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Railbiking: A Unique Adventure In Boone

Rail Explorers USA offers a unique way to explore the great outdoors. The company provides one-of-a-kind railbike tours in some of the most scenic locations across the United States. They’ve recently opened a location in the MIdwest, and visitors can experience the thrill of riding a railbike and taking in the beautiful sights of the Des Moines River Valley, thanks to Rail Explorers USA location in Boone, Iowa. In this blog post, we’ll delve into what Rail Explorers USA is all about, what to expect on a tour, and why the Boone location is worth a visit.

Disclosure: Our experience was hosted by Rail Explorers USA so that I could review it. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. This post may contain affiliate links.

A girl pedals a railbike with Rail Explorers USA in Boone, Iowa

The experience of riding a railbike is unlike any other, offering a unique and immersive way to explore beautiful outdoor locations. We added an afternoon ride during our weekend getaway to Ames this spring. The tours are suitable for people of all ages and those with minimal fitness abilities. The Boone, Iowa location in particular offers thrilling views of the Des Moines River Valley, making it an excellent choice for anyone looking to explore the Midwest in a fun and memorable way.

What is Rail Explorers USA?

Rail Explorers USA provides railbike toursfounded in 2012. The railbikes are pedal-powered vehicles that ride on railroad tracks, and they offer a unique way to experience the outdoors. And breath easy: While they’re pedal-powered, one of those pedals kicks a motor on, so really, it’s a motorized/pedal hybrid experience. 

Rail Explorers USA’s tours allow visitors to explore some of the most scenic locations in the country, including beautiful forests, valleys, and lakes. The company has three locations on the East Coast in New York and Rhode Island, and recently moved into the Midwest with the Boone, Iowa location that opened in 2022.

What sets Rail Explorers USA apart is the experience it provides. It’s not often that people get to ride on railroad tracks, and the railbikes offer a unique and exciting way to do just that. We did it as a family of four with an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old. It was memorable for all of us. There may have been some singalongs.

A family rides on Rail Explorers USA's rail bike in early spring in Iowa

The tours are also a great way to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise while taking in beautiful scenery. Plus, the railbikes are easy to use, making them accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels. If you didn’t want to pedal, just don’t sit in the seat that starts up the motor. You don’t even have to pedal if that one person with the motor pedals!

Why should you visit the Boone location?

The Boone location is the first Rail Explorers USA site outside of the northeastern part of the U.S. If you’re traveling through Iowa or live here, it’s a central location in the state, and an affordable town to visit.

Boone has some surprising terrain, it’s a thrill to ride across bridges over the water. We went in early spring when leaves were just starting to grow on the trees and lush green grass filled the fields. I can only imagine how beautiful it gets in the fall, especially early to mid-October when the leaves change colors!

A view of the rail tracks in Boone, Iowa

The railbikes used in the Boone location are designed to ride on historic railroad tracks, some of which date back to the late 1800s. This gives visitors a chance to explore a piece of America’s history while having fun. Sure, you could take a train ride with the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad. My family has done that. The railbikes kept us all engaged with the scenery, and made the time fly by as we pedaled.

How does Rail Explorers USA work?

My kids were a little anxious about the idea of “biking on a railroad,” so it helped us reviewing the whole process before we went. If you’re the same way, here’s what you can expect:

A girl poses in front of the Rail Explorers sign in Boone

Here’s how it works:

  1. Visitors should make a reservation in advance on the Rail Explorers USA website. This is important, as tours can sell out quickly, especially during peak season. There’s the option of two-person or four-person railbikes in Boone.
  2. On the day of the tour, visitors should arrive at the Rail Explorers USA site at the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad at least 30 minutes before their scheduled departure time. You’ll need to check in, sign a waiver, and receive a brief orientation from their guide. We arrived right at the designated start time due to some traffic, but fortunately there was a delay getting started because of the train schedule. I highly recommend using the restroom facilities before you buckle up in the railbike.
  3. Once everyone is ready and listened to the orientation, the railbike tour will begin! Visitors will pedal their railbikes along the historic railway tracks, taking in the beautiful scenery along the way. There are a few road crossings in town, and there will be a staff member at the busier ones who will let you know when it’s safe to cross. The tour will last for around 90 minutes and cover several miles of track. There is a half-way point where you stop to rest and snack, while the staff turn all the carts around. At each bridge, a staff member will review safety practices before you cross. Staff make sure each railbike is spread about 500 feet apart. There is no chance of passing a slower rider.
  4. Once the tour is over, visitors will return their railbikes to the designated area and say goodbye to their guide. They can then take photos, browse the gift shop, and enjoy the rest of their day exploring the area.

