• Jessica Stough

Adventuring Close to Home - The Single-Track Trails

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson


This weekend, I got a chance to explore some of the paved bike trails in Des Moines that I typically don’t ride on. There was an incredible event put on by Bras for the Cause to raise money and awareness for breast cancer and cervical cancer. I ate lots of snacks, drank some drinks, biked some miles, and met lots of hilarious people - all biking together to make a difference (and have some fun).

It was an excellent reminder of how awesome the bike trails are in Des Moines, and such a fun way to take my last blog post full circle with some trail riding. The paved trails are great, but Des Moines actually has some other hidden gems up its sleeve too. I lived in the area for eleven months before I knew that there was a single-track trail less than two miles from my house.


When I say the trails are hidden gems, I truly mean it. There are a few so well hidden that they could blend in, even right under someone’s nose. There are more yet that I have located online but still have not been able to find in person. To be honest, I don’t know if that speaks more about my navigation skills or the true difficulty of finding the trails, but who cares. It’s all in the name of the blog, so I’m not even embarrassed to share that!

The Central Iowa Trail Association (CITA) website is incredible. They map out all of the single-track trails in the area, and also show whether the trails are open or closed. For those not used to the single-track trails, if it gets too rainy or has rained too recently, they close the trails down to keep them in the best condition possible.


Their website also shows different events going on at the trails, how to get involved, and even information about winter trail use.

(Ewing in the Winter)


There are also some awesome websites and apps to download that show the single-track trails in the Des Moines area (or wherever a person might be looking for adventure):


  • MTB Project | Mountain Bike Trail Maps - MTB Project is actually the site/app that CITA uses to show the single-track trails in Des Moines. They show elevation gain/loss, pictures and videos from those that have tried the trails already, and additional information.

  • Trailforks | Trail Database & Maps - Trailforks is a great sister site/app to MTB Project. It has all of the details that MTB Project shares like elevation gain/loss, trail maps, and difficulty ratings. They also have pictures and videos from riders. Trailforks actually sports 173 miles of trails where MTB Project only lists 53.

  • AllTrails: Trail Guides & Maps - AllTrails shares single-track trails along with paved trails. AllTrails doesn’t share as much detail for elevation gain/loss as MTB Project and Trailforks, but does have excellent filter options. Want to see a waterfall? A river? A lake? Want to know if your route allows dogs? AllTrails allows for multiple in-depth filter options to help track down the best route for each adventure.


If someone were to ask Zac and I our favorite trails to bike on, they would definitely get two completely different answers out of each of us. His favorite, by far, is Banner Lakes. I nearly broke my wrist on one of our rides out there, though, so I have a little PTSD when we bike at Banner (watch this video if interested in the intensity of Banner Lakes). During that same ride, Zac actually flew off of a mound of dirt, landed on his front bike tire, and had to get a new tire as well. Pro tip: If you want to feel like a total badass, just show up to a bike shop with blood running down your leggings from a shin injury, asking for a replacement bike tire for your husband.


My favorite single-track trail, on the other hand, is actually Ewing Park. It’s close to home for us, has fairly simple twists, turns, and elevation gains, but also has some fun roots and bridges to explore and practice on. This all, of course, is based on our mountain biking preferences. We would both probably provide different answers still if someone asked which trails were best for hiking or running.

(Ewing Park)


The first time I was ever exposed to the single-track trails was actually for a trail running event, almost exactly a year ago. The minute I put on some trail shoes and took off, I was in awe. The single-track trails, even in the middle of the city of Des Moines, immediately transported me back to our Colorado hikes. It was a slice of my absolute favorite place, right in our backyard.


Remember the feeling you would get running through the yard or around the playground as a kid, not a care in the world? All that mattered was how fast each foot hit the ground and the whooshing of the wind (from running so fast). That’s how those single-track trails feel. Each trail feels like being a kid again - young, fast, and carefree.


To be honest, I found my love of trail running at that very first event a year ago today. The love for mountain biking came a few months later, but holds an equal amount of space in my heart. Both activities are so much fun, and just absolutely have the capability to bring a person back to their childhood.

I should be out on those trails right now, running without a care in the world. Tonight, they are having the same event on the single-track trails that I attended a year ago - a fun trail run with a local running store, the option to test out some new trail running gear, and probably fun prizes too. However, I have an ankle that hates me and hates the trails (which is quite the dilemma since I love the trails). Instead of running the trails, I am reliving the trails and sharing them with others in hopes that more people will fall in love with them too.


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