Great Western Trail

A key connection between urban Des Moines and the surrounding rural landscape, this 16.5-mile scenic rail-trail offers trail users the opportunity to journey through Iowa history while hiking, biking, or enjoying other recreational activities.

photo: Type: Greenway, Rail Trail
Length: 16.50 miles
Loop Trail? No
Allowed Uses: Bicycling (on pavement)
Dogs - On leash
Pedestrian - Walking/Hiking/Running
Roller/Inline Skating
Snow - Cross-country Skiing
Agency: City, Town, or County
Entry Fee? No
Parking Fee? No

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Location: Des Moines to Martensdale, south and west from Des Moines trailhead (opposite Izaak Walton League Clubhouse) to Martensdale.

States: Iowa
Counties: Polk, Warren
Latitude: 41.37392   Longitude: -93.74557

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The Great Western Trail, running for more than 16 miles, connects quintessential rural Iowa landscapes with the burgeoning urban areas of Des Moines. Smooth, crushed-limestone surfaces on the north end of the trail provide a gentle route through rustic farms and wooded river valleys, and asphalt surfaces on the south end allow riders to coast through green fields and down rolling hills. Nature and recreation enthusiasts can hike, run, bicycle, cross country ski, bird watch, and participate in countless other activities.

A trip along the Great Western Trail is a journey through history. Built on a converted railbed, the trail follows the same path that travelers took through Iowa in the early 1900s. In 1914, no point in Iowa was more than 12 miles from a railroad, and the Great Western Trail preserves pieces of Iowa's history, passing through Lida, the site of a munitions derailment, and an infamous wildfire on Churchville Prairie.

Trail users can also learn about Iowa's natural history, witnessing prairie and wetland remnants along the railroad bed. These relatively undisturbed natural areas provide habitat for Iowa wildlife, and they give bikers and hikers a chance to spot birds, small mammals, reptiles, and insects that aren't found in the city. The recently paved trail, managed jointly by the Warren and Polk County Conservation Boards, preserves some of Iowa's endangered plants, those plants that had been wiped out in other parts of the state as land-use changes were made.

Some of the initial funding sources for the trail's development included the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and the Izaak Walton League, two important conservation organizations in Iowa. The jointly managed trail is heavily used by bikers, joggers, hikers, and nature enthusiasts, and it is prized in Martensdale and Cumming, two small rural communities that host trail facilities. For more information, please see:

Additional Details

Primary Surface: Asphalt
Secondary Surface: None
Average Grade: 0%
Elevation Low Point: Not Available
Elevation High Point: Not Available
Year Designated: 2008

Supporting Webpages and Documents

Website: TrailLink - trail information
Website: Travel Iowa - trail information
Website: Warren County Conservation Board

Contact Information

For more information and current conditions, contact the trail manager (listed below). For questions, suggestions, and corrections to information listed on the website, contact American Trails.

Trail Management:
Polk County Consv. Board
Jester Park
Granger , IA 50109
(515) 323-5300



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