What are the safety measures in place?

I was impressed with the safety measures employed by Rail Explorers USA. As long as you follow their rules, you and everyone else will have a safe and enjoyable ride. 

The orientation covers seatbelt safety, safe road and bridge crossing, and more. There are several staff members on hand at the start and finish of the ride to answer questions and help you adjust your seat. There is a maintenance shed at the starting point for any other adjustments.

In case of inclement weather, Rail Explorers USA will provide alerts and may cancel tours if conditions are unsafe. Visitors will be notified in advance and given the option to reschedule or receive a refund. 

Our ride was in April and a cold front had moved in a day before our scheduled ride. Rail Explorers USA sent me a text recommending we all bring winter gear for possibly windy, cold and wet conditions. I’m so glad we brought hats and gloves! 

What should you bring and wear?

You’ll want to wear comfortable clothing for pedaling, so rethink wearing jeans. Comfy workout pants or shorts are ideal, something that allows for unrestricted pedaling. 

Kim and her son on the rail in Boone, Iowa

Dress with the weather in mind and know that at some points, you’ll be in a wide open space where wind can make things feel colder. Layers are a good idea. Each railbike has a basket to hold your personal items, and you can store your excess layers there if needed.

Closed-toe shoes are a must. If I had one thing I’d do differently, I’d have worn more insulated shoes or boots for our early spring ride. We did not think to bring a poncho or rain coats, but fortunately, the staff provided disposable ponchos for all of us.

Some of the groups on our tour brought a cooler with a few beverages they enjoyed at our half-way point. My family brought water bottles and a granola bar. Depending on the time of your tour, you may want to bring more substantial food for a picnic. 

What else is there to do in Boone, Iowa?

Boone is located northwest of Des Moines, Iowa with a population of 12,469 in 2021. I’ve written about things to do outdoors in Boone for all seasons, but if you’re visiting for Rail Explorers USA, you’ll most likely be visiting in the summer. 

A boy peeks out a window of the train on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad in central Iowa

Beyond the railbikes and riding the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, you’ll want to check out Seven Oaks Recreation. In the warm months, they offer float trips and paintball. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can kids ride on Rail Explorers USA?

Yes! I brought an 11-year-old and 13-year-old. The seats can be adjusted for shorter legs. Even if they can’t pedal, they’ll enjoy the ride Kids will need to ride with someone 16 years old or older, though. Infants can be worn in a baby carrier harness, but toddlers cannot ride on laps. 

How much does it cost?

Tour pricing varies, but it is on the more costly side of attractions and tours. But, I felt like it was worth the cost for the safety, comfort and excitement of trying something unique.

When making a reservation, you will choose your rail explorer: Either a Tandem, Quad or any combination of these, depending on how many are in your group. A Quad has four seats and a Tandem has two seats. There is no discount for empty seats. Each rider must have their own seat. 

Is Rail Explorers USA worth it?

I thought our railbike ride with Rail Explorers was a pretty unique way to explore Boone, Iowa. While some may be hesitant about the cost, the experience and memories created during the tour are truly priceless. I prefer it to the more relaxed pace of a train tour.

From the beautiful scenery to the knowledgeable guides and safety measures in place, Rail Explorers USA is definitely worth it. Whether you’re traveling with family or with friends, this adventure is an excellent way to spend a few hours enjoying the great outdoors. 

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Chad Bauer

Wednesday 7th of February 2024

Is this open in late March during Spring Break? March 23 and beyond?


Tuesday 27th of February 2024

I believe it opens in April, but not 100% sure. It was pretty cold when we went in April.

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