Gay Lea Wilson Trail


Gay Lea Wilson Trail Facts

States: Iowa
Counties: Polk
Length: 19.9 miles
Trail end points: Scott Ave. (Des Moines) to 1st St. E and 8th Ave. SE (Altoona); E. University Ave. (Pleasant Hill) and SE Oralabor Rd./SR 160 east of S. Ankeny Blvd./US 69 (Ankeny)
Trail surfaces: Asphalt, Concrete
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6234261
Trail activites: Bike, Inline Skating, Wheelchair Accessible, Walking, Cross Country Skiing

With Unlimited:

  • Export to My Trail Guide
  • Create Guidebook
  • Download GPX
  • Download Offline Maps
  • Print Friendly Map
Upgrade Now

Register for Free with TrailLink Today!

View over 30,000 miles of trail maps
Share your trail photos
Save Your Favorite Trails
Find New Trails Near You
Leave reviews for trails
Submit new trails to our site
Register Now

Gay Lea Wilson Trail Description

The Gay Lea Wilson Trail, named for a local advocate who first conceived of a network of trails in eastern Polk County in the 1980s, will eventually link several central Iowa communities and open space over a 35-mile course. Currently, the trail connects East Des Moines with Ankeny to the north and Pleasant Hill and Altoona to the northeast.

From the hub at Copper Creek Lake Park on University Avenue in Pleasant Hill, one segment runs northeast for approximately 4 miles to Altoona, where the trail branches out through the heart of the city. Much of this portion of the trail’s route parallels an active railroad line.

Continuing south from the hub in Pleasant Hill, a second segment of the Gay Lea Wilson Trail travels 1.5 miles along Four Mile Creek and the same active railroad corridor to Scott Avenue in East Des Moines. A less than 0.5 mile trek west along hilly Fairview Drive/Dean Avenue near this segment’s midpoint will lead you to the sprawling Iowa State Fairgrounds.

The longest trail segment extending from the hub in Pleasant Hill runs northwest through the east side of Des Moines along Four Mile Creek. At Aurora Avenue—the trail’s northern endpoint until 2013—the surroundings become increasingly rural. The trail is enveloped by dense, quiet woodlands until Interstate 80, where it passes under the highway with the creek. Just north of there, the trail leaves Four Mile Creek and meanders along rural roads and through farmland until it reaches a new business park near the southern edge of Ankeny.

Another short rail-with-trail segment allows trail users to pass under I-35. Shortly thereafter, the trail turns north, west and then north one more time, joining a former railroad corridor as the trail completes its trek closer to the heart of Ankeny. This section passes directly through Carney Marsh, a scenic wildlife sanctuary. At the trail’s current northern endpoint at SE Oralabor Road/State Route 160, connect to the Oralabor Gateway Trail, which will take you west from Ankeny to the Neal Smith Trail and Saylorville Lake.

A planned southern extension of the popular High Trestle Trail will eventually meet the Gay Lea Wilson Trail at SE Oralabor Road in Ankeny. Both trails are part of the Central Iowa Trail Network (CIT), which, when complete, will run about 110 miles and will also include the Neal Smith Trail, Heart of Iowa Nature Trail and the Chichaqua Valley Trail.

Parking and Trail Access

In Pleasant Hill, parking for the Gay Lea Wilson Trail can be found at the hub at Copper Creek Lake Park on E. University Avenue. In Altoona, the main trailhead is located near the Greater Altoona Community Service Campus, with parking available at the dog park on 17th Avenue SW. Additional parking in Altoona can be found at Lions Park on 13th Avenue SW; at a large parking lot where the trail intersects 5th Avenue SW; and at Greenway Park off Adventureland Drive across from 9th Avenue NW.

In East Des Moines, park off E. Oakwood Drive just north of Scott Avenue or at the main Des Moines trailhead at the Robert L. Scott Four Mile Community Center on Easton Boulevard.

In Ankeny, parking is available for the Gay Lea Wilson Trail at the lot for Carney Marsh on SE 54th Street. Alternatively, consider parking in Glenbrooke Park at the southwestern corner of Ankeny. From there, take the Oralabor Gateway Trail east until it meets the Gay Lea Wilson Trail between Ankeny Boulevard/US 69 and Delaware Avenue.

