Midwest Adventures: Iowa by Bike


At this point, it’s universally understood that everything about daily life is different — and will be for the foreseeable future. However, just because things are different doesn’t mean we can’t still find adventure. The Midwest offers plenty of opportunities to remain safe while exploring its hidden gems, like in Iowa. A network of trails seamlessly connects cyclists from Des Moines to Ames with scenic stops along the way. Joe, an avid cyclist, is going to take you along for the ride. 

Joe started his day in downtown Des Moines. The city is easy to navigate due to accessibility. Whether you choose to bike for leisure or to get to work, a plethora of bike lanes and trails are available. Paved biking and walking paths following the Des Moines River, Walnut Creek, and Raccoon River create a nature highway. The Clive Greenbelt and Colby Woods trails also allow for safe access downtown. 

To get to the first destination, Saylorville Lake, Joe took the Neal Smith trail. Conveniently, the trail also starts downtown and leads right to the lake. Along the way, the scenery consisted of peaceful riverside forestry. The calm was broken up by the sound of wind and woodland creatures moving about. After about an hour of biking, Jester Park at Saylorville Lake was the perfect rest point. The lake offers boating, fishing, camping, and wildlife watching. 

Nearby, there’s a butterfly garden that would make for a colorful, whimsical rest spot or photo opportunity. Short, serene trails are lined with flowers. However, if you want to get a little more adventurous, the Sycamore trail system, which runs next to the west side of the Des Moines river from NW 66th Avenue in Johnston to 2353 Euclid Avenue in Des Moines, features some flowy and mellow singletrack—mountain biking trails the width of a bike. It’s easy to soak in the surroundings and escape reality in Saylorville. 

Once rested, Joe hopped back on his bike to head to the Marina at Big Creek Lake, which is just Northeast of Saylorville and is a little under an hour away by bike. From downtown, it’s about a half-hour drive or hour-and-a-half bike ride. As a no-wake lake, it’s still and tranquil—almost as if the surrounding trees are holding their breath. Swimming and non-motorized water sports make it easy to spend a day out on the water. If you don’t have your own equipment, the marina has a large fleet of watercraft, from kayaks to pontoon boats. 

The lake is part of the bigger Big Creek State Park, a beautiful location to watch the sunrise or sunset. If you crave a little more activity, check out the disc golf course.

Next on the agenda for Joe was a ride to Slater. The route showcases Iowa’s rolling hills and wide shoulders—great for cyclists. Logging miles on the open road is much more beautiful than settling for a treadmill. It was just one country road along the way up to the final destination. 

After a full day of biking, Joe ended at Stuart Smith Park in Ames. Surrounded by Jack Trice Stadium and the Iowa State University campus, Stuart Smith Park has a paved bike area next to Squaw Creek. It’s perfect for social distancing and fall picnics. 

Even if cycling isn’t your forte, these locations are easily accessible by car and foot. Remaining active and getting fresh air is key to staying mentally recharged and avoiding burnout. Kayaking across a lake on a gorgeous sunny day is the perfect foil for Zoom fatigue. 

And if you don’t have a full day to go biking, the trails in Iowa still provide endless opportunities to get outside and explore. Shorter routes include Horseshoe Lake, only 35 minutes by bike from downtown, or Riverview Park, only 15-20 minutes by bike. Getting out of the house to be active and embrace the Midwest in all its glory feeds the soul. 

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