Iowa’s Iconic High Trestle Bridge

One of my favorite places to cycle in central Iowa is over the iconic High Trestle Bridge north of Des Moines.  The bridge is the centerpiece of the appropriately named High Trestle Trail that runs from the Des Monies suburb of Ankeny to Woodward in northern Dallas County.  It’s part of the region’s extensive paved trail network.

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The gap between Perry and the bridge will soon be closed, but even now it’s an easy ride on mostly empty roads.

The High Trestle Bridge actually sealed the deal when we were thinking about moving here from Utah in 2017.  We had spent an exhausting day house hunting and were on our way back to the Hotel Pattee in Perry.  We saw a sign for the bridge along State Highway 141.  Jan asked me if I wanted  to check it out.  You betcha.

We got off the highway and drove through Woodward and headed back east towards Madrid on State Highway 210.  You know how it is when you’re looking for something for the first time and wondering if you’ll be able to see it from the road?  I needn’t have worried.  It was hard to miss. It wasn’t what I expected in central Iowa.  The bridge was high.  The river valley broad and wide.  It felt more Western than Midwestern.  I knew I wouldn’t be content with a photo from the side of the road.

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The High Trestle Bridge and Des Moines River valley from SH 210 east of Woodward

So we climbed out of the valley and found an access road that led to a trailhead where we parked and started walking back toward the bridge.  It was about a mile or so.  We ran into another couple…local residents.  If I remember correctly, he was a professor at ISU.  She worked for the county.  They were friendly and so we talked.  “You have to stay until the sun goes down” they told us.  “You have to see the lights.”

It was early spring…the first warmer stretch of weather after a long cold winter.  Nights like that almost make winter seem like a pretty reasonable deal in hindsight.  “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?”  That’s Steinbeck from “Travels with Charley”… for my money the best “road” book ever written.   This was that.  It was a fair trade…winter for that night.  If you live in the middle of the country, you know what I’m talking about.

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So we stayed and we visited and while we did the bridge lit up and I fell in love with Iowa.  Done deal.  It was about a year later that I finally had the opportunity to cycle the bridge.  I left Jefferson on the Raccoon River Valley Trail, went overland from Perry to Woodward (they’re building a trail connection as I write) where I caught the High Trestle Trail.  I rode through a tunnel of trees and then the landscape opened up.  I was high above the Des Moines River and soaring.   I continued on to the city before circling back towards home on the south leg of the Raccoon River Valley Trail.  It was a 135 mile day, almost all of it on trails.  The bridge was the highlight.

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I’ve had the pleasure of riding across quite a few bicycle bridges since that evening that now seems so long ago.  This is still my favorite.  Shortly after it opened in 2011, the BBC featured the High Trestle Bridge in an article titled “Eight Amazing Footbridges.”  It’s the only bridge in the Western Hemisphere that made the cut.

So if you love to cycle and find yourself in central Iowa, it’s worth the time to find a bike and head north from Des Moines to check out the High Trestle Bridge.  It’s one of the things that makes cycling in this part of the world special.

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