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The Cedar Valley Nature Trail—part of the cross-country American Discovery Trail— follows the fertile Cedar River between Evansdale and Ely. The 68-mile trail comprises three former trails—the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, Cedar River Trail and parts of the Hoover Nature Trail—which merged in Spring 2017. The route also includes an additional segment to be constructed in Summer 2017 between Rowley Street in Ely and Linn County’s southern border at Seven Sisters Road.
Among the first rail-trail conversions in the state, the northern portion traces the original corridor of the Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Northern Railway, an interurban railroad that, by 1914, had connected Cedar Rapids and Waterloo. The Illinois Central Railroad gained sole ownership in 1968 and abandoned large sections in 1983. The southern portion follows the old Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railway that operated from 1876 until 1903, when it was acquired by the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. That railroad’s bankruptcy in the early 1980s led to the line’s abandonment, and a citizen’s coalition launched efforts to acquire the rail bed for a recreational trail.
Asphalt covers the northern 16-mile section of trail as well as the southern section spanning from Iowa Street in Center Point to the Linn County Line. Occasional flooding can cause washouts along the trail or damage bridges (Note that a 9-mile detour avoids a damaged bridge in LaPorte). Parts of the trail are landscaped with grasses and wildflowers native to the Iowa prairie, providing habitat for the varied songbirds and mammals that live along the corridor; it is not uncommon to see Iowa’s state bird, the American Goldfinch. Cross-country skiing is permitted—except for on the portion of trail in Linn County.
At the northern trailhead on River Road (south of I-380), a paved connector trail joins the Cedar Valley Lake Trail that leads to a trail system in Waterloo and Cedar Falls. Beginning at the northern trailhead, you’ll head southeast over the Cedar River and along a 4.5-mile stretch to Gilbertville, where a trailhead at East Washburn Road offers restrooms, water, and parking.
From here, it’s a further 8 miles south to La Porte City. Note that the circa 1914 Wolf Creek Bridge in LaPorte was closed after an engineering study reported structural problems in 2015, and the county has created a 9-mile detour on county roads until a more permanent fix can be found. In LaPorte, you’ll find food and refreshments as well as a park offering shade at Maple and Walnut streets (next to a railyard). An old Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad depot is located in the railyard, and a Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Northern Railway station dating from 1912 is located at the corner of Main and Locust streets.
From LaPorte, you’ll head about 3 miles to a new bridge over a second Cedar River crossing (look for the red cedar trees that give the river its name). You’ll then head east along oxbow lakes and through woodlands to two rural towns, Brandon and Urbana, both of which have markets. This northern section of trail is an important habitat for nesting waterfowl and songbirds.
In Center Point, you’ll find a museum in the old railroad depot that’s open on summer Sundays. Food and beverages are also available in town. You’ll then head south along a rural stretch—look for deer, wild turkeys and other wild animals—before reaching suburban Hiawatha. The trail runs below power lines as it heads into town; note that the Boyson Road trailhead offers a bike repair station as well as water, restrooms, and parking.
Continue south past Cedar Lake to a 7-block stretch in downtown Cedar Rapids, host to a variety of restaurants, cultural attractions and bars. At Seventh Street, the trail turns right, heads 3 blocks to the Cedar River, and then cuts left to follow the river a short distance. At 16th Avenue Southwest, the trail turns right, crosses over the Cedar River, and then follows it southeast until Tait Cummins Memorial Park, where it passes through a couple tree-lined segments.
Making your way toward Ely at the southern end of the Cedar Rapids metropolitan area, you’ll enter a section where you can see for miles; look for a wind turbine or two on the distant horizon. Where the trail crosses Ely Road and Wright Brothers Boulevard, a plaque explains the area’s unique landscape formed by two distinct landforms: open plains and pahas, hills formed by windblown silt. You’ll then pass through Iowa farmland and subdivisions, eventually reaching City Park at Hillcrest Street. Here, you’ll find a pond, restrooms, water and parking.
The original section of trail turned right on Dow Street and left at Main Street and ended about 200 feet south of Rowley Street in Ely. In the Summer of 2017, an additional segment will be constructed extending the trail along Ely Road to the Linn County southern border at Seven Sisters Road.
To reach the northern trailhead in Evansdale from I-380, take Exit 70, and head north on River Forest Road. Go 0.2 mile, and turn right on Gilbert Drive; then go 0.9 mile, and turn right on Grand Blvd. Go 0.2 mile, and bear left onto Sixth St. Bear right onto River Road, go 0.4 mile, and look for the trailhead parking on the left.
