About this Itinerary
In eastern Iowa, the 52-mile Cedar Valley Nature Trail follows the floodplain of the Cedar River to connect Hiawatha to Evansdale. Farm and wetlands provide the backdrop for most of this rural route though the trail courses through several small communities along its way. The Cedar Valley Nature Trail (CVNT) follows the abandoned railroad right-of-way of the old Waterloo, Cedar Falls & Northern and is relatively flat with a grade of less than 2 percent. It is important to note, however, that the trail consists of both asphalted and limestone-chip surfaces so trail conditions may vary widely. The CVNT runs through four counties and is maintained by both the Black Hawk and Linn County Conservation Boards. Contact these organizations or the Cedar Trails Partnership for current trail information.
We suggest a two-day itinerary beginning and ending in Cedar Rapids. Please note that our itinerary is longer than the 52-mile CVNT trail itself. There are no overnight accommodations in Evansdale and our itinerary tacks on an additional 13 miles to Cedar Falls for lodging at the historic Blackhawk Hotel. If you are interested in a one-way ride, prearrange with friends or family for a shuttle pick-up in Evansdale. Flying into the Eastern Iowa Airport, you land just minutes away from downtown Cedar Rapids. The southern terminus of the CVNT is another 5 miles north, in the suburb of Hiawatha. You can drive to the trailhead or bike from Cedar Rapids via the Cedar River Trail. A breakdown of the route’s mileage, depending on beginning and end points, is as follows: Hiawatha to Evansdale (52 miles); Hiawatha to Cedar Falls (65 miles); Cedar Rapids to Cedar Falls (70 miles).
The CVNT is largely exposed to the elements, so begin your ride prepared with sunscreen, water, snacks and possibly a picnic lunch. There are dining options in some of the small communities on route.
If you need to rent a bike to ride the trail, shift gears and begin your ride from Cedar Falls (north) end of the trail. The Bike Tech in downtown Cedar Falls offers hybrid and mountain bikes for rent, as well as bicycle repair services. The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in downtown Cedar Rapids is located right off the Cedar River Trail and is within easy walking distance to many of town’s restaurants, shops and attractions. You can’t ask for a more convenient location to call home for a night or two. If you prefer the intimacy and charm of B&Bs however, the Belmont Hill Victorian B&B isn’t far off and offers three beautifully renovated rooms in a historic 1890s carriage house.
The trail’s southern trailhead (including parking and restrooms) is located on Boyson Road in Hiawatha. From there, the trail makes a straight northerly shot toward the small community of Robins. The first four miles of this segment are asphalted. Don’t expect to see much of Robins, however; you skirt by its western edge and cycle into wide open farm country.
Much of the CVNT winds through woodlands and prairies. Along the way, you may see native grasses and encounter deer, wild turkey, songbirds and many other types of wildlife found throughout the state. The northern part of the CVNT has been designated as an Important Bird Area so keep your ears and eyes tuned for the calls and colors of various native birds. There are several rural road and creek crossings on this otherwise uninterrupted stretch from Robins to Center Point.
By the time you reachCenter Point (mile 10), you may be ready to stretch your legs and explore the historical rail depot at the trail rest stop. Consider that the route you have been traveling was first created in the early 1900s as an interurban railroad system to serve the Waterloo area. The Waterloo, Cedar Falls & Northern Railway helped develop the rail as a way to exchange goods between businesses and industries, in addition to passenger transport between cities. If you are ready for lunch, leave the trail at the depot and head west on Washington Street for a few blocks until you reach Main Street. You’ll see Tootsie’s Ice Cream & More, which offers a fairly substantial menu of sandwiches and ice cream treats (closed Mondays).
Roughly midway between Center Point and the next town of Urbana, the trail crosses Interstate 380. Please take caution here and watch for cars. If you need to replenish snack and water supplies, Casey’s General Store in Urbana (mile 16) may be your last chance for a while; take 32nd Avenue north for a half mile. For the next 10 miles to Brandon, you are singly immersed in the sights and sounds of agrarian Iowa. The trail, often surrounded by a narrow wooded corridor, slices through field after field.
Soon after leaving Brandon, the CVNT veers west to sidle up alongside and eventually cross the Cedar River. Look for the red cedars for which this lovely river was named. Notice that the trail is once again asphalted and remains this way to Evansdale. It is also worth noting that nearby Mc Farlane Park (Kings Road) offers campsites and rustic cabins for rent.
La Porte City (mile 37) is 2.5 miles west of the Cedar River and marks the final leg of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. Take a short detour into downtown La Porte City by heading southwest on Commercial Street to Main Street. Make sure to refill your water bottle. If you decided against ice cream earlier in the day, you have yet another chance at La Porte City’s Tootsie’s Ice Cream and More. Alternatively, you could go the donut and baked goods route at the nearby La Porte City Bakery. Also on Main Street is the town’s FFA Historical and Ag Museum (open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) and around the corner is Rural Iowa Heritage Center, located in the town’s historical 1876 fire station and jail house.
Back on the trail, you ride parallel to highway 218 for 3.5 miles and continue to follow the northerly trajectory of the river as it winds its way toward Cedar Falls. Enjoy the flora and fauna of the river banks and wetland ecosystem as you ride the last 5 miles of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. The CVNT ends shortly after crossing the Cedar River, on the southern edge of Evansdale(mile 52). Unless you have arranged for a shuttle ride, or are prepared to camp at Evansdale’s Deerwood Park Campground, you need to continue riding to Waterloo or Cedar Falls for overnight accommodations. Fortunately, the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area has an extensive network of trails which can make this task fairly straightforward.
We suggest heading directly to the historical Blackhawk Hotel on Cedar Fall’s downtown Main Street. The Blackhawk is the longest running hotel in the state of Iowa but has plenty of modern conveniences, like The Stuffed Olive, a martini lounge serving more than 150 kinds of martinis. You won’t have to go far to relax. To boot, you are only a stone’s throw away from many of the town’s best restaurants. Enjoy and rest well for your return trip to Cedar Rapids tomorrow.
To get to Cedar Falls: After crossing the Cedar River, continue on the CVNT to cross Gilbert Drive. Take Gilbert Drive west for 0.2 miles till you reach the Evansdale Nature Trail; head north, or right, on this trail for one mile to Lafayette Road. Ride west on Lafayette Road for a half mile and look for the Cedar Valley Lakes Trail to begin on the left side of the road. Stay on the Cedar Valley Lakes Trail for the next 11 miles. Cross the river at 1st Street and turn left on Main Street.
Today, you return the way you came on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.
Once you get back to Cedar Rapids, take time to explore the second largest city in Iowa. History buffs can learn more about the area’s past at the Brucemore Mansion or the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library. Take in the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, home to the world’s largest collection of art by American artist Grant Wood, or visit his home and studio (open weekends) located just a few blocks from the museum. Make sure to allow time to stroll down the Riverfront Park and to visit the NewBo City Market, where you can enjoy their seasonal farmers market and wander past the local merchants’ displays, reveling in the bounty of Iowan agricultural delights.
Visitors to Cedar Rapids who have a particular penchant for the performing arts won’t be disappointed. You may be able to choose from the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre, the Orchestra Iowa or the Theatre Cedar Rapids for your evening’s entertainment. There are a dozen eateries within the same vicinity. Enjoy a brew at the White Star Ale House or go straight to Zins, catering to all appetites (they offer small to big plates), or Cobble Hill, specializing in eclectic cuisine featuring local growers and suppliers.