A couple of things happened today that inspired this post. one was a conversation with a customer at the shop, and the other was the latest issue of IMBA News. Both things had to do with places to ride your mountain bike.
Now, this isn't meant to be an exhaustive list of places to ride, but it is a list of places I think you should ride around here. (Here being Northeast Iowa) These are some killer places to ride and if you like mountain biking, you'll love these trails. Yes: I guarantee it. (Really, that isn't saying much because liking these places is a no-brainer.)
Rock Lake Cluster: Location: Cable, Wisconsin: Just named an IMBA "Epic Ride" this trail network, the excellent work of CAMBA, is a great ride. I've had the pleasure of riding it in the 90's and in this decade. Crazy, twisty, rocky trails and plenty to challenge any skill level here. You really get a great taste of the "nort-woods" on these trails as they meander around lakes and through the pine trees. The trails are easy to find, and the maps are excellent. (Highly suggest getting one for a ride here) I don't know what took so long for this trail to get "epic" status from IMBA, but I do know it is very deserving of that moniker that is so cliche in mountain biking today. It really is epic! Well worth the drive.
Lebanon Hills: Location, Apple Valley/Eagan, Minnesota, (Basically, the southern Twin Cities area): I've ridden here many times. Don't let the smallish parking lot and innocent look at the gate fool you. What's inside will blow your mind with its twisty-turny, rock laden goodness. Berms! Yes, berms exist in the Mid-West folks, and they are fast and fun. This trail system is laid out so that loops can be accessed from a centralized "meeting" place and are marked according to skill level. Laid out by the hard working folks of MORC, these trails will challenge your mountain biking skills and are not to be taken lightly. I would say that minus high altitude and long climbs, there isn't anything out West that "Leb" doesn't have to offer. The rock gardens are amazing and will blow your mind alone. Go ride there!
Murphy-Hanrehan Trail: Location, Savage, Minnesota area, (Again, southern Twin Cities): Another masterpiece carved out of the woodland prairie by MORC, "Murph"is an amazing trail system that features some of the best flowy trails I have ever ridden. This is an excellent spot to ride if you are a single speeder, by the way. Perhaps a bit less intense than "Leb", Murph is far enough away from the heart of the Twin Cities that you may find yourself alone with your thoughts during much of your ride, but you shouldn't be so selfish as to ride it alone! Best to bring up a tribe and have a single track ho-down here.
Platte River State Park/Omaha Area: Location, Bellevue, Nebraska, and Louisville, Nebraska: This is more than one ride, but you could hit all these in a day, or better yet, two days. A weekend! Road trip! Ah....okay, I'll settle down now. You may be asking yourself, "Nebraska?" Yes- Nebraska! First off, Platte River State Park is an amazing trail system that has a bit of an "unpolished" feel but is well kept up. I like that about the place. The trails have great climbs, fun descents, and plenty of twists and turns mostly under the canopy of old hardwood trees. You do get a bit of a prairie exposure part way through as well. These trails are shared with equestrians, so mountain biking times are limited to very early mornings or after 4pm in the afternoons. Then you can hit up the awesome Omaha trails like Swanson Park and Jewell Park. I wrote up a piece on these trails you can read here. Bottom line- Go to Nebraska and don't forget your mountain bike! It's crazy good riding.
Sugar Bottom Trails: Location, North Liberty, Iowa: These are some of the best trails Iowa has to offer and also some of the oldest ones. Maintained by the Army Corp of Engineers and ICORR, these trails are about 10 miles of twisty, turny, up and down stuff that is a hoot to ride. All the trails are one way, and well marked. Check the ICORR site before heading out there though since the trails will close at the slightest hint of rain. Otherwise, this is a great destination and it is an easy jaunt off the interstate.
Decorah Recreational Trails: Location, Decorah, Iowa: These are some of the better trails anywhere, with a lot of tough climbs, fast, technical descents, and lots of off camber stuff. Check out the trail maps here. Notice that the town is like "right there"? Yeah, you can literally ride yourself silly on some perma-grin inducing trails, then slide on downtown for some awesome grub and libations within a half mile of dumping out of the trail system. Crazy! It doesn't get any better than this in the Mid-west. At least not from a "total experience" perspective. Add in the fact that camping opportunities are right within a short ride of the trails and it gets even better.
Okay, that's a short list, and as I stated up front, it by no means is an exhaustive list. I can think of a few more places that are great rides in the region, but I feel these are the stand outs. Feel free to add some more in the comments section, if you feel so inclined. (If I get enough suggestions, I'll post a Part II)
Whelp! It's getting pretty cold out there, but there isn't any snow yet, and you can sneak in a few more rides. Layer up! Ride on!