Skunk River Greenbelt Trail System - A Best Kept Secret

I've been told the greenbelt is a Story County best kept secret.  I agree.

With a free afternoon my husband and I headed up to the Ames area with a plan to scout the E 18 and Anderson Access segments of the Skunk River Greenbelt Trail System.

During our visit we had the trails to ourselves.  The minimal tracks on the trail proved how few folks had visited since the last snow fall.  Not a single bike track was spotted!!

The greenbelt is easily accessible just off of I-35 and is a great trail for snowshoeing, cross country skiing, fat biking, hiking, fishing, and mountain biking.  With Peterson Pits and McFarland Park nearby there's lots of options for getting outside.  The only drawback is the noise from the adjacent interstate. But after only a few minutes on the trail it's soon ignored.  

While hiking I kept thinking "If I owned a fat bike THIS is the place I'd take it."  These trail segments were perfect!  Flat, beautiful, peaceful and interesting landmarks to spot among the trees.  I will definitely be back here on a bike, but hiking and snowshoeing are just as fun. 

 Plan your own trip to Ames and explore a trail along the Skunk River Greenbelt.  Just keep it a secret okay? 

Need a coffee, craft beer, sugar or pizza fix while in Ames?  I recommend: 

Coffee Outside - The Inaugeral Brew Up

I've always admired the ingenuity of  folks who inject coffee into their bike rides.  How I envied those like pondero and graveldoc who pedal to  quiet spots, set up a small camp, brew a cup of joe, and enjoy a relaxing bike break.  

When my husband acquired a silicone coffee dripper and backpacking stove from a friend  I seized my opportunity!  I borrowed the brew up tools numerous times over the past months and practiced my pour over skills in the comforts of the kitchen.  Next it was getting comfortable using the backpacking stove. This was also done at home outside on the deck.   Having gotten the techniques down (it's not hard but it sure is fun!) it was time to put my new skills to work outside.  

With a backpack filled with the necessities (and a snack of course) I met my sister for a snowshoe outing.  We traipsed around enjoying the fantastic scenery and found a perfect brewup spot.  A fallen tree did the job keeping the gear out of the snow.  The nearby lake provided a beautiful view to take in while enjoying our coffee.  

There was something exciting and yet difficult to describe about being surrounded by trees and snow while brewing the coffee. The aromas seemed more pungent and the coffee tasted even better than it had at home.  

I'm looking forward to injecting coffee into my own bike rides and joining ranks with the "pros" of the outdoor pour overs and presses. 

Time to scout out coffee outside locations along the bike trails!

Happy (Caffeinated) Riding!

Kid Friendly Bike Rides

Running out of ideas for summertime activities with the kids?  Plan a bike ride!  

A family bike ride not only provides an opportunity for spending quality time together, it helps to build confidence, fosters a love for riding, and can educate kids in the areas of nature and conservation.  


In an article written for Rails to Trails Conservancy, Mark Stosberg of Bikes as Transportation explains how riding the trails have impacted his children:  “Trails have been a great place for my kids to learn how to ride, learn skills [and] learn how to ride with others, where the stakes are much lower,” he says. “It was the first place that we went to practice…[trails] provided a safe environment for them, where they could be comfortable, and where I knew they were safe.”  

The first step in having a fun family bike ride is choosing a kid-friendly trail. One with flat terrain conducive for strider bikes or training wheels and limited interaction with cars or fast paced cyclists is ideal. Also important are trailside amenities such as restrooms, parks, playgrounds, libraries or restaurants. 

Kid Friendly Trails in Central Iowa

  • Gay Lea Wilson Trail (Copper Creek Loop) - Pleasant Hill
  • Raccoon River Park - West Des Moines
  • Ada Hayden Heritage Park - Ames
  • Mark Ackelson Trail  - Des Moines
  • Bob Layton Trail - Urbandale
  • Prairie Heritage Trail - Altoona

To help ensure a successful and enjoyable ride with the kiddos, follow these helpful tips from REI:  

Before the Ride

  • Do your homework: Make certain you are familiar with the bike route. If you get lost or the route is longer than expected, your child may suffer not only from a diminished experience, but potentially in more serious ways such as dehydration or exposure.

