Monday, June 4, 2018

Western Historic Trails Center & Iowa Riverfront Trail

Western Historic Trails Center & Iowa Riverfront Trail
Trailhead Elevation: 969 ft.
Distance: 2.01 mi. (my Forerunner 230)
Elevation Gain: 31 ft. (my GPS)
Start Time: 6:29am
End Time: 6:49am

Trip Report:
I was on a cross-country road trip from Chicago to Colorado along I80 and was looking for a place to explore in the State of Iowa that would fit in with my itinerary. I had flown into Midway Airport around 4pm and was targeting Council Bluffs at the end of my first night of driving. Along the way the options near the interstate were limited. In the Quad Cities there were some State Parks within reasonable distance but nothing caught my eye. Finally, it was in Council Bluffs that the answer came.

I noticed the name of the Western Historic Trails Center on the map. That was enticing. I love trails. It turns out this was a Visitor Center, designed by the National Park Service, with all sorts of information on the Oregon, Lewis & Clark, Mormon, and California Trails. There were also a number of short trails to explore right next to the center. This would prove to be the perfect wakeup run for my morning in Council Bluffs.

East Entrance sign
I left my hotel after a quick breakfast to head down to the center. Sadly when I arrived at the east entrance I found the road in to be closed. I knew the center hours weren't open yet but I wasn't expecting the access road to be blocked as well. I had to improvise where I could park now and access the trails. I knew the Iowa Riverfront Trail would provide that access and so I quickly found a place on the map that would solve the problem.

I drove around to the north side of I80 and found a small dirt parking lot right next to where the Riverfront Trail passes under the interstate. It was a bit of an industrial area and not a perfectly ideal place to hang out but I wasn't going to be long. (In hindsight, I realize there is a road just south of the east entrance of the center that accesses a large Park with ball diamonds that would have provided much better parking and access to the trails.)

Junction of the Riverfront Trail and WHTC Loop
I began running on the Riverfront Trail which went under the interstate and was instantly surrounded by trees and vegetation, a much nicer view. After a quick quarter mile this hit a junction with the loop trail that is the primarily trail for the WHTC. I followed it and saw a turn off which I assumed provided river access. It was a quick jaunt to an opening that indeed gave views of the Missouri River.

Back on the loop trail it meanders around a pond that provided some nice views and then works its way through a short section in the midst of a wonderful prairie. The dirt loop trail ends when it rejoins the paved Riverfront Trail. That then led into the visitor center complex. Though the inside was closed there were a number of interesting exhibits outside on the wonderful Historic Trails. After a few minutes snapping some photos I hopped back on the paved Riverfront Trail and was back at my car.

The Missouri River with the I80 bridge
It was short and sweet but provided a nice connection to be on trail while contemplating the massive journeys on those historic trails that so many before had taken.

Sunrise over the pond

Beautiful prairie section of the trail

Lewis and Clark exhibit

Elevation profile from the Mississippi to the Pacific


I have a track and waypoints from the hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk).  

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