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Things To Know About The Wabash Trace Trail

The Wabash Trace Trail is a rails-to-trail path in southwestern Iowa stretching from Council Bluffs to Blanchard. It’s 63 miles of crushed limestone and, for the most part, it’s pretty straight and flat (being a former railroad route and all). It’s a great trail for biking and distance runs.

A child biking across a bridge on the Wabash Trace Trail in Iowa

Where to access Wabash Trace Trail

The northern most access point in Council Bluffs is on the south end of town, not far from Iowa School for the Deaf. There’s a park near the trail where you can leave your car, as well as a Lewis Central School District school parking lot.

Does it cost money to use the trail?

Yes. The last I’d checked, the fee is $2 per day for anyone between the ages of 12 and 64, or an annual pass of $20. You drop your fee or donation in the collection poll at any trailhead. Annual bike passes are available at local bike shops.

A kid by a fallen tree on the Wabash Trace Trail

This trail is maintained by two nonprofits and volunteers, not taxpayer money. So, it’s extremely important to pay the minor trail pass fee so surfaces and bridges can be maintained. A big thing these volunteer groups help with is removing trees and debris from the path.

Must-stop on the trail: Mineola

The northern half of the trail, where I’m most familiar with, offers vistas of the Loess Hills. I’ve yet to make cover the entire distance. If you want to, there are places to stay overnight, making it a manageable overnight or weekend trip.

Most Council Bluffs bikers of any skill level can make the out-and-back trip to Mineola. It’s not a short distance — it’s nearly 20 miles round trip — but it can be done. 

Why Mineola? It’s the first town stop on this trail when you depart from the Council Bluffs trailhead. And it’s home to one of the first restaurants that’s a short ride off the trail: Tobey Jack’s Mineola Steakhouse.

The exterior of Tobey Jack's Mineola Steakhouse

It’s located at 408 Main St., so about a block or so from the trailhead in Mineola. The town isn’t huge, so it should be fairly easy to find.

There is plenty of seating, especially in the beer garden outside.

We ordered a few appetizers to split, but there’s also a kid’s menu and much heartier fare to choose from.

Riding with kids on the Wabash Trace Trail

There is a Wabash trail map you can check online to see the distances between each stop. We rode the Council Bluffs to Mineola leg of the trail with two kids ages 7 and 9.

A father and daughter bike along the Wabash Trace Trail in the fall

My kids are fairly seasoned bikers for their young age, so the 9.6-mile one-way ride wasn’t too difficult, but it did require us a stop to rest each way.

The good things about the Council Bluffs-Mineola route:

  • It’s mostly shaded. I love a good route with towering trees.
  • There are a few bridges to cross, which are always fun for kids. There’s also a tunnel.
  • It’s pretty straight and flat, so kids who aren’t that sure on their two wheels don’t have sharp turns or steep downhills to worry about. While it looks flat, you will occasionally notice a slight incline, though.
  • I enjoyed the scenery. It’s very easy to feel removed from the rest of the world and yet you’re not very far from the city.
  • There’s at Mineola restaurant called Tobey Jack’s to look forward to at the turnaround point. You can order food or get a frozen treat out of the cooler. Grown-ups, there is also beer on the menu.
The Mineola, Iowa trailhead on the Wabash Trace Trail

The bad things about the Council Bluffs-Mineola route:

  • The path is made of crushed limestone, so if you own a road bike, you’re not going to want to take it on this trail.
  • My kids became bored with the trail being so straight.
  • The route does involve crossing a few country roads. They aren’t busy roads, at least, but you just have to be ready to stop occasionally to look both ways for cross traffic
  • Water fountains are not found along this route. We refilled at our mid-way point.
  • Bathrooms are also not a given on this trail. You may just have to use the great outdoors, mostly. We did find a port-a-potty at Margaritaville, a funny little picnic area not too far from Mineola. If you can hold it, wait until you get to the restaurant in Mineola, though.
A dirt road crosses the path of the Wabash Trace Trail

All about the Taco Ride on the Wabash Trace Trail

Perhaps you’ve heard of a Thursday night bike ride called The Taco Ride. It’s the exact same route I took with the kids, from Council Bluffs to Mineola.

This popular weekly event draws hundreds and sometimes thousands of cyclists, and it’s a lot of fun. While you may just breeze by Margaritaville on a day trip, it’s a must-stop during the Taco Ride.

It’s been going for decades now, and the Taco Ride got its name because the original restaurant you’d stop at offered discount tacos and beers on Thursday nights. The name stuck even when it turned into a steakhouse.

The Margaritaville stop on the Wabash Trace the daytime

There is no set-in-stone start and end time, but most people head to the trail shortly after work ends on Thursday. Consider it the bike rider’s happy hour.

Is it kid-friendly, you might wonder? Well, I’ve been on the ride a few times in my younger days with friends and rarely saw a kid riding with a parent. I’d say kids are welcomed, but it’s just not the scene I’d personally want to bring a kid to. 

But if you do want to bring kids, go early in the evening and head back before dusk.

Taco Ride tips

  • The trail is not lit with street lights, so the bike ride back from Mineola is super dark. Bike lights are a must. Be on the lookout for those without bike lights. While you’re at it, don’t wear dark-colored clothes at night.
  • Wear a helmet. 
  • It is pretty common for people to bring beers for the ride and/or partake in a few drinks in Mineola. Expect a few people to not be riding the straightest line.
  • Warn others behind you of fallen tree limbs and cross streets.
  • The Taco Ride in the summer can be pretty hot, but other times in the year, the temperatures will drop after the sunset. Bring layers.
  • Bring water for yourself. And for others.
  • Bring a repair kit for your tires and others who may encounter bike troubles along the way.

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