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  • Posted May 8, 2013
I had a day of vacation I had to use, so Monday June 29th looked to be a good day for some trail exploration. Riding on a weekday when most people are at work is a great feeling!

Living in Ankeny and wanting to ride from my door, I was looking for a longer ride (80+ miles) to use as a training ride for the upcoming Almanzo 100 gravel race in Minnesota in June.

I chose the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail (aka HOINT) which is roughly 28 miles long, and Chichaqua Valley Trail which is 20 miles one way.

The HOINT is one of the last few longer non-paved trails in Central Iowa. I had ridden this trail before a few times, but never made it more than a couple of miles past Cambridge. Don't expect pristine conditions like many of the other new trails in Central Iowa. "El Natural" is what you will find on this trail. And "El Natural" is why I love this trail. This is not a trail for your Madone or 23c road bike. If you are looking for a bit of an adventure, then this trail is for you! With Crushed limestone, sand, dirts, washouts, ruts, tree branches, a few horse dropping, you'll also see all sorts of wildlife, cool bridge views, scenic prairies and some pretty cool small Iowa towns to pass through.

Here is the explanation from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation: This trail offers expansive views plus significant prairie remnants east of Slater, a pioneer cemetery and historical museum in Maxwell, heavily wooded tracts near Cambridge and Maxwell and two wetland areas west of Cambridge. A double track allows room for horses. Between Collins and Rhodes, trail users cross the Hoy Bridge, which is 212 feet long and 60 feet tall. This unique, massive concrete arch bridge was built in 1912 to accommodate a double railroad over Clear Creek.

Chichaqua Valley Trail is a scenic recreational trail begins just east of Bondurant and extends for 20 miles to the town of Baxter. This was the trail that was closed for over a year and a half due to flood damage a couple of years ago.
I had ridden it all once last year, but wanted to see how it was faring this year.

Bike of Choice

My gravel and cyclocross bike - the Trek Cronus with 42c Schwalbe Marathon Extreme tires. I added my Revelate Tangle frame bag to hold a 60 oz bladder, wallet, a small phone charger, and a few GUs. At some point in time, I will post another review of the Revelate products I have been using. they rock.

The Trip

Rolling to Slater
I rolled out around 9am headed North of Ankeny to the gravel. I could have taken the High Trestle Trail from Ankeny, but wanted a little "extra", so I took gravel. Within a couple of miles I had peeled off my lightweight windbreaker and was in short sleeves for pretty much the first time this year.

At mile 4, I could feel the fatigue in my legs from riding a New Belgium single-speed cruiser 60+ miles on Saturday and about 15 miles of single-speed mountain biking on Sunday. I needed to "spin-out" the fatigue fast or else it was gonna be one long day!
It was 15 miles from my doorstep to the intersection of the HOINT Trail which is about 3/4 mile from Slater. I decided to ride into Slater to get some photos of the trail-head.

The cool part about the HOINT is that is connects right to the High Trestle Trail. I'm under the impression most folks have never ridden this trail. You can see the trail-head as you pass by the Nite Hawk Lounge. You can veer right where you normally turn left to Madrid.

Slater to Huxley - 4 miles
After some photos in Slater, I rolled East toward Huxley. The trail was in decent shape. All Flat, and the limestone was packed well with a fews sandy spots, small ruts and washouts here and there.
The trail becomes paved in Huxley as you roll past an outdoor band shelter before passing Main street and heading back out of town.

Huxley to Cambridge - 4 miles
Same Trail conditions on this stretch with a little more winding and elevation. Once to Cambridge, I rolled up Main street just to check out the businesses and then rolled back on a couple of residential streets. This section reminds me of the old Great Western Trail to Cumming. Yes youngsters... at one time it too was a limestone trail.

Cambridge to Maxwell - 7.6 miles
The trail starts to wind a bit more with some small elevation changes. Right outside of Cambridge is a new bridge that's worth a stop just to look over the sides. I had to take a quick spin around town.

Maxwell to Collins - 5.3 miles
The trail is paved in small sections around Maxwell and turns back to crushed limestone as you leave town. There is another newer bridge just outside of Collins that I stopped at for photos, water and a Gu. Once into Collins, I took a spin around, but could not find the trail out of town. I brought up the map up on my phone, but could not read it very well with the sun and small print. I ended up taking a gravel road probably 3 miles longer than it should have been, but I was Ok with that, as I was on vacation. After getting home I looked the map and I was supposed to take the paved road out of town for close to 2 miles. I liked my gravel stretch better anyways.

