Selfie overlooking the High Trestle Bridge
For my sister’s final day in Des Moines, we finally got half way decent weather (high 40s!, some sun!) so we took a day trip with our sweet Lab mix rescue dog Millie northwest about 40 miles to the High Trestle Trail. What a treat to have the entire bridge to ourselves on an early spring day — and always a spectacular view and surprising structure to find in the middle of Iowa. (It was recently dubbed by the BBC as one of the world’s eight spectacular foot bridges.)
The good news is that it’s now easier to walk to the bridge quickly along the trail, thanks to a handy sign along highway 210 just west of Madrid, Iowa that helps you clearly find the dirt road (QF Road) that leads to the trailside parking, which is about a ten-minute walk to the bridge.
We stopped at Picket Fence Creamery in nearby Woodward,Iowa and tried a little tub of ice cream and some chocolate milk (that we earlier saw being bottled in the little shop beside the dairy that is on a largely unpopulated dirt road in the country). From there we drove ten minutes further west to the Hotel Pattee which is still hanging in there (last I heard it was for sale again) and is still incredibly impressive, with one-of-a-kind rooms, each decorated with art and artifacts to honor a specific aspect of small town Iowa life. The desk clerk gave us the key to the 1913 farmhouse room but several other rooms were also open so we wandered in them as well (the southeast Asia room, the Irish room, the Russian room…unfortunately the RAGBRAI room wasn’t open)…
Anyway, the three stops made for a perfect half-day road trip from Des Moines, perfect for visitors.
The DM Register has a good profile of the new owner of the Hotel Pattee – a one-of-a-kind gem of a boutique hotel in Perry, Iowa, about 45 minutes west of Des Moines. Here’s hoping he succeeds! In another Register section is a story about the Whiterock Conservancy – a developing tourist attraction about 30 miles west of Perry in Coon Rapids that will offer trails for mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding (more below – it would be great to visit on a perfect fall day like today in Des Moines where the autumn foliage is spectacular this year!). Put these two together and maybe there’s a successful weekend travel package (which has been part of the issue with the Hotel Pattee…since there are limited things for tourists to do there).
In 2000, when I wrote a story for the NYTimes travel section Historic Hybrid in Iowa, NYTimes 11/26/2000 about a stay at the historic Garst Farm in Coon Rapids (which now falls under the umbrella of Whiterock Conservancy and is still a lodging option from what I can glean from the website whiterock conservancy website ) we went on a very memorable 2.5 hours horseback ride with our kids. They were very little (ages 8 and 7) to be riding on such big horses by themselves so I was a bit of a wreck but they survived. I ended the account of our trip with a visit to the Hotel Pattee. It can be done!
Another good activity option near Perry is the High Trestle Trail with it’s awe-inspiring 13-story high bridge, hidden in the middle of nowhere, spanning a glorious river valley.
WHITEROCK, CROSSING A THRESHOLD
Next summer Whiterock will embark on the construction of our long-planned 35 mile backcountry trail!
The entire new backcountry trail will be open to walkers and hikers as it meanders among the forested slopes above the Middle Raccoon River. Sixteen miles of the trail will be a winding single track designed specifically for mountain bikers. Another seven miles will be for equestrians.The final twelve miles will be double track shared by all users, including those using low power vehicles to allow those with mobility restrictions the opportunity to enjoy nature. Trail users will also be able to access nine miles of other existing trails which connect to downtown Coon Rapids and many more miles of river upstream.
We weren’t exactly sure where the closed section of the Neal Smith Trail was, so when we arrived on the trail yesterday – a gorgeous fall day for a bike ride – at the Sycamore Access Trailhead just north of Interstate 80 on NW66th in Johnston and found a big barrier and closed for construction sign, we were bummed. But a man with a strong German accent peddled up and told us how to get around the closed segment, giving us classic Iowa instructions: continue east to the Casey’s (a gas station), turn right, ride for awhile til you get to a short bridge over the Interstate, then take the first right, go past two white farmhouses and you’ll see a black pickup parked next to the trail entrance.
We peddled east on NW 66th, turned right on what my map suggests is NW26th, through a strange no man’s flatland of fields and sandpits and the occasional old house, across a short bridge with battered pavement over I-80 and took the first right at the old white farmhouse (on a street that is NOT on my map) and voila – the trail. OPEN!
Funny that we got this information from a visitor to Des Moines. He spent his first 30 years in Munich but now lives in Wisconsin and was rendezvousing in Des Moines for a bike trip with his brother, who lives in Omaha – and also has an equally strong German accident….He peddled up soon after we started talking. Good to see out-of-staters enjoying Iowa’s trails – they had rode the day before on the High Trestle Trail, the one with the stupendous bridge.)