Gay Lea Wilson Trail Reviews

We started at Copper Creek Lake and headed North to Ankeny. The trail was mostly concrete and in good shape. Parts of the trail were shaded which we really appreciated. The trail connects to other local trails which pretty much take you all over Polk County. We highly recommend this trail.

I have ridden most of the new section which connects Ankeny and Pleasant Hill. The section along Four Mile Creek is nice and shaded, but some of the sections through a new business park in Ankeny can be a bit hilly an exposed to gusty winds. Well worth the trip. The connection is very much appreciated. I look forward to the connection to Bondurant and the Chichaqua trail being finished in the next year or two. More details can be found in an article in the Des Moines Register: and on the Gay Lea Wilson Trail facebook page.

Construction is complete and you can continue trail through Des Moines for a short stretch. Parking is now available at Scott Street south of Pleasant Hill so you can start and end at that end of the trail.


This trail is nice it starts in Pleasant Hill and runs to Altoona. There is one shoot off into Des Moines that is under construction and there is a detour on city streets. Once it reaches Altoona there are lots of little shoot offs that take you around Altoona.

Nearby Trails

Des Moines River Trail

Iowa - 2.6 miles

Take a morning bike ride or evening stroll on the Des Moines River Trail. The paved trail diverges from the Meredith Trail and Prinicipal Riverwalk, continuing ...

Martin Luther King Jr. Trail

Iowa - 2.3 miles

The Martin Luther King Jr Trailway tears off from the Meredith Trail and heads west along the MLK Jr Parkway in Des Moines, Iowa. The Meredith circles ...

Chichaqua Valley Trail

Iowa - 27 miles

This scenic Chichaqua Valley Trail runs for 27 miles between Berwick (which lies just northeast of Des Moines) and Baxter, passing through the small communities ...


John Pat Dorrian Trail

Iowa - 3.4 miles

The John Pat Dorrian Trail, formerly known as the East River Trail, runs for nearly 3.5 miles from Pete Crivaro Park in south Des Moines to Birdland Park ...

Neal Smith Trail

Iowa - 26 miles

The Neal Smith Trail, which connects to the John Pat Dorrian Trail in downtown Des Moines, runs through a portion of Des Moines itself before leaving the ...

Meredith Trail

Iowa - 5.2 miles

The Meredith Trail connects from downtown Des Moines west to Gray’s Lake Park. The trail picks up off where the Principal Riverwalk leaves off along the ...

Principal Riverwalk

Iowa - 1.5 miles

To the residents of Lastrobe, the Lincoln Avenue Rails to Trails Greenway is more than a simple off-road path: it also a social asset, a place where community ...

Kruidenier Trail

Iowa - 1.9 miles

The Kruidenier Trail cuts through beautifully landscaped areas around Gray’s Lake and leads you into downtown Des Moines. The park offers a permanent on-site ...

Inter-Urban Trail (IA)

Iowa - 1.3 miles

Des Moines' Inter-Urban Trail was opened in 1998 on the abandoned tracks of the Urbandale streetcar line. Residents and visitors of Iowa could ride the ...

Trestle to Trestle Trail

Iowa - 3.7 miles

Polk County's Trestle to Trestle Trail stretches from Des Moines to Johnston, one of its northern suburbs. The 3.7 mile asphalt trail, which runs near ...

Bill Riley Trail

Iowa - 2.7 miles

The Bill Riley Trail delivers a short but immersive trail experience in a tranquil natural setting. The trail begins at the southern end of the Walnut ...

Summerset Trail

Iowa - 12 miles

The paved Summerset trail extends between the McVay Trail in Indianola and Route 5 at 1st Street in Carlisle, following the old rail bed of the former ...

Explore by City

Explore by City

Explore by Activity

Explore by Activity

Log in to your account to:

  • View trail paths on the map
  • Save trails to your account
  • Add trails, edit descriptions
  • Share photos
  • Add reviews

Register for free!

Join TrailLink (a non-profit) to view more than 30,000 miles of trail maps and more!