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Built on a former section of the Chicago Great Western Railroad (built in 1893), the Great Western Trail spans 16.5 miles from just outside of urban Des Moines southward to Martensdale.
Begin your journey in the southern section of Water Works Park, just north of George Flagg Parkway, where you’ll find parking, restrooms, and several nearby bars and restaurants that are popular with cyclists and other trail users.
Leaving the outskirts of Des Moines, you’ll come across a major street crossing at State Route 28, and then cut through the Willow Creek Golf Course before reaching a second major crossing at SR 5. A short time later, you’ll reach Orilla, after which the trail empties into rural territory with cornfields and woods; here the ride is quiet and peaceful.
About 3 miles southwest of Orilla, the trail passes through the tiny town of Cumming, where there are restrooms and parking available, as well as a bar and a distillery.
The route then becomes completely rural, with open fields quickly transitioning to shady woodlands that feel extremely remote—particularly during the work week. Highlights along this stretch include a historic railcar and panoramic views of the North River. The trail finishes at a large trailhead in Martensdale, where restrooms and parking are available.
Note: Near the northern end of the Great Western Trail, an expansion of Veterans Parkway will shift the route of the trail slightly. Construction of the new trail section paralleling the new roadway between SR 5 and the city of Cumming is expected to be completed in 2019.
To reach the northern endpoint and parking in Des Moines from I-235, take Exit 7 toward Martin Luther King Jr. Pkwy. (7A if heading west and 7B if heading east), and head south on Martin Luther King Jr. Pkwy. for about 1.1 miles. Continue south on Fleur Drive for 0.8 mile. Turn right onto George Flagg Pkwy. and go just under 2 miles. Turn left into the parking lot, just across from the Izaak Walton League building. The endpoint is located 0.1 mile north along the trail at Water Works Park.
To reach the southern trailhead in Martensdale from I-35, take Exit 56 for SR 92 toward Indianola/Winterset. Head east on SR 92 for 1.3 miles, and turn north onto 30th Ave. Go 0.3 mile, and turn right onto Inwood St. Go 0.3 mile, and turn left into the trailhead parking lot.
We need budget dollars for biking trail maintenance, however, and this trail is due in more than a few spots. For the cost of one F-16, we could repave all of the trails in Iowa! Nice to get away from the constant drone of bad news on the telly, and to enjoy nature. These 32 miles were about 1/2 of what I rode today and this was definitely a good leg of the journey!
Great trail. Super wet from the melt. Was loking forward to lunch in Matinsdale but the Roadside is CLOSED for good.
We started a one day ride in 2014 from Kansas City to Des Moines. Riding the last 16 miles on the Great Western Trail was a nice break from the roads. It's scenic and in good enough condition to ride our road bikes on. We'll be back at it again this Saturday, 07/18.
This trail is beautiful! The pictures attached to it don't do it justice. It is much harder to go south than it is to go north, plus it is wonderful to end at Grey's lake after going through Water Works Park. I definitely recommend it!
We started in Des Moines and made stops in Cumming at the Tap and ended up with a great meal in Martensdale at the Roadside Inn. You have to travel east thru the town of Martensdale at the bottom of the hill. Nice trail with lots of wildlife and the leaves were turning. Not much traffic and those we met along the way could not have been nicer.
When I visit my in-laws in Iowa, I typically have to run the highways with no shoulder, run the country roads and risk being chased by loose dogs, or scrap my training runs all together for the weekend. My husband did a search and found this awesome trail. I started my run in Martensdale (only a 13 mile drive for me). The trail head there has decent bathroom facilities and water. The stretch I ran, 6.5 out and back, was mostly flat with only a few gradual, hardly noticeable inclines and a couple of small hills. If you are looking to do an interval or tempo run, this trail will work just fine. The trail was clear, i.e., no leaves or brush, and was nicely mowed on each side. It was a Friday, so I had it all to myself. The following day, my husband and I went for a 10 mile run on it late in the afternoon. Being a hunter, my husband really enjoyed seeing the deer. There was a little more use of the trail on this day.
Overall, this is a super nice trail. I'm thrilled that we found it and will definitely continue to use when we are back to visit. In fact, I hope to be able to run it all the way to Des Moines maybe next spring or summer.
Just rode this 6/28 for the first time. Very enjoyable and the road bed was in good condition the entire length. The Tap in Cumming is not visible from the trail, just turn off the trail where you see the Welcome to Cumming sign, go east a few yards and you will see it on the main street on the west side. The trailhead at Martensdale has some limited parking and restroom facilities.
This is a great trail to ride. Takes you through Water Works Park and Greenwood Park. A great place to stop to eat is Bambino's in Cummings if you are there in the evening. Also Orlando's in Des Moines is another great place to get a bite to eat, the trail runs right behind it and there are usually bikes parked out back.
The flooding damage was repaired in late 2008, and the trail was fully functional all 2009. There are a few parts of the trail where the blacktop is split and buckled and at the end of the 2009 season, many of those sections have been repaired. The trail is actually 16.7 miles long.
The Great Western Trail runs some from Des Moines. It is relatively flat but have a few rolling hills.
About 1/2 way on the trail is a little town, Cumming, when you get grab a beer at the Cumming Tap, right next to the trail.
The trail was severely damaged during the floods of 2008. About one mile south of the northern start is a section that is being repaired. at about mile 12 there are currently markers to keep riders away from the washed out section. last i rode, the last three miles were totally closed.
"I live only a few miles from this trail, so I tend to ride it often. It's fairly flat, but there are a couple of hills and gradual grades. It's very scenic and the ride through the tunnels as you near Des Moines is a blast. I often ride midday in the middle of the week and I encounter only a handful of other riders."
"This is a trail in transition. It used to be chipped limestone, but in the summer of 2000 it was paved. As such, there is alot more traffic. But, it's still a good trail.
In the winter/spring of 2000/2001, a 100 yard section of the trail between Des Moines and Cumming will be torn up as the DOT builds a four-lane interstae through the area. Plans are for a tunnel to go beneath the road. Suffice it to say, a very nice area of the trail will be forever gone.
Anyway, it's a short jaunt to the Cumming Tap (a big bicyclist hangout) as well as the town of Martensdale. "
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