by Russ Lowthian, HaveFunBiking.com
On my first visit to this part of Iowa, I was amazed at the intricate network of hard surface bicycle trails the Cedar Falls/Waterloo Area had to offer. On this trip I had the opportunity to
ride with several of the Cedar Valley Cyclists and enjoy some of the road and trail loops in the area that they frequent often. The Cedar Falls area has something for both the seasoned cyclist and novice rider. This is also a bike friendly community for the off road cyclist (cyclecross, fat bike, mountain biking and BMX), with several opportunities waiting your arrival. Not to mention the wide array of historic, educational and entertaining attractions to take in when not riding.
About Cedar Falls and the Valley Lake Trail options
The Cedar Valley Lakes Trail through Cedar Falls and Waterloo intertwine throughout the area – Offering over 100 miles in the trail system. As I discovered, some of these trails connect and meander through neighboring Waterloo for additional cycling opportunities. A Bike Friendly Community designation by the League of American Cyclists, see the Cedar Falls bike map for an overview of the vast trail systems and designated bike routes you can enjoy, as I did.
My first ride while visiting
On my first day there, before the rest of my group arrived from Minnesota, I had the opportunity to ride with Brian Will. A local realtor, Brian is a member of the Cedar Valley Cycling Club. He volunteered to show me some of the trail loops and bike friendly street routes used for connectivity. The first thing I noticed as we explored the trails, the majority of the system is paved in concrete, with only a few patches of asphalt to remind me of home. Our first adventure was on the Big Woods Lake Trail. This is a perfect trail loop for biking while viewing birds and wildlife.
In the afternoon, after stopping for lunch on Cedar Falls ‘promenade’ (Main Street) we went out and rode sections of the Prairie Lakes Trail. A part of the American Discovery Trail System we found several loops that took us into charming and historic neighborhoods in Cedar Falls. Further along, from the trail, we viewed the agricultural test field at the University of Northern Iowa. Then we stopped at the Hearst Center For The Arts & Sculpture Garden, before returning to the promenade, to check out the new brewery.
Road Bike and Trail Touring Options
The next couple days, with a group of my friends now in town from the Twin Cities, we joined the Cedar Valley Cycling Club on a couple rides. With several of their members showing up we explored the trails and roads in the area. First we visited Waterloo and a couple other outlying communities. Periodically stopping to visit, they shared information on the communities Bike to Work, Bike to Play program.
Mountain Bike, CycleCross and BMX Fun Opportunities
If you prefer the off road side of cycling you may be surprised at the number of mountain bike trails in the Cedar Falls and Waterloo area. They include George Wyth State Park, Katoski Green Belt, Riverview Park, Tondro Pray Bike Park and Ulrich Park.
At the Tondro Pray Bike Park you have several additional options along with the mountain bike trails there. This park’s amenities also includes a: BMX/pump track, a mountain bike skills area, and a cycle cross course.
Things to do in Cedar Falls Area after your ride
For this trip, to accommodate 18 of my cycling friends from the Twin Cities, we used one of the hotels on the west side of Cedar Falls, not far from the University of Northern Iowa. Being a bike friendly community, the AmericInn that we stayed at was convenient. The hotel was only a couple blocks, on quite streets, to the trailhead and less than 20 minutes, by bike, to the promenade.
Coming off the trail the first thing I noticed as I approached down town Cedar Falls was the Ice House Museum. This building along the Cedar River was built in 1921. The museum houses an extensive collection of ice harvesting archives that visitors can see and learn what life was like before refrigerators.
On the promenade, you will find a wide assortment of local shops and unique restaurants that will entertain you for hours. Shops include everything: repurposed antiques; two bike shops; contemporary clothing; a cupcake shop; breweries; fair-trade artisan products from around the world; and more.
Things to do in Waterloo
A 10 minute commute by car or 30 minute trail ride, Waterloo offers several more opportunities when not in the saddle. One of the must-sees when in the area is the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum. The newest exhibit here highlights the history and contribution of John Deere has made to agriculture and their farm families through their nearly 100-year history in Waterloo.
Another option if you are into plants and flowers is the Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens. This 40 acre center of beauty features: an award-winning Children’s Garden; 4-acre Butterfly Meadow; a Rose Garden; a stunning day lily and Hosta collections; unique Mosaiicultures; and a 1-acre Master Gardener’s Orchard.
Check here for more attractions and museums in the Waterloo Area.