Wapsi-Great Western Line Trail

Iowa

Wapsi-Great Western Line Trail Facts

States: Iowa
Counties: Howard, Mitchell
Length: 19.9 miles
Trail end points: E. Main St.& Cherry St. to Walnut Ave.(Riceville) or State Line Road (Minnesota state line) and Elm St. and Orchard Ave. to Douglas Ave. and 140th St. (Elma)
Trail surfaces: Asphalt, Crushed Stone
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6015569
Trail activities: Bike, Fishing, Wheelchair Accessible, Snowmobiling, Walking, Cross Country Skiing

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Wapsi-Great Western Line Trail Description

The Wapsi–Great Western Line Trail is a 19.9-mile pathway that comprises two separate segments of the former Chicago Great Western Railroad. Along the combined route, the trail passes through a plethora of backdrops, including wide, rolling landscapes, agricultural land, upland timber, wetlands, and pastures. 

Elm Street to 140th Street (Elma): 5.4 miles

The southern section—also known locally as the Old Roundhouse Recreational Trail—runs for 5.4 miles from the town of Elma to its rural outskirts, passing through farmland and several tree-lined areas. The best starting point is the Elma Trailhead and Welcome Center, housed in a restored 1952 railroad depot. While the address technically lists Busti Drive, you can find the parking lot for the trailhead at the corner of Elm St. and Orchard Ave.

Note Lylah’s Marsh County Park about midway through your journey northward; the 32-acre open space offers a lake with boating access, shorefishing, a picnic area, trails, a playground, and restrooms.

The trail crosses Mead Creek—and the Little Wapsipinicon River multiple times—before terminating near some farm fields at Douglas Avenue and 140th Street.

Riceville to the Iowa–Minnesota State Line: 14.5 miles

Beginning in suburban Riceville, the northern segment—the longer piece of pathway—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 on the gravel roadways for just under a mile and then continues off-road on a concrete surface to the left of Valley Avenue, heading northwest. The remainder of the trail offers expansive views of farmland and a large wind farm, ending at State Line Road at the Minnesota border.

Parking and Trail Access

Elm Street to 140th Street (Elma): 5.4 miles

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.

There is no public parking at the northern end of this trail segment.

 

Riceville to the Iowa–Minnesota State Line: 14.5 miles

To reach the southern trailhead in 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

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!

Accordion

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.

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.

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!

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

"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. "

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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