To reach the Boyson Road trailhead in Hiawatha from I-380, take Exit 25 onto Boyson Road, and head east. Go 0.3 mile, and turn right onto Kainz Drive; then turn left immediately into the trailhead parking lot. The trail passes in back of the lot.
To reach the southern trailhead in Ely from I-380 S./IA 27 S., take Exit 13 toward The Eastern Iowa Airport, and take a sharp left onto Wright Brothers Blvd. W. Go 3.8 miles, and turn right onto Ely Road. After 2.5 miles (Ely Road becomes State St. for 1.5 miles and then becomes Ely Road again), turn left onto Seven Sisters Road. Look for the trailhead on the left.
This is a great trail for novice riders, or those getting into shape. It's an old rail trail, so it's flat. It's very scenic and a nice ride. There is trail damage from a recent flood and a section near Waterloo is completely washed out. It's closed there, but you can get through if you can carry your bike. I did almost 27 miles and greatly enjoyed it!
flat and painfully boring.
Absolutely wonderful trail! New asphalt, wide, well maintained, varied landscapes so scenic. Only negatives are the busy road crossings.
This is a very nice trail, a lot of nature on parts of it!
Rode Friday Oct. 3. North to south from Evansdale to Hiawatha. First 17 miles great. E'dale thru La Porte City - Asphalt, some SMALL sections had tree root cracking but OK. Next section 9 miles, maintained by Black Hawk County, Poor to horrible, Supposedly peat rock trail. Mostly 2 lane cattle path. 2 times tress down blocking the rail and 2 other sections where trees were broken off but hanging over the trail. Then next section was 17 mile of peat trail maintained by Linn County. Real nice trail, hard packed and well taken care of. The last section was from south of Center Point to Hiawatha - asphalt in very good shape.
Let's go Black Hawk County and get this taken care for next year. Better yet get the whole thing asphalted.
I regularly ride the trail, mainly from Czech Village south towards the Hoover Trail. The surface is completely paved, and in 99% of the case is smooth and well maintained.
Due to the Flood of 2008, there have been quite a few detours on the eastside of downtown Cedar Rapids. However, just last week the trail improvement of going under the railroad bridge at 8th Ave SE has been completed.
Extra care should be taken as you cross 1st Ave. The crosswalk can be quit formidable to use. On each side of the street there are bollards that activate flashing strobes in the street as you pass between them. Many drivers do not heed the lights, so proceed with extreme caution.
There is a local bike shop just north of the trail on 2nd Ave SE. They are open 6 days a week, staying open until 8:30 on Monday and Thursday in season.
There are many parking areas along the trail. Running from north to south, Werner Ave (large lot), McCloud Place (small lot), Cedar Lake (mostly on street parking), Sokol Park/Czech Village (on street), and C Street. Water is available at Cedar Lake, Sokol Park and C street. Restrooms are available at Cedar Lake.
There are a few casual restaurants along the route. Just over the railbridge on Center Point Rd is Riley's on Sylvia Ave. Along Shaver Rd, just south of the Cedar Lake rest area is a new place called the Sag Wagon which appears to be very popular.
There are a few places downtown, and a good place to make a detour is 3rd Street SE in the New Bohemia section of Cedar Rapids. The trail follows the river and NewBo is just two blocks to the east. Newbo City Market is currently open Thurs thru Sunday - check for hours, as they change seasonally. Within NewBo City Market are a good mélange of food choices, while across the street thare are other casual food places with nice menus.
Once you get south of Czech Village the trail is less congested, and riding is comfortable, with a few twists and turns to keep things interesting. After passing the Union Pacific mainline overpass it is smooth sailing to the minimal grade connection with the Hoover Trail.
Cedar Rapids to Cedar Falls IA, 70+ miles average speed 9.8 mph. Overnight trip on recumbents.
Our first long distance ride of the season to get ready for Germany 2014. The description says 52 miles however it is very hard to tell where that measurement takes its start and end points from ground level.
We started in Cedar Rapids - very nice new Double Tree hotel (GOOD BREAKFAST) and it is right on the trail.
Followed the trail out past the rail yards and missed the trail continuing behind a wall at the first street crossing.
Back on track....
The trail head is about 5 miles out of town and very nice asphalt & maintained for about 16 miles.
At Center Point the trail turns to loose gravel and in some places it is completely covered over in leaves or dirt. Don't be fooled it is a hard ride for the next 25 miles and our speed dropped into low single digits.
