Iowa Great Lakes Trail


11 Reviews

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Iowa Great Lakes Trail Facts

States: Iowa
Counties: Dickinson
Length: 26.2 miles
Trail end points: 125th St. and 253rd Ave. (Orleans) and 230th St. and Q Ave. (Milford)
Trail surfaces: Asphalt
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6031526

Iowa Great Lakes Trail Description

The Iowa Great Lakes resort on the northern border with Minnesota is a longtime destination for fishermen and vacationers who arrived from big cities by rail. Dickinson County employed two different former rail corridors, as well as streets and sidewalks, to create a 14.3-mile paved trail, known locally as the “Spine Trail,” that can be used by a new generation of visitors to Spirit Lake, East and West Okoboji Lakes, and Upper and Lower Gar Lakes. There’s a nearly limitless inventory of cafés and ice-cream stores along the route for food and refreshments.

The segment between the towns of Orleans and Spirit Lake follows a former corridor of the Iowa Northwestern Railroad, which abandoned the line in 2009. Historically it operated as the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railway, succeeded by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad. From Spirit Lake south through Milford, the trail runs on and off the old railbed of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road) that served the area from the 1890s. Parts of the trail date to 1992.

Beginning on the eastern shoreline of Spirit Lake, you’ll head south between farm fields and lakeside homes for 1.5 miles to the town of Orleans. Throughout the Iowa Great Lakes Trail, your route switches from multidirectional trail to sidewalks to on-street bike lanes, so you’ll have to watch for painted pavement arrows and bike signs.

Crossing a land bridge between Spirit Lake and East Okoboji Lake, the trail puts you along the water in Isthmus Park with picnicking and fishing areas. After crossing Hill Avenue, you’ll zigzag through a wooded area, then pass cow pastures and crop fields before you enter the town of Spirit Lake. The trail here follows the former Iowa Northwestern Railroad right-of-way for less than 2 miles. The trail route then heads south alongside Peoria Avenue.

Turn left onto 20th Street and right onto Lincoln Avenue to find the trail again at 23rd Street, this time heading southwest on the former Milwaukee Road railbed. A side trail heads west alongside 175th Street toward Kenue Park Nature Center and a grand loop around West Okoboji Lake.

Following US 71/Okoboji Avenue past boat dealers and other marine businesses, turn left onto Gordon Drive and follow it right to cross the inlet linking East and West Okoboji Lakes on the 1902 swing railroad bridge to Arnolds Park.

This lakeside community is home to a 125-year-old lakefront amusement park of the same name, in addition to the Iowa Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, which celebrates many of the acts that performed in local resorts over the years. Turning left onto Bascom Street and right onto Rohr Street takes you through a neighborhood to a trailhead on 195th Street. You’ll enter a shady area along the Minnewashta Lake shoreline, cross a bridge, then return to a shady shore on Lower Gar Lake.

Leaving Lower Gar State Recreation Area, the route continues on a shared roadway along 202nd Street for 0.7 mile, and then left onto the trail. It continues 3.3 miles south through Milford, ending on 230th Street in Milford’s Old Town, the center of the community in the late 1860s.

Separate segmented sections of the trail along the west side of Okoboji and the west side of Big Spirit Lake make the total mileage over 26 miles.

Parking and Trail Access

There are numerous parking options along the trailhead including the northern endpoint at Marble Beach State Recreation Area, 12320 240th Ave, in the town of Spirit Lake at Memorial Park, 300 Lake St. and Kiwanis Park, 2200-2298 Keokuk Ave and in Milford off of 220th St. 

See TrailLink Map for additional options and detailed directions. 


Iowa Great Lakes Trail Reviews

Great Lakes Trail

This is a wonderful bike trail that goes all the way around West Okoboji to the north taking the old railway—beautiful Iowa prairie with wild flowers, all the way to Spirit Lake. Then it goes south to East Okoboji, Hwy 71 with a nicely paved trail. Not always marked well but once you know the way, it’s a piece of cake. 26 miles around West and East Okoboji. We love it!

Nice ride but poorly marked!!

Thank goodness for the TrailLink app bc this trail is very poorly marked. Pay attention to white spray painted arrows to guide you bc there is very little signage. The majority of the trail is asphalt or blacktop and sections are along the major US 71 highway. We parked at the Milford end of trail trailhead and there is no parking. We pulled into the grass along the road. Overall very shaded and nice and would recommend but have you TrailLink app ready to guide you!

They have added about 3.75 miles to the west of the trail from Hyvee in Spirit Lake west to Vick's Corner on Highway 86.

