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The Heritage Trail rolls along like a dream for nearly 30 miles from the Mississippi River town of Dubuque to Dyersville, home of the movie set for Field of Dreams. Along the way it passes through the deeply carved valley of the Little Maquoketa River, historical sites, and a handful of small farming and former mining communities.
The trail follows the corridor of the Chicago Great Western Railroad built in the 1880s to link Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha, and Kansas City. Merging with the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad in 1968, the company determined that many of the 32 bridges and trestles were unsafe for railroad traffic and abandoned the line in 1981. The Dubuque County Conservation Board acquired the railbed and created the crushed-limestone trail in the mid-1980s. Several of those historic railroad bridges have since been replaced after severe flooding.
Beginning in Dubuque, you’ll start your trek a couple of miles north of the historic riverfront that’s home to an excursion riverboat and the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. You’ll head north out of Dubuque on pavement through an older residential and commercial area to a greenway that leads to the Heritage Pond trailhead and interpretive site in Sageville.
By now the trail is crushed limestone as you pass about 2 miles south of the Little Maquoketa River Mounds State Preserve on the way to Durango, where canoeists like to launch flow trips down the river to the Mississippi. Lead mining was an early industry in this area, and some landmarks still carry the name “furnace” referring to lead smelters.
The trail continues through the river drainage for nearly 8 miles to the town of Graf. Fossil hunters come here to look for remains of tiny prehistoric sea creatures in the limestone cliffs along the river and old railroad cuts. Endangered plant species, such as prairie dock and Leonard’s skipper, also can be found in the trailside vegetation. A picnic shelter and restrooms are available in Graf, but there’s no drinking water.
You’ll gain a gentle slope as you climb out of the river bottoms toward Epworth and Farley. Both are less than 2 miles south of the trail and provide cafés and other services for travelers. The Centennial Ballpark north of Epworth has restrooms and drinking water.
The final 6 miles to Dyersville is all farmland, where you can be forgiven for expecting to see old-time baseball players emerging from the cornfields. Movie producers chose a farm 3.5 miles northeast of the Dyersville trailhead as the setting for Field of Dreams. The farm has since become a tourist attraction.
Note: Trail users age 12 and older must carry a trail pass costing $2.10 per day or $10.25 per year ($5.50 for individuals age 63 and older). An annual family pass is $25.50. Passes are available at area sporting goods and bicycle stores, at trailside businesses, and at trailhead parking lots.
To reach the eastern trailhead in Dubuque from US 20/Dodge St., turn left to head north on Locust St. toward US 151/US 52 N. Go 0.1 mile, and turn right onto State Route 946 N.; then go 0.1 mile, and turn left onto US 151/US 52 N. After 0.5 mile, exit onto Ninth St. toward 11th St./US 52, and then go 0.2 mile to turn left onto Ninth St./Kerper Blvd. In about 200 feet, turn right onto Elm St. Go 0.7 mile, and turn right onto Rhomberg Ave. Go 0.1 mile, and turn left onto Kniest St.; then go 0.2 mile and turn right onto 22nd St. The trailhead parking is immediately on the left. The endpoint is located about 0.5 mile northwest along the trail on Beltline Road just before the intersection with Fourth Ave. NE.
To reach the western trailhead in Dyersville from US 20, take Exit 294 toward Dyersville onto northbound State Route 136/Ninth St. Go 1 mile, and turn right onto Beltline Road. Look for on-street and off-street parking immediately on your left. The trail starts on the right.
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