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The Winnebago Trail provides the residents of Mason City with a safe, off-road link to nature, winding 3.7 miles from East Park and through residential areas to the Lime Creek Nature Center as it follows the Winnebago River. The trail is part of the River City Greenbelt & Trail System, which links the parks and cultural sites of Mason City and adjacent Clear Lake, and includes the Trolley Trail and the River City Trail (although the trails are not linked).
An interesting fact for Frank Lloyd Wright fans is that the small city of less than 30,000 people hosts three of the famous architect’s structures: the Stockman House (First Street Northeast), designed in 1908, and the Historic Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank (West State Street)—both designed in 1909. The Historic Park Inn Hotel is the last remaining Frank Lloyd Wright hotel in the world.
The best place to start your journey is at the East Park trailhead; here, you’ll find a 1912 steam locomotive on display, a kiosk exploring the town’s railroad history, ample parking, restrooms, picnic tables, a large playground, and a walk-through pergola. About a quarter mile north along the trail sits an amphitheater that hosts concerts and plays in the summer.
The trail snakes north through East Park along Willow Creek and then heads west along the Winnebago River for the remainder of its route. Just after heading west, you’ll pass a short spur on your right that crosses the river and connects to the Mason City Swimming Pool.
A majority of the mostly flat route is heavily wooded, creating a serene experience for trail users. You’re likely to spot a variety of small animals, birds, and butterflies, and fishing enthusiasts may wish to try their luck with the smallmouth bass and largemouth bass that inhabit the river. One word of caution: due to periodic rising waters from the Winnebago River, some low-lying sections of the trail are prone to flooding with up to a foot of water.
At the northern terminus of the trail is the Lime Creek Nature Center, established so that residents and visitors to the area could gain a better understanding of the local environment. The center hosts various programs and events throughout the year that are open to the public.
To reach the southern trailhead in East Park from I-35, take Exit 190 for US 18 E/SR 27 E toward Mason City (1-mile exit). Head east on SR 27/US 18 for 6.6 miles. Take Exit 186 for US 65 toward Mason City/Downtown/Rockwell, and turn left onto US 65 N/Partridge Ave. Go 1.1 miles, and turn right onto 245th St./35th St. SE. After 1 mile, turn left onto S. Kentucky Ave./Quail Ave. Go 2.3 miles, and turn left onto E. State St. Turn right into the park, where parking is available immediately to the left and farther northwest along the park access road.
To reach the northern trailhead at Lime Creek Nature Center from I-35 N, take the exit toward 300th St., and head east out of the exit for 7.1 miles. Take a slight right onto US 65 S, and go 1.1 miles. Take a sharp left onto Nature Center Road, and go 0.5 mile. Continue right onto Lime Creek Road, and go 0.4 mile. Turn left into the parking lot. The trail is located just across the street to the right of the nature center (if you’re facing the building).
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