Just fyi: This from the DNR: A portion of the Neal Smith Biking and Hiking Trail will be closed for repair beginning Aug. 21. The trail will be closed from the Sycamore access to Morningstar Drive in Polk County, a distance of about three miles. Trail repair is expected to be completed in late October, depending on weather conditions.
Just back from our first official visit to the remarkable new 13-story high, 1/2-mile long bridge crossing the Des Moines River on the High Trestle Trail between Woodward and Madrid Iowa. (We visited unofficially – and possibly illegally – last summer when the bridge was under construction.) The former railroad bridge high high above the river has been turned into a dramatic sculptural passageway where riders pass under 41 rust-brown angular steel beams, kind of like riding underneath a hooped tent. (They represent support cribs within an historic coal mine.) At each end of the bridge are four dramatic 42-foot high towers with dark bands that represent veins of coal in the area.
Not sure this description does it justice, but trust me – it’s well worth a visit on bike or on foot.
And the word is out – the trail was full of riders, enjoying not just the bridge but several other amenities that have suddenly popped up along the 25-mile Woodward-to-Ankeny trail, including a really fun bar on the side of the trail in Madrid called the Flat Tire, in a metal Quonset hut that has been neatly outfitted with tables, a bar, very nice bathrooms and a pleasant patio. Place was hopping but easy to get a table. Slater also has a bar that caters to cyclists – the Take Down. But our favorite picnic spot is a mile south in a little park in the small town of Sheldahl. Woodward also has a little cafe in town Cayanne’s, that we’re told has good sandwiches (an egg salad/tuna salad combo…) On the half hour drive back to Des Moines we stopped for an ice cream cone (and super thick chocolate shake) at Heavenly Delight, a cute little shop with a lively neighborhood message board where 12-year-olds babysitters, adult pet sitters and concealed weapons instructors advertise their services…
The High Trestle trail just north of Des Moines officially opens today and here are some places the DMRegister recommends checking out along it:
– Woodward: Lake Robbins Ballroom, Woodward Hardware’s Antique Toy (nuts and bolts and antique toys and other antiques)
– Madrid – Baldy’s Chill and Grill opening soon in the old American Legion building
– Slater – Snus HIll Winery, with a tasting room, a mile north of the trail along a gravel road
– The Bridge, of course: A 13-story high bridge originally built in 1973 that has been redesigned with six overlooks, four art installation/towers at each end and 41 steel frames overhead that light up in the dark.
Last year, we jumped the gun and biked on central Iowa’s new High Trestle Trail several times, even crossing what was then the still-under construction 1/2-mile long and 13 stories tall bridge that is the trail’s crowning glory. But now apparently, the whole trail is ready for business and there’s a grand celebration on Saturday April 30 in the towns along it – including Ankeny, Sheldahl, Slater, Madrid and Woodward. The celebration includes music, food, art and stuff for kids. The 25-mile trail connects to 670 mils of the Central Iowa Trail Network. The bridge itself is a sight to behold!
For more info see hightrestletrail.info
We have now ridden the entire 20 miles of the High Trestle trail – and it’s a nice addition to the trail offerings in this area. Earlier we did the Ankeny to Slater portion. Yesterday we did the Slater to just past Madrid bit – and it was a pleasant trail through wide open cornfields, with a few portions canopied by trees. Just past Madrid the smooth concrete trail goes native – becoming a bumpy gravel trail that leads for about a mile to the Des Moines River and the new High Trestle Trail bridge which is really great. It’s not done yet but we were surprised that we could walk – and even ride if we want – across it. We parked our bikes at the edge and walked onto the bridge to catch the glorious view of the broad river and tree-covered banks, with the occasional motorboat speeding underneath the bridge. A young couple rode their bikes east across the bridge and reported that there was a gravel trail/road on the other side, to date. How great it will be when the bridge opens and the trail going further west is paved!
We had a nice picnic in a pretty little town park in Madrid, near the public library. No one there, just us and the flies.
Just in time for spring comes word that the long-awaited 25-mile High Trestle Trail (previously known as the Ankeny to Woodward trail) north of Des Moines is almost completely ready for riding. Twenty miles of the trail – along a former rail bed – from Ankeny to Sheldahl and Slater to Madrid is largely finished. But the really cool part – the 13-story half-mile trestle bridge across the Des Moines River Valley, which would be one of the country’s largest trail bridges – won’t be done until next fall. T o be honest, I’ve long been unclear about when and where to ride this trail. See if you can figure it out from: a2wtrail.org.