This sprawling taproom/restaurant with a huge outdoor patio dotted with fire pits south of the U of Iowa turned out to be a perfect place to have a beer (very good beer) after watching Northwestern play baseball against Maryland (yes, Maryland, not U of Iowa…it’s a Covid thing) on a strange weather day that began with grey skies and hail/sleet and ended with breezy sunshine. Fun afternoon with my sister Jill and her husband Scott. Only wish their son Hank, Northwestern pitcher extraordinaire could have joined us.
P.s.Sandwiches and salads for lunch at The Bread Garden also fit the bill, easy in and out before the big game.
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
Michelle Martin, for Think Iowa City
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.”
We almost never stay at a hip hotel but decided to bunk at The Hotel Vetro, a sleek high rise overlooking Iowa city’s ped mall (a mixed bag, we discovered) during a February trip here to see/hear Rosanne Cash at University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium. (Nice to hear a female singer whose voice has held up as she’s gotten older.)
Although we decided to stay overnight because I was concerned about possible snow or ice-slicked roads common in February, the weather was actually fine. So we could have barreled home on Interstate 80 after the concert. But it was nice not to have to. I looked for our usual cheap Airbnb or old school bed & breakfast but the Hotel Vetro room ($144) was fairly comparable price wise so we went for it. It was fun to be right in the middle of the action downtown — except late at night when loud kids left the many bars. I could hear women’s piercing laughter and yelling in particular, especially near closing time at 2 a.m. (I developed a sudden intense cold so didn’t sleep most of the night, even without the drunk kids.)
We went to a few favorite shops – Textiles, Design Ranch, Active Endeavors,Iowa artisans…and made obligatory book purchases at Prairie Lights. Dinner at Pullman’s was excellent – crunchy slightly spicy fried chicken with soft biscuits and fresh honey, a burger sandwich with crispy fries and who knew they have homemade grapefruit for this sneezing customer?
Hancher is always a great. We love the new Caesar Pelli building, much more than the previous one destroyed by a flood. I’ve gotten to the age where I appreciate watching a band (in this case folk/Americana with five excellent musicians) from the comfort of a plush seat. It felt very relaxing, civilized. Okay, I’m getting old (although I did sit in a patch of dirt on a hillside last summer for the Hinterland festival outside Des Moines, listening to live music by Brandi Carlisle, Maggie Rogers, etc.)
Brunch was at the fabulous Rapid City Cidery, in an airy building made of old barn wood overlooking an apple orchard (Wilson’s) in the countryside just north of Iowa City. Operated by the James Beard Foundation-nominated former chef/owner of the now-closed Lincoln Cafe in Mount Vernon, Iowa, the cidery’s food did not disappoint. My omelette had perfectly cooked fresh fancy mushrooms, olives and feta. Dirck’s more standard fare was all about fresh ingredients prepared well – two bright yellow fried eggs, long pieces of crunchy bacon, roasted potatoes, a biscuit served with homemade apple butter. We need to get back there some day for dinner.
A high school classmate I haven’t seen since high school (i.e. 41 years ago) who lives in Iowa City introduced me to a restaurant there – Crepes DeLuxe. It’s a charming little hole in the wall just east of the PedMall (and the public library). I recommend the salmon crepe. I also did a little shopping, finding a very warm hat/scarf at White Rabbit and some great clothes (Simpli brand!) on sale (albeit still pricey) at Textiles.
I also toured the U of Iowa Women’s Archives, on the third floor of the main library, which has a remarkable collection of papers, journals and memorabilia from Iowa women dating back to the 1800’s. Wandering through library shelves with archival boxes, glancing at the neat labels, I found everything from prominent politicians and philanthropists to rural/farm women, African-American women, Jewish women and Latinas in Iowa. Proud to say that someday, it will also include my journals, 73 and counting, which I’ve kept daily since I was 13. I really enjoyed looking at a farm woman’s journal from the 1880’s – with yellowed pages and faded ink. Her family wisely took it upon themselves to transcribe the journal for posterity onto crisp typed sheets. (Although I won’t be asking my family to follow suit…)
Opened in 1992 by Des Moines philanthropist/activist/feminist/art collector Louise Noun and Mary Chase Smith (an Iowan who chaired the Republican National Committee in the 1970s), the Women’s Archives is one of only a few in the country, I gather. Noun, a major art collector, sold one of her Frida Kahlo paintings for $1.65 million to endow the archive.
