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The Cinder Path in southern Iowa is notable as the state’s first rail-to-trail conversion. Following a shady route past farms and wetlands along the Chariton River between Chariton and Humeston for 13.5 miles, the crushed-stone and cinder surface shows its age in places. Grass covers the trail south of Derby, and the path can be challenging in rainy weather.
The trail follows a branch line of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad built in 1872 that ran between Chariton and St. Joseph, Missouri. The railroad later became the Burlington Northern Railroad, which abandoned the railbed in 1974. The Lucas County Conservation Board bought the corridor that same year and established the trail.
Beginning in Chariton, you’ll find a monument at the trailhead for community champion Dwaine Clanin, who played an integral role in the trail’s conversion and development. Be sure to stock up on food and water before setting out, as services are rare along the Cinder Path. The trail soon takes you into woods along the river—offering the sight of a flock of pelicans or waterfowl whenever an opening in the tree buffer arises. You’ll frequently pass benches and resting areas along the way, although they show lots of wear.
Several wooden bridges mark the route to Derby, including a covered bridge about 6 miles from Chariton. You’re also likely to see deer, rabbits, and other wildlife along the trail.
The trail enters Derby in 9.7 miles and runs through town streets for 0.3 mile. Turn left onto Front Street when you arrive, follow it to the right onto Derby Avenue, and then turn right onto Vine Street at a T-junction. The trail reappears on the left in what looks to be an empty grassy lot; the groomed section and a small sign will help you identify the path.
Riding a bike with fat tires or walking is the best way to explore past Derby, as the trail is grass-covered and can be soggy. Entering Wayne County, you’ll notice that gates bar horses and all-terrain vehicles at the rural road crossings.
You’ll arrive in Humeston 5.6 miles after leaving Derby. The Humeston Union Depot and Museum, one block south of the trailhead at 422 North Eaton Avenue, is worth a visit for railroad buffs. The town served as a junction for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy and the Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska Railroads beginning in 1880. The two railroads agreed to build the combined depot, which was completed in 1883. A wooden water tower across the street is said to be the last remaining such structure in Iowa.
To reach the northern trailhead in Chariton from I-35, take Exit 33 onto US 34 E toward Osceola. Go 24.7 miles, turn left onto Bus. US 34/Court Ave., and then immediately bear right onto Bus. US 34. Go 0.3 mile, and look for trailhead parking on the right.
To reach the trailhead in Derby from I-35, take Exit 33 onto US 34 E toward Osceola. Go 17.7 miles, and merge with US 65 in Lucas; then go 0.6 mile, and turn right onto US 65. Go 6.8 miles, and turn left onto Front St. Go 0.8 mile, and look for on-street parking in the vicinity of Front and Broad Streets. After parking, backtrack 0.1 mile to Vine St., turn left, and look for the trail on the right.
To reach the southern trailhead in Humeston from I-35, take Exit 22 east onto E. Line St./120th St. Go 1.8 miles, and turn right onto US 69; then go 1 mile and turn left onto County Road J22. Go 14 miles, and turn left onto S. Front St./US 65; then go 0.6 mile, and turn right onto Fletcher St. Go 0.1 mile to find the trail on the left. On-street parking is available in the vicinity of Fletcher St. and N. Eaton Ave. and at the Humeston Union Depot and Museum at 422 N. Eaton Ave.
I am a regular bike rider and usually ride for at least 30 miles round trip on any given day, but after 15 miles round trip on this Trail I was ready to call it a day. Trail is too soft even for mountain bikes as I was sinking into dirt. I would suggest to walk only on this trail.
Starts out grassy at the south end, then at Derby things get better. Some Amish kids were heading south on horse and buggy so I let them pass, then continued north. Wish we would have met at the covered bridge, but they don't approve of photos.
Most of my riding are rail trails, some of my riding is mtn biking. This was a very fun trail as far as I'm concerned, and I found no issues with its ruggedness. It all in the name…Cinder Path…NOT Cinder Trail. The cinder sections are smoother than the limestone sections, but then there are the grassy sections, which almost seem like double tracks.
I rode the entire path, round trip, last Saturday, and loved it. There is a mix of cinder and limestone until you get southward to/past Derby, then there is grass. I have not looked into it, but I am GUESSING that since Cinder Path is Iowa's first rails-to-trails conversion, years ago, they may have not laid down any tarps under the trail there, so yes…its carpeted with grass, mostly mowed, but some sections are 1-2 foot tall. It rained the entire morning prior to my arrival, but the entire path was not too wet at all, but was quite sturdy.
There are indeed covered bridge, platforms, and gazebos and more, but sadly, they have gone unmaintained and are mostly unusable. The trail itself, is just what it says…a path, and is maintained appropriately, however, they have dropped the ball on taking care of the resting spots and such that were once so nicely there. They are sad to see, but the trail is lovely.
This is the kind of trail I like…an adventure.
¿ I like interesting things to constantly see and get thru, and this trail has that. There was beautiful scenery, deer, cranes, covered bridge, limestone, cinder, and grass surfaces. A lot of variety. The grass sections were a constant pedal, but not too bad really. I’d say about the last 5 miles or so were grass, out of the entire 15 mile trip.
I'm giving this a 4 star, cause I enjoyed the trail a lot, but they really abandoned the nice things that earlier people had built for the trial…so, - 1 whole star for neglect.
Due to rain, I just took some pictures from my van at the south end in Humeston and where the trail crosses Rd 410, 0.7 miles SW of Derby. Trail appears to overgrown and in need of maintenance Noel Keller 12 Oct 11
As of June, 2011, this trail has not been maintained in a few years. If there has been any rain, the trail bed is extremely soft. The trail will quickly sap your strength as your tires sink in. The trail bed is in high need of more gravel or stone. Most of the little shelters and benches shown in the pictures are now overgrown with weeds and trees. The further one gets from Chariton, the worse the trail condition gets. By the time we were within a few miles of Derby, there were knee high weeds growing in the trail. Additionally, the trees had encroached so far into the path that you had to ride single file and frequently were being brushed with branches from each side. In case anyone is considering riding to Derby to eat lunch and then back to Chariton, there are currently no operating restaurants in the town of Derby. We did not proceeded beyond the town of Derby.
This is a wonderful trail for those who are willing to try a an unpaved trail.
The route is deeply wooded and has a number of unique bridges, associated developments and trail amenities that make it special.
We were not able to take the trail south of Derby.
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