Cycling for pleasure and sport is baked into the DNA of Iowa.
A good example is the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, organized by The Des Moines Register, and known popularly as RAGBRAI.
RAGBRAI is a seven-day event staged during the last full week of July that draws about 20,000 bicyclists who pedal across the state. The 2022 excursion spanned 462 miles. RAGBRAI celebrates its 50th anniversary in July 2023.
“It is the largest, oldest, longest weeklong touring event in the world,” says Mark Wyatt, executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition. “It’s like a state fair of bicycles. You ride at your own pace and have a really good time.”
“Iowa is an ideal state for bicycling. There are so many beautiful places to get outdoors and just ride.”
– Mark Wyatt, Iowa Bicycle Coalition
Wyatt says cyclists who complete the entire state-long excursion have a tradition of dipping their front tire in the Missouri River on Iowa’s western border, then they dip their back tire in the Mississippi River on the state’s eastern border.
"Riders visit seven or eight cities across the state during the week, and every year features a different route,” he says. “Each day of RAGBRAI, there are bikes ahead of you as far as you can see, and bikes behind as far as you can see."
2,000 Miles of Bike Trails
But RAGBRAI is by no means the only way to harness your pedal power in Iowa. There are trails in larger cities like Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport, but also nice routes in rural communities such as Madrid, Sheldahl, Slater and Woodward.
“Iowa has a great trail system, with more than 2,000 miles of bike trails,” Wyatt says. “One of the most popular destinations is High Trestle Trail, a 25-mile stretch highlighted by a High Trestle Trail Bridge that measures a half mile long and is 13 stories tall. The bridge has beautiful artwork and is lit at night.”
Another top bicycling destination is Wabash Trace Nature Trail, the first Iowa pathway to be voted into the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. Wabash Trace spans 62 miles and passes through the counties of Fremont, Mills, Page and Pottawattamie in the southwestern corner of the state, and the pathway is made of crushed stone.
Meanwhile, besides traditional bicycling, the state also has several excellent mountain-biking venues, including Creekside Park in Coralville, which hosts the annual Iowa Mountain Bike Festival in October.
“Iowa is an ideal state for bicycling,” Wyatt says. “There are so many beautiful places to get outdoors and just ride.”
This story was developed for the 2023 ‘This is Iowa’ statewide guide published in partnership with Livability.