More from Wikipedia:
The idea was conceived by Noun in the 1960s while researching Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa. To fund the archives, Noun sold Frida Kahlo‘s 1947 painting “Self-Portrait with Loose Hair” at Christie’s New York for 1.65 million dollars. The sale set a record for the most expensive work by a Latin American artist ever sold at auction. The painting was originally purchased by Noun for $85,000 in 1983. The University of Iowa Foundation undertook fundraising to contribute half a million dollars for the archives, which opened in 1992. The Louise Noun-Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women’s Archives is open to the public and currently contains over 1100 manuscript collections of personal papers and records which record women’s history in Iowa and other communities.
We drove right past the Grant Wood Studio in downtown Cedar Rapids. Who knew it was tucked above a carriage house behind a former funeral home? But very glad we found it because it was really interesting. We watched a short film about Woods’ life in and around Cedar Rapids and then walked up an outdoor staircase to a small second-floor loft above the carriage house where Grant lived with his mother (and sometimes his sister) and painted some of his most famous paintings, reproductions of which were propped up on an easel in the middle of the main room, a white-walled room with heavy wood beams and lots of natural light flooding in from big windows and a cupola.
We walked a few blocks to the Cedar Rapids Art Museum where we saw some of the paintings Wood painted in the loft – which was pretty cool. We also sawother interesting work including paintings by Wood’s friend/lesser-known artist Marvin Cone and an interesting exhibit of World War I themed paintings done by a 21st century painter.
Cedar Rapids’ indoor public market, Newbo seems to still be doing well (at least it was full of tenants and shoppers/eaters, and it proved to be a good place to pick up a quick bite t before we hit the museum/studio tour).
Dirck was craving a burger so we stopped in Iowa City at Shine’s at about 4 p.m. and found out there’s a Sunday special – until 5 p.m. We each had burgers and fries for $12.73 total. Cheapest dinner we’ve had in a very long time. Maybe ever. The weather was so pretty that we decided to take backroads home, following F52 and a few other remote roller-coaster roads south of Interstate 80. They often struck us as “RAGBRAI roads.” We sometimes lost our way but found cool things including an unusually grant Romanesque church (St. Michael’s Catholic) in the small unincorporated town of Holbrook, circa 1867 (according to the National Historic Register plaque nearby.) Several old gravestones dated back to the 1880’s and most are Irish settlers. More details here.
I’ve lately become obsessed with the music of young singer-songwriter Julien Baker, so I was delighted to see she’ll be in Iowa City during the six-day Mission Creek Festival in April (she’s playing at Gabe’s on April 7, from what I can tell.) Also see S. Carey is part of the festival too…which has me thinking I need to look into the festival itself! Here’s more information: http://missioncreekfestival.com/
What a treat to see the NYC Ballet for the first time in ages – and the first time in Iowa. Apparently, this was the company’s first visit to Iowa City, so I’m guessing it’s the first visit to Iowa since Iowa City hosts the state’s best dance performances (although Des Moines is improving!). The company was superb, as always, and it was a particular treat to see Iowa City native Miriam Miller dance – including in a sensational, sensual duet choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon (who choreographed The Joffrey’s new nutcracker, which we saw last year during our first visit to the new Hancher.) Speaking of which, the new Hancher is stunning — I like it better than the old one. It feels smaller, more intimate, more vertical than horizontal, more peaceful with calming colors (seafoam green, grey, tan wood) and plush upholstered seats. Having sat in the balcony and on the floor, close to the stage, I’m not sure there is a seat with a bad view. (Our floor seats were way off to the side but we saw the vast majority of the stage.).
