The Wabash Trace Nature Trail is a 63-mile route, converted from a railroad right-of-way, coursing across the scenic southwest Iowa countryside from Council Bluffs to Blanchard at the Iowa–Missouri border. Don't let the "nature trail" part of its name deceive you. Though rich in wildlife, the Wabash Trace is one of Iowa's longest and most popular rail-trails, teeming with history and local color.
South of Council Bluffs, the trail passes through an area known as the Loess Hills, named for the fine, wind-deposited soils that created the corrugated landscape. The Loess Hills are home to some of the best remaining native prairies and woodlands in the state, and also provide crucial habitat to prairie wildlife such as red-tailed hawks.
The trail's roots go back to the Wabash Railroad, which was one of the most important connections between the farmlands, factories and people of the American heartland and points east in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Indeed, the railroad is perhaps best known for the "Wabash Cannonball," a passenger train that connected St. Louis to Detroit and was enshrined in a popular song from the early 1900s.
The Wabash Trace's surface is primarily crushed limestone, with sections of pavement in the towns of Shenandoah, Malvern and Silver City. Although trail advocates get some help from government agencies, the pathway is still primarily a volunteer-run trail, which accounts for the $1 fee charged for a day pass (a year-long pass costs $10—and is well worth it!).
Every Thursday night, trail users in the Council Bluffs and Mineola areas are invited to join the "Taco Ride," a social outing for supper and good times. For those with horses, an equestrian trail parallels the main Wabash Trace Nature Trail for 9.6 miles from Council Bluffs to Mineola.
At the West Foundation Trailhead Park in Council Bluffs, the trail directly links with the city's Valley View Trail and Lake Manawa Trail.
The Wabash Trace Nature Trail can be accessed in each of the towns it travels through: Council Bluffs, Mineola, Silver City, Malvern, Imogene, Shenandoah, Coin and Blanchard. The most popular starting points are at Iowa West Foundation Trailhead Park in Council Bluffs (northern end) or the Shenandoah trailhead (near the southern end).