An Afternoon on the Great Western Trail

The Trail

A former railway for Chicago Great Western Railroad this trail begins at Park Ave/George Flagg Parkway in Des Moines and travels 16.5 miles to Martensdale.  The asphalt trail winds through Willow Creek Golf course and under Highway 5.  Tree canopy buffers wind and provides shade on a hot day.    Sections of the trail have been patched and portions have been replaced with concrete.  There are several gravel road crossings with some flanked by short but steep grades.

Trail Map


The Ride

With time off from work my brother and sister-in-law met me at the Des Moines trailhead with the plan to ride to Martensdale for lunch.

Unfortunately the ride started on a bad note.  Reaching into the pamphlet box at the trailhead my sister-in-law was stung by wasps from a nest hidden at the back of the box.  Luckily I had my safety kit from Pale Spruce and was able to give her some antihistamine to help with the swelling.  She was quite the trooper and didn't let a wasp encounter deter her from riding.  I would have probably have called it quits and headed home!

In between Cumming and Martensdale we stopped at the memorial for a quick water break. The marker and vintage farm equipment commemorate the environmental contributions of Charles Spain.  A native to Warren County, Charles held degrees from both Iowa State University and Drake University.  He was a teacher for 36 years and also served on the Warren County Conservation board for 20 years.  

It was a beautiful day for a ride.  The shade of the trees and a light breeze kept us comfortable. The pastoral scenes from the trial were something from an Iowa postcard.  Fearless chipmunks scampering across the trail kept us on our toes and signs from the former railroad marked the mileage to Kansas City.

Reaching town we admired the beautiful football field for the Martensdale St. Marys Blue Devils and checked out the chainsaw sculpture at the fire station before making our way to our lunchtime destination.  

Lunch at Roadside Inn was a good choice!  It was a great place to relax and grab a bite to eat.  My brother and his wife shared the giant tenderloin and I had half of a club sandwich and salad. 

On the ride back to Des Moines we decided to stop off in Cumming at Iowa Distilling Company.  After parking our bikes we discovered they were closed due to a family emergency.  We took a break on their steps before heading back to the trailhead.  

Despite the challenging start we had an enjoyable ride.  What better way to spend an afternoon in Iowa than on a bike ride?

Happy Riding!