  • Start early: Children tend to tire quickly in the afternoon. Take advantage of their energy in the morning and start your ride early.

  • Invite playmates: Cycling is more fun when shared. If your child has a friend who is at the same level of competency on a bike, bring him or her along.

  • Slow down: Realize that a 4-mile ride may take 2 hours. Don't expect to ride as fast as you would on your own.

  • Be aware of traffic: What might seem like light traffic to you could be a more dangerous situation for your child, whether biking separately or in a trailer.

  • Be prepared: Carry a tool kit and know how to use it. Also, carry a first-aid kit that includes a few bandages and antibiotic cream to handle minor cases of road rash.

  • Dress right: Bring a daypack to hold extra jackets in case the weather changes.

On the Ride

  • Take breaks: Plan on taking a lot of short breaks. Allow time to stop, get off the bike and explore.

  • Drink water: Always have water readily available. Try to drink before feeling thirsty to stay hydrated.

  • Eat snacks: A well-timed snack can defuse a squabble or bad mood and keep energy going. Kids tend to misbehave more when they're tired, hungry or thirsty.

  • Make it fun: Choose an interesting route that goes by gardens, streams, views, farms or a favorite shop. Most children are interested in what they can see along the route rather than what's at the end of the road or trail.

  • Express enthusiasm: If you convey a genuinely upbeat attitude, children most often will be inclined to mimic it.

Take the kids out to the trails for a family bike ride this summer and you'll be sure to return with some special memories.

Happy Riding!

A Taste of Gravel

If you follow trends in Iowa cycling you've likely heard how popular riding gravel roads has become.  There are races, clubs, websites, and even specific types of bicycles all "geared" around riding Iowa's rural roads.  

If you are curious about what riding gravel is like and are in close proximity to the Waukee area, this short jaunt off the Raccoon River Valley Trail might fit the bill.  

This is a wide and well maintained piece of road that is just under 1.5 miles in length.  There are no dogs living nearby so you won't have to contend with being chased.    The gravel runs flat which helps with visibility for approaching vehicles.   Also, it's low commitment.  If you dislike it just jump back on the bike trail.  If nothing else, you'll gain an appreciation for smooth concrete!

Happy Riding!

Ride Map


Great Books About Iowa Bike Trails

There are helpful websites and smartphone apps that provide fantastic resources for planning a bike ride on Iowa’s bike trails.  But, sometimes a book is the best companion.  Here are two of my favorites which I’ve turned to countless times over the years:

Iowa’s Bicycle Trails by Ray Hoven

Published by American Bike Trails, this book is proves to be an handy encyclopedia of Iowa’s trails and a useful jumping off point for finding a bike trail you haven’t yet explored.

With over 120 trails featured there are lots of bike rides to choose from!  Trails are listed in alphabetical order and include details such as:

  • Brief trail overview
  • Length
  • Effort level
  • Map of the area
  • Nearby attractions

Towards the back of the book you’ll find 4 bike rides on Iowa county roads.  A map of the route is provided along with a mileage chart and locations for services along the ride.

This book is a good tool for deciding where to go in Iowa for a bike riding adventure.  

Biking Iowa by Bob Morgan

I’d like to meet Bob and hear first hand, his stories about cycling around Iowa.  Thankfully he has shared his experiences via his website Bicycling Beyond Boundaries  and his book Biking Iowa.  

With wonderful descriptions of 50 bike rides this valuable resource contains maps and and interesting facts of Iowa history.  I especially enjoyed reading about his tailwind ride and borrowed his strategy this year on one of Iowa’s windy days.

I keep my copy close-by and grab it often for inspiration on where to ride.  I also find myself taking it from the shelf on days when I'm unable to hit the trail and need a biking fix. 


If you’re serious about exploring Iowa’s trails, these books need to be on your bookshelf.

Happy Riding!