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The High Trestle Trail is one of the most pristine and highly trafficked trails in Iowa—even at night. The trail’s popularity is largely due to its famous 130-foot-tall High Trestle Bridge, which boasts one of the most well-known rail-trail art installations in the country, From Here to There. Wrapped in 43 twisting, diamond-shaped steel ribs lined with LED lights, the bridge elicits the sensation of traveling down a mine shaft—a nod to the area’s coal-mining history.
For individuals strictly interested in viewing the high trestle bridge (note that the trail is open 24 hours a day), there are two ideal entrance points. One, with lots of parking and a historic rail house, is located at the trail’s northern endpoint in Woodward. The other—significantly closer than the Woodward access point—is a small parking area just off the trail outside of Madrid.
If you’re interested in traveling the entirety of the High Trestle Trail, the best place to start is at the west end in Woodward. Exhibits inside the former rail house explore the history of the disused line the trail now inhabits, and art and local signage pay homage to both the trail and the area’s railroad days.
Heading east, the route takes you down a wide concrete path with typical Iowa farmland on either side. As you get closer to the Des Moines River, the landscape becomes more wooded and then opens up to the entrance of the trestle bridge, where you are welcomed by large concrete decorated columns—the beginnings of the art installation From Here to There.
Before entering the bridge, look to your left for a path that leads to an overlook; here you can see a breathtaking view of the trestle as it stretches out over the river. Entering the bridge itself, you’ll be treated to another fantastic view as you are suspended higher and higher out over the river. The bridge’s most notable feature is its collection of steel beams shaped and positioned to give the illusion of gliding movement if you’re bike riding below them. At night, the beams are lined with glowing blue lights that create an otherworldly experience.
Past the bridge, the trail continues straight through forested areas and farmland before bending slightly and heading through the middle of the town of Madrid. Here, you’ll find multiple spots for refreshment along the trail. Note the small tunnel decorated with trail- and railroad-themed paintings.
Leaving Madrid, you begin a long, straight stretch to Slater, passing by the backs of farmhouses, over small creeks, and—depending on the season—by expanses of wildflowers that grow in abundance along the trail. In Slater you’ll also find a couple of spots with shelter, restrooms, and picnic tables for rest and respite. At Carol Street and First Avenue North, the trail makes a sharp right turn and heads southwest along the town’s western edge. Here you can also head straight on First Avenue and then turn left onto the 25.8-mile Heart of Iowa Nature Trail which heads east to Rhodes. Back on the High Trestle Trail, you’ll pass baseball diamonds, a pool, and a park to your right. You’ll then travel through a short expanse of open land outside Slater before entering Sheldahl.
Continuing southward, you’ll pass through more farmland and along blocks of crop fields, after which the trail follows Northwest 58th Street through flat Iowa cropland for several miles. Luckily there is a small oasis with a restroom, water, and a covered seating area just before the trail turns slightly east and heads toward Ankeny. From here, you’ll travel through marshy-looking farms as you pass through a stretch just a couple of miles northeast of Saylorville Lake.
The trail runs diagonally through Ankeny—where farmland is replaced by neighborhoods and businesses—ending about halfway through the town.
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