Heart of Iowa Nature Trail


Heart of Iowa Nature Trail Facts

States: Iowa
Counties: Marshall, Story
Length: 25.8 miles
Trail end points: E. Jefferson St. just east of N. Jackson St. (Rhodes) and 1st Ave. N. and Greene St. (Slater)
Trail surfaces: Crushed Stone, Dirt, Grass
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6015622
Trail activites: Wheelchair Accessible, Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Snowmobiling, Walking, Cross Country Skiing

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Heart of Iowa Nature Trail Description

The Heart of Iowa Nature Trail currently consists of two disjointed sections. The first stretches from the small city of Slater in the west to the tiny town of Collins in the east. This segment includes a brief on-road detour between 535th Avenue and N. 5th Avenue on County Road E63, although the road has wide paved shoulders. Shortly after, the city of Huxley is reached. A tunnel to the east of Huxley takes the trail under busy I-35. The trail next passes through the small towns of Cambridge and Maxwell before crossing under US-65 and reaching its endpoint at Railway Street in Collins.

The second segment picks up 2 miles east of Collins at 730th Avenue. A flat 4.5 mile trek will take you from Story County into neighboring Marshall County and on to Rhodes, one of its 13 cities.

The trail occupies an abandoned railroad corridor for nearly its entire route. The 32 mile Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad line ran from the trail's current western endpoint in Slater to just beyond its western endpoint of Rhodes, in the town of Melbourne. One of the incarnations of the Milwaukee Road's famed Hiawatha passenger service whisked passengers along this corridor in the mid-20th century. Future plans call for the completion of the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail along the entire length of the corridor to Melbourne—where the Iowa 330/US 30 Trail begins—as well as uniting the two disjointed segments east of Collins.

The trail runs through a variety of habitats, including remnants of native prairie, woodland and mixed farm and pasture. While the crushed limestone surface is best for hybrid or mountain bikes, the trail offers an adjacent mowed trail for equestrian users. Those with horses are asked to stay off the limestone trail; rutting can result, which makes biking extremely difficult. Snowmobiling is permitted when conditions allow, but all other motorized vehicles are prohibited.

Connect seamlessly with the popular High Trestle Trail in Slater and travel south to Ankeny or farther west to Woodward.

Parking and Trail Access

The western end of the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail is just a little north of the midpoint between Ames and Des Moines on I-35, making for easy travel to the trail. Trailheads can be found in Slater, Huxley, Cambridge, Maxwell, Collins, and Rhodes.

Heart of Iowa Nature Trail Reviews

If you are on a fat bike this one should be on your list. There are large sections of crushed limestone, some very short sections of pavement and some good deal of trail that is not groomed well.

On my fat bike the "not groomed well" sections make me very happy.

The only complaint I would voice is that it is not marked well. Riding east from Slater I had to cut it short in Maxwell as I lost the trail.

Note: this is for gravel bikes and fat bikes. For roady-racers try the High Trestle trail

I started on the east end of the trail at Rhodes. Good grief the trail was rough as heck---hoof marks were bad. After a couple miles of beating myself to death riding to the east, I turned around and headed west only to find that less than an a mile west of Rhodes, the trail was destroyed from four wheel drive trucks---mud,deep ruts and water holes. Totally impassable! I drove to Collins and tried again---this time it was loose gravel and soft sand that made the ride west of Collins a challenge---no fun, just work. The next day I drove to Slater, to try the west end of this trail. Even though it was raining, the trail (crushed limestone) was a smoother ride. I won't go back to the Heart of Iowa trail in the near future and maybe never given my age. Lots of work needs to be done east of Cambridge and the equestrians, 4x4 and farmers with heavy equipment need to quit destroying the trail.

We rode from Collins to Cambridge. There were a few spots between Collins and Maxwell that were in need of repair, but it looks like they are trying. There were several spots of very loose gravel and a few mud holes. All in all it was a fun and exciting ride. :D


Rode Slater to Maxwell on October 25th, 2014. Beautiful low-traffic trail with lots to recommend it. Our out of town guest was really impressed!
Towns, services, 'social stops' and benches are nicely spaced. Still a few holes in the center of the trail between Huxley and Cambridge, looks like equestrian damage. Bike lane portion is bike friendly.
The Water Street Bar and Grill in Cambridge was a nice surprise. Bar owner Scott is very welcoming and the eats looked top notch. He has a full Moscow Mule menu!
The bridge over the Skunk River is very picturesque and certainly photo worthy.
Some loose gravel east of the Skunk, no problem for fatties or MTB but all others beware.
Thanks trail people!

We rode our road bikes on this trail from Slater to Maxwell in October, 2014, and were disappointed. Basically, the trail still hasn't been repaired since the flood of 2013. The stretch from Slater to Cambridge is OK but the stretch from Cambridge to Maxwell is passable but full of mud holes and dangerous loose gravel.

This is a great trail for those of us who are looking for less groomed trails. Please don't down-rate trails just because they're not paved; we're not all looking for 8 foot wide Army Corps of Engineers golden paths. This site has a filter that lets users exclude non-paved trails, and it prominently indicates the Surface of the trails in the database.

In the past year, the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail has seen some significant improvement with the completion of the bridge over the Skunk River. One can now travel from Huxley to Maxwell essentially without leaving the trail surface. Just a couple more gaps remain. This trail follows the former main line of the Milwaukee Road that once crossed Iowa carrying the Hiawatha and other notable trains. Lots of history all along this trail, and the adjacent High Trestle Trails and Raccoon River Valley Trail (west of Perry) which all have segments built on this former railroad ROW.

Connection from Cambridge to S-14 done, 2 new bridges, one over the north/south Union Pacific tracks and one over the Skunk River. ( ribbon cutting June 4 2011, National Trails day) This part I think will be most scenic, crossing the river and through the cut to the east. Maxwell area had some flood damage to the trail last summer ( August 2010) at least 210, the closest road, has fairly low traffic if you find the trail impassible.
I'd rate if higher if paved, a couple gaps need closed too.

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