Some blogs described small towns and places to eat however we did not see any, at least within in an easy detour from the trail.
At La Porte the trail is paved again however we did not find any place to refill our water bottles until Evensdale.
The path continues through Waterloo and is clearly marked and through a very pretty part of town, next to the river.
We stayed on the East side north of Waterloo where the trail moves up onto a dike and then down through a winding path across small marshy areas.
Our goal was the Blackhawk Hotel in Cedar Falls and after a couple of wrong turns on the West side of the river we pulled in about 7:45. The Hotel is a fantastic turn of the century building, with a good restaurant for dinner. (Lame Breakfast BTW go to the coffee shop at the end of the street.)
A long hot day, badly sun burnt as the trail is exposed most of the way but a memorable start to the upper Midwest riding season.
We did not do the return ride - I took a taxi back to CR, got the car and drove back to pick up the bikes.
Summary: Nice trail but watch that middle section .. it's a bear!
This summer I’ve been exploring the Cedar Valley Trail system to practice with my new helmet cam prior to a Colorado trip. So far I've got videos of most of the trail except for the section between Urbana & McFarlane Park and I've been very impressed. About half the 52 mile Cedar Valley Nature Trail is blacktop and works well for road bikes, skaters, etc. The rest is crushed stone / gravel. The trail was badly flood damaged in 2008, including the loss of two major bridges, but has since been extensively restored. At the south trail head it provides access to the Cedar River trail system in Cedar Rapids and to the north access to the extensive Waterloo / Cedar Falls trail system. You can see some of my short Cedar River trail videos here
Great eastern Iowa resource - highly recommended!
In June we rode from Cedar Rapids to Cedar Falls via the Cedar Valley Nature Trail (and back...2 day trip). When the paved trails ended we were expecting crushed limestone, but by Urbana the trails turned to hard dirt and sand in some places. It was slow going as we were on road bikes, but very doable. The temperature was in the upper 90's, but on the tree lined trail you would have thought it was mid 80's. We encountered a "trail closed sign" just after Urbana, but it was very passable. The trail was closed just past Brandon, but only for a couple hundred feet and we were able to walk bikes around area.
On the return trip we took roads from LaPorte City to Urbana and then hopped back on the trail. Taking the road was not really any faster as it was really hilly and 218 coming out of LaPorte City and 150 just before Urbana were quite busy with semis and other traffic. It was an interesting change of scenery and ride, but unless I just want a workout, I'll stick to the trail next time.
About three years ago my family talked me into going for a bike ride around the neighborhood.Who me ? Never..Only bikes I rode had engines.
Well long story short.Traded a guitar for a decent bike and started going a mile or two here and there.Next thing I knew I was riding ten,twenty mile rides ..and loving it.
One of the reasons I love it so much is because of the CVT.At first only a short bit (going north out of Hiawatha) was paved and I liked the natural feel of the trail and just going for no other reason than to go.
People,this a beautiful way to spend a day on a well maintained trail that is mostly paved all the way to Center Point.Nice people ,great scenery,peaceful,stress free relaxation and it is good for you.
This is a great asset for any community and hope more people get out and find how enjoyable this is..just like I did.
We now ride on this trail a minimum of three /four times a week and love every minute of it.
The McFarlane bridge that was destroyed by the flood of 2008 has be reconstructed and is now open, Also the trail is also now paved from McFarlane Park to the bridge.
The new bridge is concrete vs. the old wooden one and has a steel fencing on it. The trail from Brandon to the bridge is also improved (not paved) starting about four miles out of Brandon. This is the location of the county line.
We did all of the route during the summer of 2012, but had to circumvent the bridge. The south part of the trail is paved to within about two miles of Center Point. Just road from Brandon to LaPorte City in early April of this year. Just to see the bridge.
The trail seems to have something for everyone. Especially north of Cedar Lake to the junction with the Cedar Valley trail in Hiawatha, it serves as a commuter route for those using a bike as basic transportation. Especially around Cedar Lake it is ideal for a Sunday outing with children. The stretch from the 14th Street bridge south to the plastic box village south of US 30 disappears into the woods; and roadies can enjoy unwinding as if they were on the open road since, even on a nice Saturday in early April, there seemed to be very few slow riders and walker on this stretch.
With the exception of downtown Cedar Rapids and the strip mall territory at the north end, there are no services. The only other exception is Czech Village south of downtown at the 14th Street Bridge, where there are quite a few restaurants and bars. I can recommend the Blue Toad, not to be confused with the Red Frog.
