The Neal Smith Trail is named after Iowa’s longest serving congressman and World War II Veteran. It starts at the marina at Big Creek State Park and winds it’s way south for 26 miles, ending at Birdland Marina in Des Moines.
This asphalt trail keeps you on your toes, (and sometimes out of the saddle) with it’s twists, turns, and steep grades. If you need to catch your breath, or just take in the scenery, take advantage of the benches along the trail. Each has a bike rack to safely park your steed off the trail.
A bike repair stand can be found at the Visitor Center, along with water and restrooms during operation hours.
Due to a major construction project on NW 66th Ave, the trail under the bridge is closed. A marked detour is available to bypass the closure. See the Detour Map for details.
Springtime is a great time of year for riding the Neal Smith Trail. Campground areas have yet to open so you can take leisurely loops with roads to yourself. Bald Eagles (and later Pelicans) make the spillway their favorite hangout. With the majority of the trail in wooded areas the wind can blow all it wants and a ride can still be fun.
I didn't have an agenda for this ride other than to take my sweet time and hopefully discover something new. Coffee gear had been stowed in my trusty-it'll do-pannier in case I happened upon a good brew up spot.
There is a serious climb up from the spillway area that quickly pointed out my bike riding is leisure and snack-centric. I was glad no one was on this part of the trail to witness my struggle. If squirrels can laugh I'm sure they were cracking up.
At one of the bends in the trail I spotted an unpaved trail and followed. This would be the highlight of my outing. The trail deposited me at a sandy makeshift campfire area. How cool! With a beautiful view of the lake I brewed up my coffee* and enjoyed a bike break. I'd like to say this part of the shoreline is a secret but based on the amount of liter it's well used.
Winding up my ride I felt energized. It wasn't because of the caffeine or the blood pumping pedaling, or even seeing Bald Eagles up close. It was all thanks to venturing off the paved trail and experiencing something special.
*The morning brew was Mars Cafe's blend of Kickapoo coffee.