Nature September 21, 2021
Follow This Abandoned Railroad Trail For One Of The Most Unique Hikes In Iowa
The Chicago Great Western Railroad was finished in the 1890s and used to connect Chicago to Iowa and beyond. Trains would pass through Dubuque and up the charming Little Maquoketa River Valley on what was nicknamed the Corn Belt Route. The trains have been silent in this pastoral scenery for well over 50 years, but 26 miles of this historic route is by no means abandoned.
During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.
The multi-use Heritage Trail now passes right on the spot where the railroad tracks once were and connects Dyersville to Dubuque for many happy hours of hiking or cycling.
The trail is crushed limestone but relatively smooth and easy to travel, as is the tame 1% slope.
What makes this trail unique? For one thing, there is water close to the trail nearly the entire way - a feature that adds a tremendous amount of interest and variety to the sights and sounds here.
Trees also provide relief from the heat or a welcome break from the wind, especially on the mid and eastern portions of the route. The west side of the trail (near Dyersville) opens up to some prairie landscape.
Something else that is unique to this area is the history of lead and zinc mining, an industry that had its heyday in the 1840s. Both Dyersville and Dubuque had lead mines active during this time period; Dubuque’s, being the largest and most prosperous, was said to have produced 54 million pounds of lead per year.
Eight access points with parking line the trail. Many offer amenities such as a pavilion or restrooms.
Some key items of interest along the route are the 1870s railroad bridge, Sundown Mountain Ski Area, Split Rock, and even a fossil rich area. Interpretive signs mark notable features to enrich the experience for those interested.
Why not head over toward Dubuque and stretch your legs on this great trail? You can find more information and a trail map here on the Dubuque County website. Watch for bald eagles flying over and cows out grazing in these beautiful river valleys, some of which are carved out more than 400 feet deep. And if you like this multi-use rail trail, consider trying a trek along this stitched-together trail that spans coast to coast through Iowa. Address: Heritage Trail, Dubuque, IA, USA