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The Hoover Nature Trail is a developing rail-trail in southeastern Iowa being built on a former Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad right-of-way. The trail is named for President Herbert Hoover, who was born in West Branch—one of 16 towns that the corridor connects. When complete, the trail will traverse six counties between Cedar Rapids and Burlington, offering a variety of landscapes, including woodlands, farmland, prairie and urban areas. Currently, the trail is open in several disconnected segments.
Linn/Johnson County Line to Solon, 6.1 miles
The paved northernmost segment of the trail runs from Seven Sisters Road on the Johnson/ Linn County line down to Solon. The trail offers wide open views of farmland and a bridge over Lingle Creek. At its southern endpoint, it intersects with the scenic Solon Lake-Macbride Recreation Trail. North of the county line, the trail seamlessly continues as the Cedar Valley Nature Trail to Ely and further to Cedar Rapids.
Oasis to West Branch, 3.5 miles
This segment of the trail connects two counties, Johnson and Cedar, and two towns, Oasis and West Branch. Much of the route is tree-canopied so you’ll have a pleasant, shady ride on this crushed-stone pathway. On the occasions when you pop out of the trees, you’ll see the surrounding agricultural landscape.
In West Branch, the trail ends at E. College Street, adjacent to Wapsi Creek Park, where you can celebrate your adventure with a picnic. Just south of the trail, you’ll find the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum (210 Parkside Dr.), where you can explore exhibits about this American president.
West Liberty, 0.8 miles
About 12 miles of driving lie between the West Branch end of the trail and the next open section which runs just shy of a mile in West Liberty on the north end of Muscatine County. This section of the trail is paved and begins at US 6, along which you’ll find a few restaurants, if you’re looking for something to eat. Otherwise, head south on the trail, which parallels Elm Street largely through a tree-lined residential neighborhood. You’ll soon pass West Liberty High School; when you do, know that Kimberly Park is just two blocks to the east and offers a public pool, picnic shelters and a playground.
The southern end of the trail is anchored by Railroad Park, where you’ll find a railroad depot built in 1897; inside is a museum with historical photographs and artifacts of both West Liberty and the railroad. You’ll also find picnic tables, a playground and a bicycle repair station here. From this endpoint, trail-goers can travel east just two blocks to N. Clay Street to enter the community’s historic district where quaint shops and restaurants await.
Nichols, 1.5 miles
Only about 5 miles separate the West Liberty trail from the one on the outskirts of Nichols. The trail begins at 155th Street and heads south towards town. This section is surfaced with gravel and grass, so it’s best suited for mountain biking or walking. As the experience is remote and rustic, you’re also likely to see deer or other wildlife.
Conesville, 2.7 miles
About 8 miles south of Nichols is the town of Conesville, which is home to two disconnected, crushed-stone segments of the Hoover Nature Trail. The first section begins on the north side of Conesville and parallels Todds Ferry Road, ending at 7th Street.
The second section begins just south of Conesville at the intersection of 255th Street and S. Todds Ferry Road and runs northeast to scenic Cone Lake. Look for the old railroad trestle piers still standing in Cone Lake.
Morning Sun, 3.2 miles
Just over 20 miles separate Conesville from the community of Morning Sun in Louisa County. This southernmost section of the Hoover Nature Trail provides a north-south route along the town’s eastern edge. The trail traverses a corridor largely lined with trees and is mostly surfaced with mowed grass. A highlight is a short former railroad bridge over a creek.
About 25 miles south of Morning Sun, the future path of the Hoover Nature Trail would end in Burlington, near the Iowa-Illinois border, in Des Moines County.
Chinkapin Bluffs, 2 miles
A 2-mile segment of Hoover Nature Trail bisects the Chinkapin Bluffs Recreation Area near Columbus Junction. The trail was recently resurfaced with a hard-packed crushed lime. Access the trail at the new trailhead, which is on the far south side of the Louisa County Fairgrounds, just west of the Grandstand at 101 Fairground Road, Columbus Junction.
Located at the base of the bluffs, the relatively flat trail follows the old railbed of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. The trail dead ends at the E-SE when it reaches private property. Two trails extend from the Hoover Nature Trail up the bluff (very steep and rugged) to the rest of the Chinkapin Bluffs Recreation Area trail system.
An additional series of trails are located on top of the bluff. Fairly flat with a mowed grass surface, these trails pass by timber, prairie, food plots, and agricultural fields. They connect to the restroom, playground, shelter and overlook deck at Chinkapin Bluffs. The trail and surrounding public property is owned and managed by Louisa County Conservation. They also manage the Morning Sun segment of the trail. See their website for more details.
Cedar Rapids to Ely: Parking is available at Ely’s City Park (1635 Hillcrest St.).
Oasis to West Branch Segment: Parking is available at the West Branch Dog Park, which is located between the trail and Baker Avenue on the north end of town, and at Wapsi Creek Park (N. 2nd St. and E. College Street) in town.
West Liberty: Parking is available at the West Liberty Railroad Depot, which is located at the southern end of this trail segment at the intersection of W. 4th Street and N. Elm Street. Another option is Kimberly Park (N. Park St. and W. 8th St.), just two blocks east of the trail near its northern end.
Nichols: There are no dedicated parking lots for this portion of the Hoover Nature Trail, so consider parking on city streets in Nichols and riding or walking north on Main Street/Douglas Avenue until you reach the trail.
Conesville: There are no dedicated parking lots for either of these two sections of the Hoover Nature Trail, so consider parking on city streets in Conesville. As always, be mindful of any parking restrictions and respectful of the property of local landowners.
Morning Sun: A small grassy parking area is available where the trail crosses E. Division St., just east of E. Front St.
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