Collins to Rhodes - 7.3 miles
Definitely my favorite part of the trail. This was probably the least maintained, and the most scenic and adventure-like. About 1/2 way to Rhodes was another bridge which I stopped at to gander over the side. I noticed an outlook at the bottom of the bridge. It was the Hoy Bridge. I can honestly say, I'd never heard of it. I took a couple of photos,and took off again... About 100 yard past it, I decided to turn around and walk down to the overlook. I was sure GLAD I did because the view was the highlight of the trail! As you can see by the photos, the bridge domed architecture was a site to be seen. I suggest you don't pass up this stop!

Rhodes to Melbourne - 5 miles (err... a change of plans) to Baxter 10 miles
I intended to ride to Melbourne, but I was running a bit behind, and had planned on lunch in Baxter. The route to Melbourne from Rhodes is a gravel road with trail plans in the future. I made the decision to ride gravel from Rhodes to Baxter to catch the Chichaqua Valley Trail. A quick entry in Google Maps on my phone shot me in the right direction. It was 10 miles of pretty dang hilly gravel. I had kept a pretty fast pace along the entire HOINT trail, and the last couple of gravel hills had brought a nice burn to my legs.

I wanted to stop at Cadillac Jacks for a beer and a big burger, but knowing I was "training" for a 100 mile gravel race in early June, I decided to just stop at a convenience store on the outskirts of town for my meal. 3 pieces of Sausage/Pepperoni pizza, a chocolate mile, a mountain dew, a Gatorade for the road, and a CamelBak re-fill and I was back on the Baxter city streets headed for the Chichaqua Valley Trail trail-head. I forgot to get photos of the caboose and park there (darn it).

Baxter to Ira - 5.5 miles
With food in my belly, and on a paved trail, I was flying. Ira only has 140 people, but a nice park to stop at. The trail was in great shape and I only saw a couple of ladies walking their dogs, else I had the whole trail to myself.

Ira to Mingo - 4.5 miles
We've rode to Mingo several times from Bondurant for beers at the bar there. It recently changed owners and they look like they are fixing the place up. I did not stop in side, but rode down the street to have a look.

Mingo to Valeria - 4.9 miles
Flew by the small town of Valeria with a population of about 60. There are indications of new trail sections here as this is where the major washouts occurred. I hear there was some major trail re-construction needed here.

Valeria to Trailhead (near of Bondurant) - 6 miles
This stretch is slighly uphill and there is an old railroad Marker that tell that Kansas City is 264 miles away.

Trailhead to Bondurant - 2 miles
You'll be riding on road here. Once you pass highway 65/330 there is new trail through Bondurant.
You'll definitely want lights if you are riding at dusk/dark. There will be new trail construction over the next year that will connect Bondurant to the Chichaqua trail-head, and new trail to connect Bondurant to Des Moines which will be sweet!

Bondurant to Ankeny - Nope
Just outside of Bondurant, I hit mile 82 and was supposed to be somewhere at 5:30. I had the wife pick me up on the side of the road on her way home from work, so I could get home, showered and back out on time.

Photos

See a few photos below and all the photos on this BIKEIOWA Flickr gallery.

Conclusion

A GREAT day on the bike exploring two under-used trails in Central Iowa.

Heart of Iowa Nature Trail - If you want El Natural and a little adventure, this trail is for you. The Hoy bridge is still the highlight, and many of the small towns looked like they had bars or at least one place to get food/drink. I will be hitting this trail several times this year. You'll have much more fun if you leave the skinny tires at home. If you want pristine paved trail - stay on the High Trestle Trail. I hope they NEVER pave this trail. Leave it NATURAL. It is nice to have some low maintenance trails like this.

Chichaqua Valley Trail - An old favorite. The Rail-Trail offers a little elevation, and some great scenery as you make your way to the different towns. Stop at Mingo and Baxter for refreshments!

I highly recommend you ride both these trails and spend some time exploring the trail and the towns they pass through.

Iowa at it's best.
Ride Safe!

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