Dinner was a Takanami– for sushi and tempura, which was a nice change from all the heavy food we ate in the Deep South. We couldn’t deal with more burgers, ribs or fried chicken. We were tempted to try the new (or new to us) Szechuan Chinese restaurant, Bashu, that opened where the Linn Street Cafe used to be but it looked a little too authentic for a before-theater/meal. Didn’t want to get an upset stomach. Locals seem to be loyal to Szechuan House.
I would not advise doing what we just did – riding the strenuous bike trail in North Liberty, near Iowa City – in 94 degree heat. But it was Sept. 23 and we were thinking “crisp fall day,” even after weather reports forecasting near-record heat.
The roadside trail had its pretty moments as we cycled south from Penn Meadows Park on Dubuque Street, past high dry corn and rolling, wooded properties near Coralville Lake. There wasn’t too much road traffic but when we turned right onto Oakdale Avenue, we were deep in new subdivision land – not my favorite scenery. We found much the same heading north on 12th Street back toward town. There were also some killer little roller coaster bits, all the more killer in the heat. So not sure we’ll be doing this trail again. My quest to find a great trail in the rural countryside near Iowa City continues….
We did appreciate the cold AC and sorbet inside Heyn’s Ice Cream, locally-owned and made, inside a charming corner store with an old-fashioned counter, in North Liberty.
We also took a very pretty drive to get to North Liberty from Wilson’s Orchard (a pretty place just north of Iowa City off Highway One that was packed with sweaty families with sweaty kids trying to pick apples on a ridiculously hot fall day. Good cider, donuts and, of course, apples. on trees in orchards lining a deep valley with weeping willows). The drive included a section of RAGBRAI we rode a few years ago (very scenic but rolling, with lots of gentleman farms with white picket fences, perfect barns and big new houses that reminded me a bit of horse country outside Nashville).
Turning west off Highway One past a party barn, onto country road F8W/Newport Road, we stumbled upon a picture postcard perfect farm stand,Iowa Grown Market, (open June – October) where we could not resist buying some carrots, cherry tomatoes, a mottled pumpkin and a few other things we thought would survive sitting for hours in the heat in our car. (They did survive.)
Wilson’s Orchard (and sadly, the kids are looking at cellphones, not the view…)
In Iowa City, we had another very good lunch at the Bluebird Cafe (splitting the pulled pork sandwich, our favorite from last visit, and a good Greek salad) and stopped for frozen yogurt with “popping juice pearls” (kiwi/green; strawberry/red, passion fruit/yellow) at Yotopia (also locally-owned and made) before braving Kinnick Stadium to sit with thousands of other hot football fans (quite a few inebriated – this was a 6:30 p.m. game) watching the University of Iowa Hawkeyes lose (narrowly) to Penn State.
Nothing like a walk along the sandy shores of Lake Michigan to loosen up my aching back after a night on a too hard mattress at an Airbnb in Sawyer. And at the end of our walk on the near deserted shore, on a gorgeous unexpectedly warm fall morning, it was easy to feel optimistic about life.
Later, we had my dream picnic (smoked whitefish, raspberries and russet apples, all fresh fromMichigan) at a not quite perfect picnic spot– aa concrete picnic table at a rest stop along I-80, just over the border in Illinois.
We explored some more of the area around Sawyer, getting coffee at Infusco and produce at the local greenhouse including more raspberries and heirloom tomatoes. WE drove on a beautiful morning around Lakeside, spotting some fancy vacation homes off narrow dirt roads cut into the woods. new Buffalo didn’t make much of an impression but we liked the area around it and can see why it draws big city folk from Chicago (only an hour away).
Dinner was in Iowa City at Pullman, a newcomer that has been on our list for awhile for good reason, as it turned out. Delicious fried chicken and over-the-top “kitchen fries” with crispy fries, melts cheese, a mustard sauce and bits of what tasted like burnt ends from the best Kansas City rib joints. BAck to cottage cheese and carrots today in Des Moines.