Coffee Outside V - Neal Smith Trail

The Trail

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.  

Trail Map

Trail Information

Saylorville Lake Map


The Ride

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.

Happy Riding!

*The morning brew was Mars Cafe's blend of Kickapoo coffee.  

 

 

 

 

 

Marina to Marina

The Trail

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.  The majority of this route is in the wooded areas surrounding the lake.

Trail Map

Trail Information


The Park

Big Creek State Park was developed as a result of work to save Polk City from floods.  The 866 acre man-made lake is fed by Big Creek and Little Creek and provides recreation opportunities for anglers, kayakers, and sail boaters.  There’s more to do than bike or fish at Big Creek.  A frisbee golf course, model airplane field, hiking trails, and beach all give park goers a variety of opportunities for having fun.

Recent improvements have been made to the Big Creek Marina.  There are updated restrooms, shaded picnic pavilions and new playground equipment. With ample parking it’s a great trailhead location for beginning a bike ride.


The Ride

There were so many pretty spots to pull over for a nature break.  Along the lake new parents to a brood of goslings were keeping a watchful eye out.  White caps on Big Creek Lake were proof of another windy day in Iowa.  Leaves blooming on oak trees and quiet coves begging to be fished were just off the trail. Along with the pretty scenery there was the wonderful fragrance of honeysuckle.  

Reaching the Polk City area a sign indicated a cell phone audio tour.  Calling the number I learned the area I was pedaling through is a forest restoration site.

Somewhere in central Iowa there’s a little girl missing her blanket!!!  I spied the flash of pink against a trailside park bench and couldn’t help but feel empathy for the undoubtedly frazzled parent.

Reaching Saylorville Marina I stopped to admire the boats.  They seemed to be waiting eagerly to set sail and cruise around the lake.  I turned my bike around for my return trip back to the car and for some lunch.

It was (another) windy day in Iowa.  Riding the portion of the trail entering the park wasn’t fun as it’s out in the open.  I quickly pedaled to return to the shelter the wooded trail provided.

Only a couple of miles from Big Creek, is the small town of Polk City.  I had done a quick search for places to eat before leaving home and had decided to try out the Reising Sun Cafe, located in the town square.  In this cozy cafe with small town charm you can get breakfast, lunch or dinner along with a variety of coffee drinks.  Chicken Salad was the special for the day.  I put my order in at the counter and in no time was enjoying my lunch.  Next time I’m going to be sure to get some of their ice cream.  

Considerations

  • With steep grades and winding trail, this route is best for a recreational ride.  Be ready to get a great leg workout in!

  • Take a camera because you’re bound to find a photographic opportunity along the bike trail.

  • Learn something new by taking the cell phone audio tour once reaching the Polk City area.

  • Coordinating a bike ride with a picnic or one of the many other activities at the park would be a great way to spend time with the family.  

Happy Riding!