A Tailwind Ride on the Prairie Farmer Trail

The Trail

Only minutes away from Decorah the Prairie Farmer Trail is a Northeast Iowa biking destination.  Originally a crushed limestone trail, it is now 20 miles of paved asphalt providing a fantastic ride.  Like the majority of trails in Iowa, the Prairie Farmer Trail was originally a railway which discontinued running in the 1960’s.  The trail’s name is a nod towards the Prairie Farmer magazine, published since 1841 and the Prairie Farmer Station on WLS radio. (Link).  

Traveling from Creso to Calmar riders can admire the beautiful scenery of Iowa farmland, prairie, and woodlands.  The trail is flat and in great condition with the only challenging section being the bumpy city streets in Ridgeway. Trail towns of Cresco, Ridgeway and Calmar all provide easy access to the trail.  There is also a trailhead location at the Howard/Winneshiek county line.  

Plans are underway to eventually connect the Prairie Farmer Trail to the Trout Run trail in Decorah.  This will be an 8 mile trail running along Highway 52 between Decorah and Calmar.

Trail Map

Trail Information


The Ride

It was a windy day on my visit to Northeast Iowa which meant a perfect day for a tailwind ride.   Starting my ride in Cresco I used Beadle Park as a trailhead location.  The park has a strong historical influence with a variety of artifacts to check out.  There’s the huge locomotive from the Milwaukee Road railway that traveled through northern Iowa.  A tiny cabin that served as a home for over a hundred years has been relocated to the park.   Also in the park is a statue of Norman Borlaug. He was originally from Cresco and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to create disease resistant wheat varieties that could be grown around the world.  There is also a World War I German mine that was brought back to Cresco by a resident who served in the war aboard a minesweeper.

After a quick detour to check out the downtown area I connected to trail along Highway 9. Cresco is know for the bronze statues located around town.  Appropriately there is one at the beginning of the trail depicting a boy enjoying a bike ride of his own.

A short distance east of town the trail crosses over the highway at a four way intersection. After crossing the intersection the trail is more out in the open with brief tree lined sections.  I was glad to have the wind at my back!  A road construction crew was working on the highway.  Several of them waved hello as I rode past.  It was funny because I was wearing the same high-vis colors as the crew members.  Maybe they thought I was one of them and abandoned my job and was  making an escape down the trail.  Maybe those weren’t waves of “hello”, but of “Hey!! get back here and get to work!!”.

It was windy and overcast, but the weather didn’t damper the beauty of fall colors along the trail.  I noticed Quaking Aspen had been planted along the trail.  It’s a beautiful tree that you don’t typically find trailside.  Eye catching red berries and the yellow and orange colors of changing leaves added bright spots to a cloudy day.  

Spotted in a harvested soybean field was a Bald Eagle sitting on the ground.  Unfortunately I didn’t have enough zoom capability on the camera to determine why it was resting out in the open.  Perhaps it had caught a fish from the nearby Turkey River and was enjoying a meal.

Reaching the town of Ridgeway (the trail’s halfway point) I followed the bike sharrows through town to meet back up at the trail.  The streets through town were pretty rough so it was nice to get back onto the smooth surface at Winneshiek County Park.

Several rest areas can be found along the trail providing cyclists with a place to stop, enjoy the view, or get out of the elements.  I stopped at one outside of Rideway to take in the picturesque view of the rolling hills of Northeast Iowa.

Getting closer to Calmar I was surprised to find a group of people constructing a haunted house along the trail.  One of the trail rest areas had been incorporated into the the menagerie of horror.  I was happy to be riding past this in broad daylight!  Yikes!

After winding through a residential portion of Calmar the trail came to an end at the former train depot.  It’s now serving as a trailhead location and has a gift shop inside.  

My tailwind ride on the Prairie Farmer Trail was one of the bike ride highlights of the year.  This is a trail that is now on the “must-ride” annually biking list.

Happy Riding!