Wapsi-Great Western Line Trail


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Wapsi-Great Western Line Trail Facts

States: Iowa
Counties: Howard, Mitchell
Length: 27 miles
Trail end points: State Line Rd (Minnesota state line) and Elm St & Orchard Ave to Douglas Ave &140th St (Elma)
Trail surfaces: Asphalt, Concrete, Crushed Stone
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6015569

Wapsi-Great Western Line Trail Description

The Wapsi–Great Western Line Trail is a 27-mile pathway on the former Chicago Great Western Railroad. The trail passes through a plethora of backdrops, including wide, rolling landscapes, Iowa agricultural land dotted with a large wind farm in contrast to Amish farmsteads, upland timber, wetlands, oak savanna, and a lake. The trail flirts with the Wapsipinicon River as it runs diagonally from the northwest in Mitchell County to the southeast in Howard County.

The Southern Branch of the trail runs from Elma to Riceville. Beginning at the Elma trailhead, the trail heads north, crossing Mead Creek several times along its route. At 170th Street, it begins to parallel the road leading to Lylah’s Marsh County Park; the 32-acre open space offers a lake with boating access, shorefishing, a picnic area, trails, a playground, and restrooms. Trail users get into Riceville via E Main Street.

The Northern branch of the trail travels through a variety of backdrops, including tree canopies, parklands, farm fields, and a couple small towns, before ending at the Iowa–Minnesota state line.

Heading northwest from the Riceville trailhead, you’ll turn left to cross Addison Avenue and head north up Addison for a few dozen yards; note that the trail can be difficult to spot for a brief period after crossing the street. The trail picks up again and heads east and then north past Watson’s Creek and the 234-acre Lake Hendricks Park, where opportunities abound for camping, fishing, boating, hiking, and more. Here, you’ll also find playgrounds, picnic shelters, restrooms, and even a butterfly garden.

The trail turns left and runs parallel to 95th Street a short way before heading northwest through an agricultural area (its longest straightway) with many stream crossings and picturesque railroad trestles. At 450th Street, you’ll take a sharp left to cross the Wapsipinicon River on a beautifully maintained boardwalk that traverses the surrounding wetlands. There is also an additional short segment just past 430th Street that heads west (left) to Walnut Avenue and connects to a short spur that turns north (right) to connect with 450th Street; if you take the spur, head west (left) on 450th Street to return to the main route. The path then meanders north (right) through an idyllic, well-maintained nature park filled with rolling fields of wildflowers and tall grasses; in the middle of the park, riders will find a convenient resting spot complete with bike racks and a gazebo shaded by large oak trees.

After exiting the park, you’ll head northeast to McIntire; just before reaching the eastern border of town, the trail meets with First Street for a short on-road section (about a half mile). Heading north, go five blocks to Main Street (note that these blocks are on a large highway with traffic that, although minimal, is composed of very large vehicles, so use caution). Turn left onto Main Street, right onto Third Street, and then left again onto Munson Street. A sign provides instructions on how to find the off-road trail.

The off-road trail picks up again at Fourth Street on the northern border of McIntire through a tree-shaded picnic area and continues north on a concrete surface. After crossing 470th Street, you’ll enter the hardwood forest of the Pinicon Alders Wildlife Area, which offers a variety of activities, including fishing, camping, and hunting. Within this area, there are several sections of the pathway that are signed as “Shared Roadway” for motorized vehicles.

The trail follows along 485th Street and Valley Avenue heading northwest. Outside of McIntire watch for the cabin with a suspension bridge on the left. The remainder of the trail offers expansive views of farmland and a large wind farm, ending at State Line Road at the Minnesota border.

The WGWL is a designated interstate trail connecting Iowa and Minnesota. Only a one mile gap stands between it and the Shooting Star Trail in southern Minnesota.

Parking and Trail Access

At the southern terminal, the trail meets the Old Roundhouse trail at the Elma Welcome Center, which features a coveredd bridge, picnic area and parking on Elm St & Busti Ave. To reach the Elma Trailhead and Welcome Center from US 63, head west on 185th St., and go 5.9 miles. Continue onto IA 272/Grove St. for 1 mile, and then turn left onto Busti Ave. After 0.3 mile, turn right onto Elm St. The parking lot will be immediately to your left in front of the welcome center and an arch for the trail that says Old Roundhouse Trail.

The WGWL Trailhead Welcome Center in Riceville sits on the county line between Mitchell and Howard County in a former pioneer Baptist Church that is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. To reach the trailhead from Riceville from US 63, head west onto SR 9, and go 13 miles. Turn right into the trailhead parking lot just past Addison Ave.; the lot is by the visitor center and has a large stone Riceville sign in front.