They have added about 3.75 miles to the west of the trail from Hyvee in Spirit Lake west to Vick's Corner on Highway 86.

Well maintained trails around the lakes!

We stayed at Gull Point State Park which had direct access to this trail. The first time I rode it I went clockwise starting from the west side of the lake. There was more paved trail than indicated in the app. However I did lose the trail when I got to the east side in Lake Okoboji/Arnold's Park area. The second time I rode the trail, I went counterclockwise and was able to follow trail signage from that direction (mostly). I also rode the trail north to Spirit Lake. Many beautiful sections and the portions not on the trail were little-traveled roads. Very enjoyable!


Fantastic ride

This is a great trail. However, we only did 1/2 of it. We started out at the beginning of the trail on the east side of Big Spirit Lake and rode south to Memorial Park. Then we headed back the way we came, but continued West around Big Spirit Lake. This was nearly 16 miles. The directions tell you to park on a gravel lot on 253rd about 1/2 of a mile before the end point. We drove down to the end point to check it out and found several spots along the side of the road where you could park. It was nice to start the trail at the beginning because you get to ride through soy and corn fields. There are a few spots where signage could be improved. But if you just keep in mind that you should always be able to see the lake then you'll intuitively know which direction to go. One of the things I really like about this trail is how little you are on the road. It's nice to be away from cars. Memorial Park was a great spot to stop and have lunch. There are at least 2 covered picnic areas. And there are fairly decent rest rooms. The trail on the west side of Big Spirit Lake ends at an RV park. We rode around in there and realized they have awesome views of the lake. We'll try to stay here in our rig sometime.

Iowa Great Lakes trails

I have ridden around both West Lake Okoboji, Big Spirit,East Lake many times. Some of the trail is on the road which is county black tops and local streets, it would be impossible to go around 5 lakes and be only bike/walk trail. Go to map on top tool bar. It's prox 24 miles around West Okoboji and 46 miles around outside of all 5 lakes. Great adventure and gets better every year,

Extremely disapointing

To look at the trail map (which we did) you would think that there is a trail around both Spirit Lake and Lake Okoboji. Nothing could be further from the truth. Much of the trails consist of residental roads, highways, with a few dedicated trails mixed in, which simply stop, with no instructions. Whats even worse is the fact that there are ZERO signs anywhere to tell you where the "trail" is. Maybe I'm spoiled living in central Iowa. If you're a boater, head to the Iowa great lakes. If you're a biker, go elsewhere!!

Much Improved!

Road from the parking lot of Fareway around the entire loop except for 3 miles to Milford. Trail is mostly asphalt that is new this summer (2015). A huge improvement from the previous cracked concrete. The trail is tree lined in parts and beautiful. It goes across several bridges and has beautiful views of the lakes. The trail also takes you past multiple bars and resturants. There are a few areas where there is a bike lane on a lower traffic road. There are spray painted white arrows in some places where it is confusing which way to go. If you stay with the white arrows you will be fine. Fun trail!


Not a very well marked at all. Missed a turn and ended up running against traffic over a bridge with a tiny shoulder. It's every kind of surface and most are not that well maintained. A few small patches of new concert or asphalt but just a mishmash of all manner of walkway. Not a trail destination.

Low quality trail

Biked on this trail on a rainy Sunday in May. No water or restrooms at the Trail Head, just a small gravel parking lot. The signage was very poor; never sure you're even on the trail which was all patched up & bumpy and switched between asphalt, concrete sidewalks & parking lots (weird they'd even call this a trail).

In Spirit Lake it seems to run mostly on narrow sidewalks. Riding the roads would have been better except some had lots of traffic & very narrow shoulders. The high point of the trail was a very nice Kiwanis park on the southern edge of Spirit Lake. Dickinson County: this "trail" needs major rehabilitation; the area is interesting but this isn't a destination trail.

Great Lakes Spine Trail

Went to Okoboji this past weekend just to ride the trail. First day went around Spirit Lake. Did take the county highway, which is the Iowa/Minnesota State line, to make the entire loop. The scenery was decent. The trail isn't in the best of shape A LOT of patches. The worst thing is the lack of signage. You are constantly being sent on city streets or sidewalks and not sure if you are still on the trail or if you missed a turn. After a while we figured out to look for spray painted arrows on the street or sidewalks to point the direction. The second day we tried to do the loop around Okoboji lake but had to give up because after passing Arnolds Park Amusement Park we couldn't locate where the trail continued on. Disappointing. Signage could have made it a great weekend. As is I won't be back.

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