• Posted Nov 22, 2012

With temperatures forecast in the 70's a day before Thanksgiving, it seemed like a good opportunity to hit the trail and burn some calories before eating too much the following day.

Instead of riding some of the more popular paved trails on this day, I thought it would be fun to explore some segments of the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail that I have never visited before. As both a cycling and railroading afficionado, I looked forward to cycling portions of this former Milwaukee Road right-of-way.

I decided to start at the Huxley Trailhead and work my way east. The trailhead in Huxley has a nice shelter, restrooms and ample parking. Through Huxley, the trail runs through a corridor where the former Milwaukee Railroad once traversed the city. After zig zagging a bit to cross Highway 69, I was back on the right of way headed east toward Cambridge. A new trailhead park looks to be nearing completion on the southeast side of Huxley adjoining the trail.

After crossing under I-35, I encountered a nice mix of wooded ares, prairie remnants, wetlands and farm fields. I made it just in time to the bridge crossing over the Union Pacific "Spine Line" at Cambridge to catch a passing train below. Crossing the Skunk River bridge I had a great view of several bald eagles feeding just north of the bridge.

Between Cambridge and Maxwell as you climb out of the Skunk River valley you go through some deep tree lined cuts through the hills that makes it feel like you're in a tunnel. This stretch also offers some great views of the rolling countryside in this southern part of Story County as you progress on towards Maxwell.

Just before entering Maxwell, I blew a tire and not having a spare tube with me had to use the emergency patch kit for the first time. After taking care of this, I decided to turn around and head back to where I started vs. continuing on to Collins which was my intended destination.

Upon returning to Huxley for a quick lunch, I decided to drive over to east of Collins to check out the segment running from there to Rhodes including the famed Hoy Bridge over Clear Creek. This segment of the trail felt noticeably more remote and traverses some heavily wooded areas with deep cuts through the hilly portion of southeast Story and southwest Marshall Counties.

The Hoy Bridge didn't disappoint with spectacular views of the countryside below as well as the impressive architecture of the bridge itself. Not far to the west of the bridge where the trail curves is the site of a 1902 train wreck where 13 individuals were lost. In Rhodes there is a trailhead at the south end of their Main Street where you can access the east end of the trail.

Even today signs of the old "Milwaukee Road" still exist along the trail with many of the original telegraph poles still standing along the way. It's great that portions of this corridor have been preserved as part of three different trail systems in central Iowa - The Heart of Iowa Trail, the High Trestle Trail, and the Raccoon River Valley Trail west of Perry. It's too bad that the entire corridor isn't contiguous from Melbourne all the way to Slater and beyond, but there are efforts to connect some of the short "broken" segments and there are easy detours around them today.

Riding the 'bent with the wider tires was definitely the right choice for this excursion, as the trail is mostly crushed limestone and was soft in some spots. I did encounter one fellow cyclist near Huxley, some folks hiking near Cambridge, and one person jogging on the stretch between Rhodes and Collins.

This trail is certainly a gem and well worth the visit, particularly with the wide variety of landscapes, wildlife, and small towns along it's path. I look forward to riding the segment between Collins and Maxwell on my next visit.




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Thanks for sharing your experience. This trail has been on my list for two or three years but we just have not gotten to it yet. Your story has increased my desire to "get'er done".

#1 - Clovis posted Nov 29, 2012

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