I moved from southern California, where the mountain biking trails in the Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains seemed as endless as the Pacific Ocean to Iowa. And I won’t lie, I miss the Golden State, but I don’t miss the cost of living or the traffic just to get to the trailhead.
Now, I find myself residing in Iowa City as I pursue (foolishly) a PhD, and I must say, the mountain biking of eastern Iowa has been an unexpected brown pow dreamland. The trails of the Hawkeye State have made me a better well-rounded rider, and despite the lack of elevation, there’s a surprising variety of trails maintained by dedicated trail trolls that help make the region worthy of your next two-wheel adventure.
Favorite Trail Systems: Sugar Bottom, Clear Creek, and Creekside
Miles of Single-track: 30 miles
Local Trail Group: Iowa Coalition of Off-Road Riders (ICORR)
Starting with my current home trails, Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa Hawkeyes, more drunken poets than NYC, a craft brewery on every corner, and plenty of single-track goodness. If you’re a cross-country rider and crave a good pedal-fest, these flat, twisty trails are calling your name.
The famed trail system here is Sugar Bottom, just north of Iowa City along the banks of the Iowa River where it funnels from Coralville Lake. As you navigate this complex system, you will hustle through pine forests full of wildlife and coast long descents mixed with steep switchback climbs, which will have your legs a proper burn. Sugar Bottom is vast and easy to make new loops on every ride.
While in town, also check out Clear Creek and Creekside in Coralville. Despite being smaller, both are fast and flowy for cross-country trails, and fun for any rider.
Favorite Trail Systems: Mt. Trashmore, Beverly Park, and Sac and Fox Greenway
Miles of Single-track: 25 miles
Local Trail Group: Linn Area Mountain Bike Association (LAMBA)
We humans make a terrible mess of our planet. However, sometimes we’re able to turn our ugly wrongdoings into something useful. That is what Cedar Rapids has done with Mt. Trashmore. After decommissioning an old landfill, the city turned it into a downhill mountain bike course and sustainability education center. From atop the mound, you can see all of Cedar Rapids, a city brought back to life in recent years with new renovations in every neighborhood, and the surrounding rolling hills of eastern Iowa that will make any American homesick for the Midwest.
Once you’ve gotten your downhill fill, check out the other great trails nearby, like Sac and Fox, Wanatee, and Beverly Park, which is home to the classic Flowly McFlow Face trail. Cedar Rapids was at the heart of the 2020 Derecho, which caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage to the area. As a result, you will find some trails are still recovering, with plenty of down tress and some trails still closed. Hopefully, this means plenty of new trails and wood features to come from all the debris.
Favorite Trail Systems: Sunderbruch, Dorrance, and Illiniwek
Miles of Single-track: 50 miles
Local Trail Group: Friends of Off-Road Cycling (FORC)
In the Quad Cities, Sunderbrach Park is the center of action. Here, you’ll find a mix of everything from jump lines, flow trails, cross-country riding, and whatever mountain style it was in the 1990s where all the trails were covered in roots and fallen logs.
If you’re looking to test your technical riding abilities, check out the nearby Dog Park trails, where FORC recently constructed plenty of wooden features. Also, drive north of Davenport to ride Westbrook and Scott County Parks, which are both filled with tight turns, narrow tree gaps, and tricky creek crossings. Then, wade across the mighty Mississippi River for the region’s best chances at elevation gains at Dorrance and Illiniwek.
Favorite Trail Systems: IPP, Proving Grounds, and Cloie Creek
Miles of Single-track: 25 miles
Local Trail Group: Tri-State Mountain Bike Riders (TMBR)
Dubuque has been taking notes from other mountain biking destinations like Duluth and northwest Arkansas in hopes of creating some of their own outdoor magic. Luckily, they’re graced with attractive terrain and locals willing to dig! TMBR has devoted time, energy, and money into making Dubuque a notable mountain biking destination in the Midwest. By bringing together local and professional trail builders, they’re the stoke is addictive. Plus, with land donated from John Deere, the Proving Grounds has quickly become the area’s golden child. With a little something for everyone — plus a nice fire road to climb — you can get to the jumps, berms, and rock gardens without powering up any singletrack.
My favorite trails in all of eastern Iowa, possibly the entire Midwest, are at Interstate Power Preserve (IPP). Last time I rode IPP, I felt like I was back in Colorado for a moment. The dirt has just enough gravel in it to make things interesting, but not enough to make you fearful of a fall when giving it your all on the downhills.
So, pack your bags and come meet us out on the trails. When you show friends photos from your rides they’ll ask “is this heaven?” and you’ll smile as you reply, “no, it’s Iowa.”
Author: Allen Kenneth Schaidle is a contributor to Terrain Magazine.
Lead Image: Sunderbruch Park. (FORC)