Over the years when traveling through the area, we had biked from the northern end at Evendale as far south as Center Point. This time we drove to Cedar Rapids from central Illinois to meet relatives from the Twin Cities for a ride on the Cedar Valley and Cedar River trails. We were pleasantly surprised to see the southern most 10.6 miles paved, i.e. as far as Shultz Road, less than 3 miles from Center Point.
Since the ground was still a bit soft and we had road bikes, we detoured into Center Point as follows: right 0.3 miles on Schultz, left 1.1 miles on Fay Road, and right 1.0 miles on Center Point Road. The first two roads were hard packed dirt, smoother than a lot of paved roads I've ridden on. The last was paved.
There is a very nice rest area with rest room at a tiny community called Lafayette, which does not appear on any maps I've seen, but does show up on the trail brochure's mileage chart.
My sons and I had a great time riding our bikes on the CVNT. Enjoyed seeing the wild life while we were geocaching. Would definitely recommend for the entire family.
The paved trail's north end connects with the Cedar River Trail in a very smooth trasition and runs into the town of Ely. There are a couple of highway crossings, but the traffic is usually light. The surface is smooth and runs through some farmland as well as a good portion of shade trees. The trail has a small parking lot at the edge of Ely, where the addition of a water supply would be helpful. There is a convenience store a few blocks south and west of the trail's end.
We rode this trail this weekend. An easy one day trip. It is true the trail is closed at Mac Farlane Park. You can get on the trail there and ride towards Waterloo but can not go south. We stayed at the park and rode the trail, it was nice, no problems with surface, mostly shaded. Benches are placed all along the trail for resting.
We were surprised and disappointed (especially since we drove over an hour to get to the trail) to discover that the SE-bound trail ends at McFarlane Park, about 3 miles east of LaPorte City. We were hoping to bike the 50-mile roundtrip loop from Evansdale to Brandon and back, but ended up with a 32-mile roundtrip loop. I believe the trail closure was caused by the flood of 2008. The shortened 16-mile trail was pleasant and mostly protected from wind and sun by trees.
The excellent new bridge over the Cedar at Evansdale is now open ,as of Summer 2011, and the trail is good all the way to La Porte, will ride the next section soon and report it's condition.
The Linn County Conservation Board quit charging a user fee for the Cedar Valley Nature Trail a long time ago. Please change this in the written materials for this trail. The trail is free and a great trail. Two major bridges over the Cedar River in Black Hawk County remain closed due to the 2008 flood. Repair work is currently being done on the one at Evansdale.
The trail is great but even in the parking lot off Boyson Rd in broad daylight on a busy Sunday--some creep broke my car window to steal my daughters cell phone. If it had not been in plain view I might have been OK.
This was my first time on CVNT. Myself and two friends hiked from Hiawatha to Brandon. WOW! AWESOME HIKE, and lots of cool views. Had a BLAST and will return to go from Brandon to Evansdale when the trail is fixed. CAN'T WAIT!
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to cycle on a portion of the CVNT for the first time. The trail still has two major bridges over the Cedar River that remain closed due to severe flooding last year. One is in Evansdale, and the second is located east of LaPorte City. Efforts are underway to repair both bridges and it's hoped that by sometime in 2010 they will be reopened. We cycled from the north end, parking in a residential area on the south side of the Cedar River near Evansdale and biked down to LaPorte City where we turned back around. This stretch of trail is paved and was quite an enjoyable ride. Mostly tree lined, with some picturesque views of the Cedar River valley and the river itself. In Gilbertville, the old brick railroad depot remains standing at the trailhead here and is quite a neat building. I look forward to biking on other segments of this popular trail in the future.
Linn County no longer charges a fee to use this trail.
"We started near Waterloo and rode south on the section all blacktop. It was great. We saw deer and other animals. One of the overlooks was in bad shape the first time, but completely repaired on our second visit.
Keep up the great work, Iowa.
-Cliff & Bernice"
"This is a very nice trail running NW - SE from Waterloo to Cedar Rapids areas. The trail out of Waterloo is asphalt for awhile, then changes to chipped asphalt.
It's a very scenic 52 miles -- great views of the Cedar River and lots of ""tree tunnels."" I'd suggest riding it in Mid-October when the foliage is at full color.
As far as stops go, my favorite are the taverns in Gilbertville and La Porte City. Friendly locals. Cold beer. What more can you ask for."
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