Rolling by the Rivers

Cedar Valley Nature Trail
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Map of Cedar Valley Nature Trail
Cedar Valley Nature Trail.

The Cedar Valley Nature Trail is one of Iowa's premier rails to trails conversions and is a popular 52 mile link between Waterloo and Evansdale on the northwest end of the trail and Hiawatha and Cedar Rapids on the southeast end. The partially wooded corridor was a branch of the Illinois Central Gulf railroad, abandoned in 1977 and opened in 1984 as a recreational trail. Five towns along the route provide various services and points of interest. As with all the rail trails, the crushed limestone surface is level and provides easy biking, making this route appealing to casual riders, families, or those who just want to get out and cruise along, with the trees and fields flying by.

The trail is a designated part of the American Discovery Trail, a coast-to coast route coordinated by the American Hiking Society. In Iowa, this route will include the Raccoon River Valley Trail, the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail, the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, and the Hoover Nature Trail.

Because of its length, the Cedar Valley Trail traverses a good variety of eastern Iowa's scenic diversity. Several natural areas and parks on or near the route provide wooded preserves for further exploration or quiet escape. Trail users will cross the Cedar River, one of Iowa's major drainages, and observe both dynamic and fading examples of the state's rural heritage. Two restored rail stations located outside Gilbertville and in Center Point are historical reminders of the days when the trail corridor was an important inter-city passenger link.

General location: Between Waterloo and Cedar Rapids, roughly paralleling Interstate 380.
Elevation change: This is a very level grade through gently rolling countryside.
Season: Spring through late autumn. The area is generally snow-covered in the winter season.
Services: Restaurants, stores, and parking can be found in each of the major towns along the trail, including Evansdale, Gilbertville, LaPorte City, Brandon, Urbana, Center Point, and Hiawatha. Rest rooms can be found in at least a dozen points along the route. McFarlane County Park near La Porte City has camping and picnicking. All other services, including bike shops, are available in Waterloo or Cedar Rapids.
Hazards: Be aware of the weather conditions during thunderstorm season. On long rides, be sure to carry plenty of water and use sunscreen. Watch for vehicle traffic on crossroads.
Rescue index: Help is as close as the next town.
Land status: Owned and managed jointly by the Linn County Conservation Board and the Blackhawk County Conservation Board.
Maps: Trail maps can be picked up at most of the trailhead stations and can be found in the Iowa trail guide, Enjoy Iowa's Recreation Trails, published by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.

Finding the trail: The terminal trailheads are marked from I 380/exit 25 in Hiawatha and exit 70 in Evansdale. At the Evansdale exit, follow Gilbert Drive east from the north side of the freeway around and under the freeway to the south side, where there is a parking lot. At the well marked Hiawatha trailhead, there is a large parking lot with water and rest rooms. Intermediate access points may be a little less clearly marked; consult the trail map or ask locally. Rail trail access points in small towns are usually located near the old town centers adjacent to commercial facilities that formerly depended upon the railroad, such as grain elevators.

Notes on the trail: Efforts are currently being made to eliminate a 1 mile gap in the trail near Urbana. Trail passes of $2 are required and are available at various businesses or parks in the area.

© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press. All rights reserved.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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