancakes, Anyone? is named for its flat-like-a-pancake roads –– but it also offers three miles of minimally maintained dirt roads that are a lot of fun in good weather (use caution when riding in wet, muddy conditions). Another great beginner gravel excursion is the Octagonal Barn Loop, 25 miles of riding through farm communities –– including riding past the 1883 Secrest Octagonal Barn, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. About 18 miles into the ride, you’ll come to a 1-mile stretch of gravel road.
Intermediate riders will enjoy Westward Ho!, 53 miles and 2,506 feet of climbing through western Johnson County and along the edge of Kent State Park. And Let’s Go to the River, a 47-mile and 2,060-foot climb that begins and ends in downtown Solon, offers plenty of options for after-biking refreshments.
For advanced riders, the Gritty –– 105 miles and 2,430 feet of climbing –– takes riders from the Johnson County Fairgrounds into Riverside, the future home of Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk. It continues through Amish farms and into the town of Tiffin before ending with a relaxing descent home. And although October is when gravel riders test themselves with the Iowa City Gravel Event, advanced riders can do it any time along the Iowa City Gravel Imperial Century excursion. The ride goes from River Junction across the Sutliff Bridge, past the Secrest Octagonal Barn and past a few small, but highly recommended, watering holes.
A short six miles, the Woodpecker Single Track is ideal for beginners and intermediate riders. It starts at the Tom Harken Trailhead and travels through a wooded area along Clear Creek in Coralville. (It’s also popular with beginner and intermediate fat tire bike riders.) There are a lot of wooden bridges, sandy soil and families of deer along the way –– and in winter, local riders often enjoy a stop to go snowshoeing.
Another great off-road excursion is Sugar Bottom, appropriate for all experience levels. The Sugar Bottom Recreation Area offers 12 miles and 1,400 feet of climbing along hand-built trails. Camping is also available in the recreation area.
Cyclocross and Fat Bike Adventures
Cyclocross riders of all levels will enjoy Coralville Creekside Cross, a 2.6-mile single track course in the featuring scenic views, wooden bridges and flow features. The path is open July 1 through winter, and again when the spring thaw begins.
And for cyclocross enthusiasts, the Jingle Cross Cyclocross Festival –– scheduled Oct. 15-17, 2021 –– is a must-experience event as it is once again a stop on the UCI World Cup circuit, bringing the best in the world to the Midwest. More information is available at jinglecross.com.
Those who are new to fat bike riding will enjoy visiting the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area at the site of the annual I AM FAT Fat Bike Enduro. The recreation area offers three miles of trails and 12 feet of climbing.
“When visiting cyclists leave Iowa City, they are already planning their next trip back to see what else they can try,” said Nick Pfeiffer, vice president of marketing at Think Iowa City, the local visitors information center. “That’s the beauty of the area. It constantly reinvents itself.”