Off Road at Peterson Park West

The Park

Known as Peterson's Pits to locals this park is found north of Ames.  It's a twofer of sorts with the Skunk River dividing the park into East and West.   As former gravel quarry, three small lakes were left behind for recreational use. Winding around the water in a series of loops are eight miles of off-road trails.  

Park Information


The Ride

This was my first visit to the park with a mountain bike.  As an off-road biking novice, I was hoping the trails would be scaredy-cat friendly with an easy terrain.  I was in luck!   

Wide, easy to spot dirt trails took me through timber.  Smooth grass trail flanked the edge of a prairie.  Things turned sandy in spots along the river bottom but wasn't difficult to manage.  All were in good condition and a perfect match for my lack of riding skills. 

A fat bike would be fun to ride here on snow covered trails. There's also a great picnic shelter overlooking a lake that would be a great spot for coffee outside.  

I had the place to myself and had a blast.  It was fun to roll the small hills.  I felt zippy around corners and wondered if maybe not all my nerve has disappeared! Perhaps there's hope for this old dog to learn how to shred (as the young whippersnappers would say) off-road trails.

Happy Riding!

Pedal the Prairie - Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

 I recently had the pleasure of riding the Iron Giant across the prairies at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge.   With beautiful weather and a conservation-oriented atmosphere it was Happy Riding at it's best.

The first annual Pedal the Prairie, hosted by Friends of the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge showcased the new bike lanes flanking Prairie Parkway.  Closed to automobile traffic, the road was comfortably busy with over 500 cyclists pedaling their way up and down hills, stopping to view bison, native wildflowers, and toss seed bombs.  All genres of cyclists participated from those fully kitted out on road bikes to kids with bells, baskets and handlebar streamers.  What a happy sight! 

My sister and I prepped for the ride with coffee outside session at Entryway Park in Prairie City. Beans from Coffee Culture and two slices of pie.  Rhubarb and Apple.  Perfect!

After fueling up we pedaled the scenic (and hilly) 5 miles to the Welcome Center where we checked out displays, received great giveaways, and had lunch.  Next was a 3 mile walk along Tall Grass Trail.  What views!

Before heading back to Prairie City we stopped at the bookstore inside the Prairie Learning Center and purchased ride t-shirts.  I also bought a Sparky the Bison shirt.   Sparky lives at the refuge and survived being struck by lightening in 2013. Check out his interesting story here.  

The return trip was a bit quieter with fewer folks on the road.  Arriving at a rather empty parking lot it appeared we were some of the last to return.  

If you missed the opportunity to participate in Pedal the Prairie, don't fret.  You can pedal anytime this summer.  Bike trails are open during daylight hours and lots of events take place at the refuge throughout the year.  Plan a visit and a pedal along the prairie.  

Happy Riding!

Morning Meaderings - Raccoon River Park

The Trail

Considered the "crown jewel" of the metro area, Raccoon River Park is home to the 3 mile crushed rock trail circling Blue Heron Lake.  Out on this trail you quickly forget you're in the city.  This quiet location and the wide limestone path is a perfect spot for kids to ride their bikes. The trail is a popular place for walkers and runners so plan for a slow relaxing ramble on the bike.

A playground, beach, nature lodge, sport complexes, and fishing pier nearby there are lots of ways families can have fun.  

Park Information

The Ride

Calling this a ride is a bit overzealous.  While there was pedaling involved, my bike merely served the purpose of toting me and breakfast around the lake.  The goal: to find a pretty spot for a picnic and bird watching.  

There wasn't much for mileage nor there was much effort, only meandering.  It was perfect!  A cool breezy morning, sunshine, a thermos full of coffee, breakfast, and birds.  What was missing was binoculars!  A pair would have come in handy to get a better view of the Mergansers fishing for their breakfast.  

I enjoy using my bike for errands and exercise.  But, my favorite way to put my bike to work is for transport to a peaceful out out of the way spot.  

Happy Riding!  



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.  






Fat Bike Adventures - Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt

The Bike

A rented Surley Pugsley courtesy of As A Dad LLC  was starting to feel like part of the family.  The only thing missing was my handlebar bag.  I've gotten hooked on that piece of gear and when it's not in use it just doesn't feel right.  I filled the void by using a fanny pack....yes you read that right.  Full Doris, pedaling with pride!

The Trail

A showcase for conservation work in central Iowa, the Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt was born in 1960 when damaged land along the Skunk River was purchased by Polk County.  It's network of grass trails are great places for hiking, snow shoeing and cross country skiing...and fat biking!

Viewing Platform as seen from space.

Viewing Platform as seen from space.

A wildlife viewing area is located northeast of Bondurant at mile marker 93 on US Highway 65.  There is paved parking, restrooms and a bird watching platform designed in the shape of a raptor.  Decking boards are in the form of primary feathers.  The viewing area has binocular stations for those who left their field glasses at home.

The greenbelt was all mine this sunny afternoon.  The trails were in good shape and a perfect match for the fat bikes wide tires.  I took my time pedaling north to the ponds.  The water was quiet with only a Blue Heron using the pond. 

Riding through sections of tall prairie grass I thought of Laura Ingalls and other pioneer families who traveled through similar landscapes.  Imagine what she would have thought having seen someone ride past the covered wagon on a fat bike!  

Happy Riding!