The closest dedicated parking for the northern endpoint is in McIntire. To reach the parking area from IA 9, head north onto Walnut Ave., and go 4.7 miles. Continue on First St. for about 0.6 mile. Turn left onto Main St. in McIntire, go one block, and look for parking on your right along the block before reaching Third St.

Wapsi-Great Western Line Trail Reviews

beautiful Iowa Prairie

We rode this trail today and it was gorgeous! The wildflowers and the fresh air is just what I needed!

Mostly pleasant

The part from Riceville (lake Hendricks park) is very nice, smooth & scenic. Not hard to find your way thru McIntyre, just follow the signs. The last section puts you on a gravel road for about a mile, then more new pavement but you're really subject to the wind (probably why all the wind turbines are nearby). Someday they plan to punch thru to a MN trail.

Going south from Riceville is pretty much boring, flat, open riding with many right angle turns (follows section/property lines?) Once you're back on the trail half ways to Elma it's pretty nice again. Elma has a cute RR depot as trailhead.

Nice ride but start at Riceville and go north to MN border and if you can start in Elma & go north until you get to all the straight-aways (and very windy). The scenery is pleasant either way you go.

Rode Norh from Riceville to end of paved trail ~10 miles. In McIntire watch for signs on the back of street signs to navigate through town and checkout Goosey's bar an grill if you are hungry. Saw Amish horses and farms.

Rode Norh from Riceville to end of paved trail ~10 miles. In McIntire watch for signs on the back of street signs to navigate through town and checkout Goosey's bar an grill if you are hungry. Saw Amish horses and farms.

Nice summer trail

I returned to this trail this year. However I started in Elma and rode to the Minnesota border. They are putting up more signage on the trail. There was water covering a portion on the north branch, north of McIntyre on the trail. It was shallow enough to ride through. A lot of different scenery on the trail.


Paved trail, wildlife, what a treat

Rode two sections - Riceville to a little past Mcintire and Elma northward. Riceville north is a real treat, especially the curves and boardwalk. We "lost" the trail in Mcintire but for a 12 block town, getting "lost" is not easy... We found the trail after seeing the small trail signs on lampposts. North of Mcintire, we found Amish folks walking the trail. At the wildlife refuge, the water was overflowing the trail/road (due to recent rains) so we turned back. On the way back, in the marsh area, we surprised a fox which in turn had just raided a Canada goose nest and was slurping down goose egg yolks as we rode past. Don't see that too often. The Elma section is arrow straight although we started at the Laylah Marsh which is quite pretty and well maintained and has an access next to the trail.

Hidden Gem

This is a beautiful trail with some newly paved sections. Very nice Welcome Centers in Elma and Riceville.

Something different

I rode this in June '19 & camped north of Riceville by a lake. I rode north as far as I could until it became a loose gravel road--short distance from the MN border--sounds like that may be finished by now. I liked the concrete sections to prevent erosion. There were some awesome oak trees and some interesting curves & small hills--even a wooden bridge over a swamp.

Riding south was pretty much in straight stretches with some right angle turns. Again, some pretty stands of trees & vegetation. Elma was a treat with the museum & covered bridge. I liked the trail marking "railroad semi-fores" to keep you on course whenever there was an important turn. Very nice trail, wish I had spent more time there. Iowa has done a good job upgrading its trails with concrete.

Pleasant Ride

I camped at Lake Hendricks Park the half-way point of the trail. Easy access from the park to the trail. I rode the north section first and had the wind at my back. Could not pick up the trail in Ridgeway and had to ask for directions. Rode the trail all the way north and they are paving the last section to or the first section in Minnesota. Crashed on my return trip to campground and bent up the wheel of bike. Got a replacement rim in Cresco and rode the south portion of the trail in the afternoon to Elma. Wind was strong and it was tough going but the ride back was nice. The map is a little off. The trail is now paved completely from Elma to the border north of Riceville. I would ride on this trail again just because it is a nice trail and there are some scenic features.

