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The High Trestle Trail is one of the most pristine and highly trafficked trails in Iowa—even at night. The trail’s popularity is largely due to its famous 130-foot-tall High Trestle Bridge, which boasts one of the most well-known rail-trail art installations in the country, From Here to There. Wrapped in 43 twisting, diamond-shaped steel ribs lined with LED lights, the bridge elicits the sensation of traveling down a mine shaft—a nod to the area’s coal-mining history.
For individuals strictly interested in viewing the high trestle bridge (note that the trail is open 24 hours a day), there are two ideal entrance points. One, with lots of parking and a historic rail house, is located at the trail’s northern endpoint in Woodward. The other—significantly closer than the Woodward access point—is a small parking area just off the trail outside of Madrid.
If you’re interested in traveling the entirety of the High Trestle Trail, the best place to start is at the west end in Woodward. Exhibits inside the former rail house explore the history of the disused line the trail now inhabits, and art and local signage pay homage to both the trail and the area’s railroad days.
Heading east, the route takes you down a wide concrete path with typical Iowa farmland on either side. As you get closer to the Des Moines River, the landscape becomes more wooded and then opens up to the entrance of the trestle bridge, where you are welcomed by large concrete decorated columns—the beginnings of the art installation From Here to There.
Before entering the bridge, look to your left for a path that leads to an overlook; here you can see a breathtaking view of the trestle as it stretches out over the river. Entering the bridge itself, you’ll be treated to another fantastic view as you are suspended higher and higher out over the river. The bridge’s most notable feature is its collection of steel beams shaped and positioned to give the illusion of gliding movement if you’re bike riding below them. At night, the beams are lined with glowing blue lights that create an otherworldly experience.
Past the bridge, the trail continues straight through forested areas and farmland before bending slightly and heading through the middle of the town of Madrid. Here, you’ll find multiple spots for refreshment along the trail. Note the small tunnel decorated with trail- and railroad-themed paintings.
Leaving Madrid, you begin a long, straight stretch to Slater, passing by the backs of farmhouses, over small creeks, and—depending on the season—by expanses of wildflowers that grow in abundance along the trail. In Slater you’ll also find a couple of spots with shelter, restrooms, and picnic tables for rest and respite. At Carol Street and First Avenue North, the trail makes a sharp right turn and heads southwest along the town’s western edge. Here you can also head straight on First Avenue and then turn left onto the 25.8-mile Heart of Iowa Nature Trail which heads east to Rhodes. Back on the High Trestle Trail, you’ll pass baseball diamonds, a pool, and a park to your right. You’ll then travel through a short expanse of open land outside Slater before entering Sheldahl.
Continuing southward, you’ll pass through more farmland and along blocks of crop fields, after which the trail follows Northwest 58th Street through flat Iowa cropland for several miles. Luckily there is a small oasis with a restroom, water, and a covered seating area just before the trail turns slightly east and heads toward Ankeny. From here, you’ll travel through marshy-looking farms as you pass through a stretch just a couple of miles northeast of Saylorville Lake.
The trail runs diagonally through Ankeny—where farmland is replaced by neighborhoods and businesses—ending about halfway through the town.
From Woodward and heading west, a new trail project is underway to connect the High Trestle Trail to the 89-mile Raccoon River Valley Trail. The first 1.5-mile section of this connector, referred to as the "Let's Connect Trail Project," opened in Perry in 2018. The second phase of the project, which began in 2019, has so far added another mile-long extension located in Woodward.
To reach the western trailhead in Woodward from Des Moines, head northwest on IA 141 and take Exit 138 for IA 210 E toward Woodward for 0.4 mile. Turn right (north) onto State Route 210 E/ N. Main St., and go 1.7 miles. Turn right into the parking lot and trailhead after Railroad St.
To reach parking on the eastern side of the trestle bridge from SR 17 heading north, turn left onto E. First St. in Madrid, and go 0.5 mile. Turn right onto N. Locust St., and then make an immediate left onto W. North St. After 0.3 mile, continue on IA 210 W/334th Road. Go 1 mile, and turn left onto QF Lane. After 0.5 mile, look for parking on the right immediately after crossing over the trail.
The closest available parking for the eastern endpoint in Ankeny is a little less than 1 mile along the trail. To reach the parking lot from SR 415 N/SW State St., turn right onto W. First St., go 0.7 mile, and turn left onto NW Ash Drive. After 0.2 mile, turn left into the trailhead parking lot. Head southeast along the trail for just less than a mile to the endpoint at SW Railroad Ave. and SW Ordnance Road.
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