High Trestle Trail
The High Trestle Trail is a “rail trail,” or a decommissioned railroad line that has been converted into a multi-use trail, so the terrain is relatively smooth and flat. Some sections are tree-covered while others are exposed.
Most visitors will want to experience the trail’s main attraction, the High Trestle Trail Bridge. The bridge includes six overlooks with interpretive panels to highlight the area's cultural and natural history. The 41 steel "frames" over the bridge represent support cribs within a historic coal mine.
After dark, the bridge comes alive as blue lights illuminate a section of the steel cribbings, which mark the location of the main river channel below. From April through October, the bridge is lit from sunset until midnight. From November through March, the lights turn off at 9 p.m.
The Ankeny trailhead is located on the north side of town along 1st Street. Parking is also available across the street at the Ankeny Market & Pavilion (AMP). Firetrucker Brewery is a popular stop for cyclists. And in addition to cold craft beers, the brewery offers ample bike parking, phone charging stations and an assortment of bike accessories, from spare tubes and CO2 to headlights and taillights.
Heading north out of Ankeny, the next popular regrouping point is The Oasis, a trailside gazebo seven miles from Ankeny and six miles from Sheldahl. There are picnic tables, water fountains and restrooms.
Next on the route is Sheldahl, a town with a population of just over 300. There are usually picnic tables and portable toilets, and during peak season, there often is a pop-up food and beverage cart along the trail.
At Slater, the trail turns west, but before you head out of town, be sure to visit the Nite Hawk Bar & Grill. Their full menu includes everything from salads and sandwiches to pizza and broasted chicken. There is trailside bicycle parking and a bike repair station. Slater also has a trailhead with a large parking lot, modern restrooms (open 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.) and a playground.
Madrid is located 6.9 miles west of Slater. The Flat Tire Lounge’s 800-square-foot deck is just 12 feet off of the trail, and there are other amenities designed for cyclists, including a bike repair station and phone charging stations. Food trucks often serve from the lounge's patio. Another place to check out in Madrid includes the local ice cream shop The Filling Station.
In addition to bikes for rent, Dave's Back Alley Bikes, one block north from the 3rd Street trail entrance, can help out in a pinch with full-service repairs and tuneups.
The High Trestle Trail Bridge is just 2.6 miles west of Madrid, and the trail goes under and through some unique old bridges and tunnels along the way. When you reach the bridge, take some time to enjoy panoramic views of the Des Moines River Valley. There are six viewing platforms along the bridge as well as an overlook on the east side of the bridge with informational signs about the landscapes, landmarks, animals, plants and water. After dark, the bridge comes alive as blue lights illuminate a section of the steel cribbings, which mark the location of the main river channel below. From April through October, the bridge is lit from sunset until midnight. From November through March, the lights turn off at 9 p.m.
The last stop on the trail is Woodward, 2.6 miles west of the bridge. Visit the Whistlin’ Donkey for a full grill menu, drink specials, an outdoor patio and live music on many summer weekends. The trailhead in Woodward has a large parking lot, and amenities include modern restrooms, water fountains, a bike repair station, information and maps, trash and recycling receptacles and even a Little Free Library.
Walk to the Bridge
Options to Explore
Starting from the Woodward trailhead, it is 2.6 miles to the High Trestle Trail Bridge (5.2 miles roundtrip, or about 2.5 hours walking). It is roughly the same distance starting from the trailhead east of the bridge in Madrid.
SHORT OPTION: A large gravel lot in Grant’s Woods Park is a convenient spot to park your car for a .9-mile walk to the bridge (1.8 miles roundtrip, or about one hour walking). From the Grant’s Woods lot, the first .4 miles are a gravel path that leads to the High Trestle Trail. Then, it is just a .5-mile paved walk to the bridge.
ACCESSIBLE OPTION: The easiest option starts about one mile east of the bridge from a small gravel lot along QF Lane. Though it’s about the same distance as Grant’s Woods, the route is paved and flat.
Day Trip Ideas
The High Trestle Trail is a great family activity. In addition to exploring an iconic Iowa photo op, you can get out in nature and get a little exercise. Pack a picnic and enjoy it overlooking the river. Or bring some binoculars and try to spot native wildlife. There are no restroom facilities at the bridge, so be sure to use the modern restrooms at the trailheads in either Woodward or Madrid. Reward yourself after your adventure with something cool and refreshing. In Madrid, a smoothie shop along the trail serves up a variety of sweet treats. In town you can find the local ice cream shop The Filling Station. If you parked a vehicle in Woodward, make time for a side trip to Picket Fence Creamery, where you can see the cows that produced your ice cream and cheese curds.
Day Trip Ideas
In addition to mainstay establishments like the Whistlin’ Donkey in Woodward, Flat Tire Lounge in Madrid and Nite Hawk in Slater, the trail also runs near several local breweries and a winery. Firetrucker Brewery and Mistress Brewing Company are both located in Ankeny. Snus Hill Vineyard & Winery is located northeast of Madrid. Getting to the winery requires taking a gravel road north for 1.1 miles, but the picturesque vineyard, complete with red barn and rocking chairs, is worth the detour.
For nature lovers, try adding camping as part of your High Trestle Trail experience. Swede Point Park is located just two miles northwest of Madrid. The 128-acre park is nestled in the woods along the river and features hiking trails, volleyball courts and a playground. Campsites are first-come, first-serve.
What to Watch For
Along the trail, look for signage pointing out the number of steps you have taken and keep your eyes open for native plants and animals. When you reach the bridge, take some time and enjoy the panoramic views of the Des Moines River Valley. There are six viewing platforms along the bridge with informational signs about the landscapes, landmarks, birds, plants and water. An overlook on the east side of the bridge offers views of the entire bridge.
However you explore the High Trestle Trail, remember to always be respectful of your fellow trail users and follow trail rules and etiquette.