Elma to McIntire

Started out in Elma. The start of the trail was very welcoming with a visitor center that was well kept. The trail portion to Riceville was groomed nice. There was enough to see to keep things interesting with nice tree cover through small portions. A couple of bridges to crossover. For the most part it is mostly flat but towards Riceville you will have some hills. Nothing to dread but they will kick your butt alittle. During this portion you will travel through some open spaces. This is something that i dont prefer but non-the less there is open-ness. Then you are thankfull to hit Riceville. The trail takes on a new feel even though you can tell the trail has that old feel. Moss growing on portions of it. I opted out of exploring the lake area as pending storms were looming. The treats during this portion is the covered bridges and the marsh area bridge. There is plenty to see. Honestly wished i had more time to explore a bit more. When i arrived at McIntire there is a very large gap in the trail. There is a sign to instruct you to where it picks up again. At that point i turned around and headed back. At that point i was 2hrs in and didnt want to be hunting for where it picks up again. Oh also if your wondering at this point it was 19.2 miles. The trip back wasnt dull. Honestly bucking head winds on the route thus far really takes alot out of you. Having a tailwind at your back for the return trip was a delight.
Four star rating... PROS..awesome trail for any level of biker. Very well marked so you wont get lost. For the most part mostly flat. Where there is scenery it is nice.
CONS...Only two. The open section that you go on seem to never end. Not much to look at except open ness.. The large gap at McIntire was something unexpected. It may be a personal preference but it was something that just seemed so out of place.
Overall...I would not do this particular route again. From Riceville to McIntire I most certainly would.

Area secret - nice trail

Trail was more interesting than I was expecting. Seems like it's location probably keeps it a bit of a secret. I would definitely ride it again. Some more details below:
It had changing scenery including rural (fields doing well in July, Amish family farming, horses with foals), wooded areas (some tunnel-like with trees), deer crossed the path, many birds and other wildlife, long boardwalk/deck trail through wetland, all with mostly level grade with some curves and short hills for some variety. Several miles were actually concrete instead of asphalt (I've never encountered that on a public trail before).
Had the trail mostly to ourselves on a holiday. It is in great condition except for just a few minor spots that were marked.
Only "neutral" comments are that we started in Riceville at the trailhead, but the parking lot only contained 1 non-HC spot. However the street was bare so we simply parked on it. Don't know if it ever gets so busy where that would be a problem.
Signage is better than many trails, but couple times needed to look around a bit more to find which direction the trail continued (when crossing some gravel roads), had to shortly go onto some rural (low travel) roads for a bit, and then there is the one short section that requires riding on a country gravel road to "portage" to the trail. This gap was somewhere around 11 miles north of Riceville, so you could skip that and get a nice 22 mile round trip in witout it.


Love this trail. Thank you to all who maintain this. Can't wait to get back to ride it again.


Great ride today. Beautiful trail!

Spectacular Trail

Since many of these comments were posted, the trail has improved dramatically- namely it is completely paved and in EXCELLENT condition. I have driven through this area many times and looked at the trailhead but never took the occasion until recently to utilize it. I have been missing out! The scenery packed into the 18.5 miles is intense and it is not at all crowded. In the future it would be great to pave an additional 7-8 miles and join this with the Shooting Star Trail between Adams and LeRoy MN. Thanks to the local folks that helped make this beautiful trail a reality, and here's hoping that generations ahead will enjoy it as much as I did.

Enjoyable Riding Trail

We rode our cross bikes and started out at the Welcome Center. We rode thru McIntire as far as we could go on the trail which was mostly all asphalt or cement. The last 2 miles was grassy. The grade was nice, because if you were peddling up hill you couldn't tell and nice tree/foliage cover on a hot day almost the whole way. On the way back we stopped and had lunch at the Pit Stop which was typical bar food, but a nice break.

A NICE Ride!

I rode the trail today on my cyclocross bike and had a blast! This trail offers a bit of everything. There's open fields of corn and soybeans, dense woods, a marsh, lakes, creeks, rivers, old bridges, quaint Amish farms, and even giant wind turbines! If you start at Riceville, you can ride all the way to McIntire and on through Pinicon Alders Park on a road bike as everything is paved. There's a nice bar & grill where you can grab lunch in McIntire, but not much more. The Pinicon Alders Park portion is newly paved BEAUTIFUL--as nice a trail as you can find anywhere ...Seriously. The last 4-mile section, though, you really need something with wider tires as this is crushed gravel and a bit rough in a few spots. A cyclocross or mountain bike would be your best bet. Whatever you do, don't forget your camera!

trail location

This trail actually goes way past Lake Hendricks up to the Minnesota state line

Wapsi Trail

"This trail is very enjoyable with a very beautiful ride through lush farm fields, woodlands, wetlands and communities that welcome the visitors with warmth and hospitality.
Riceville is the main town that you can get your supplies and information on the trail. You can camp out at Lake Hendricks which is next to the Wapsi Trail.
Bring your camera for wonderful scenes and the great old steel bridges that are used on the trail to cross the creeks. An appetite for some is answered by the wonderful places to eat in Riceville.
This is one place to visit that is very family friendly with lots of options. "

A Must Ride!!!

The Wapsi Great Western is one of my favorite trails to ride! The landscape changes thoughout the ride -- there's never a dull moment.

The crushed limestone surface makes the trail even more enjoyable by providing a smooth ride and is a nice change from the blacktop urban bike trails/wide sidewalks.

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