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Notice: On April 9, 2020, the East Nishnabotna bridge on the north side of Shenandoah was damaged by a fire. Over 50 feet will have to be completely torn off and rebuilt. There is no through access: until repairs are complete, trail manager advises users to cautiously use US Hwy 59 as a detour.
A Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Hall of Fame rail-trail, the Wabash Trace Nature Trail earns its title—providing an amazing trip through the rural forests and countryside of southwest Iowa. The trail takes you on a 63-mile journey from Council Bluffs (just outside of Omaha, Nebraska) all the way to the Iowa–Missouri border in Blanchard, Iowa—which boasts a population of fewer than 50 residents—passing through certified trail towns along the way, some that are burgeoning with shops and destinations and others that are quaint and rustic.
The trail’s roots go back to the Wabash Railroad—and the famous Wabash Cannonball, a passenger train that connected St. Louis and Detroit—which was one of the most important connections between the farmlands, factories, and people of the American heartland and points east in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, the Wabash Trace Nature Trail is known for its peacefulness, amazing vistas, secluded wooded sections, and encounters with wildlife. The trail also has become a social hot spot for people in the Council Bluffs and Mineola areas who enjoy Thursday night “Taco Rides,” bike rides organized in the spirit of supper and good times. In Shenandoah, the annual Wabash Trace Nature Trail Marathon, Half Marathon, and Marathon Relay take place each September.
Starting in Council Bluffs, the trail begins at Iowa West Foundation Trailhead Park, where it links with the 7.2-mile Valley View Trail heading northward and the 7.5-mile Lake Manawa Trail that heads west and curves around its namesake.
Be prepared for the most populated portion of the Wabash Trace Nature Trail and the most strenuous; there are approximately 6 miles of gentle climb leaving the town heading southeast. Following the trail, you’ll pass through an area known as the Loess Hills, named for the fine, wind-deposited soils that created the corrugated landscape. The Loess Hills are home to some of the best remaining native prairies and woodlands in the state and also provide crucial habitat to prairie wildlife such as red-tailed hawks.
The trail makes its way to downtown Silver City, where there are a handful of amenities, including a water fountain (one of few along the route, so a good opportunity to fill up), small stores, and a bike shop. Of note at Silver City Centennial Park—along the trail at 287th Street/Main Street and Second Street—is a time capsule that is set to be opened in 2029!
Approximately 22 miles into the route, the Malvern trailhead features water and parking, and the town offers a haven for trail users, with a pharmacy, cafés, and shops. The city square is an homage to trail users and cyclists, with interesting sculptures and murals decorating the downtown.
Your next stop is Imogene, where a unique trailhead offers restrooms and showers inside a refurbished grain bin; here, you’ll also find an unpaved parking lot, picnic tables, a bike rack, and several primitive camping sites. Leaving Imogene, the trip takes on a markedly rural feel, with the crushed-stone trail giving the illusion of traveling a country road that opens up to vistas of farm fields.
Your journey will literally take you over the river and through the woods, crossing a number of waterways, including Keg Creek, Silver Creek, Little Creek, the East Nishnabotna River, Deer Creek, Hunter Branch, and countless other small streams and creeks, making this a wonderful trail for those who love scenic bridges.
History and railroad buffs will appreciate two train-car wreckages easily spotted off of the path. The first appears in Mineola, where several train cars tumble down the embankment to the left of the trail. The second is located when you cross over Silver Creek outside of Malvern; there you’ll see the remnants of a 1960s train derailment with ruined boxcars lying in the riverbed.
Heading south, you’ll pass through the towns of Shenandoah, Coin, and Blanchard, where the trail concludes at the Missouri border. The longest stretch between towns is less than 14 miles, so you’re never too far away from civilization but are often well outside of mobile phone coverage. Trailheads at Council Bluffs, Mineola, Silver City, Imogene, and Coin offer parking, picnic tables, and bike racks.
For this rural journey, be sure to pack water, bug repellent, and a first aid kit. Trail amenities are few and far between, and you may go long stretches before encountering other trail users. It’s easy to feel isolated—which for some may be a plus. What you won’t generally feel is sunburned: while farmland and open sky stretch for miles on end, the original 100-foot-wide railway corridor was preserved and is often thick with trees, sometimes merging overhead to form a living canopy. For those with horses, an equestrian trail parallels the main Wabash Trace Nature Trail for 9.6 miles from Council Bluffs to Mineola.
Trail users must purchase a day pass, available at most trailheads, for $1. Annual passes are also available for $20 at the trail website.
To reach Iowa West Foundation Trailhead Park in Council Bluffs from I-29, take Exit 47 for SR 92 E, and head east for 0.7 mile. Turn right onto Harry Langdon Blvd., and go 0.7 mile. Turn right onto E. South Omaha Bridge Road, and turn right into the park. Signage for the park and the Wabash Trace Nature Trail is well marked from the street.
The closest dedicated parking to the southern endpoint is located in Shenandoah near Four Mile Creek in Waubonsie Park. To reach the parking area from SR 2, head north on A Ave., go 0.7 mile, and continue on S. Center St. for 1.3 miles. Turn right onto Ferguson Road and look for the parking lot on your right in about a half block, by Waubonsie Park. The southern endpoint is located about 17.7 miles along the trail southeast at N. Railroad St. and the Iowa–Missouri state line.
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