Chichaqua Valley Trail is a 26-mile paved trail stretching from Berwick to Baxter. It’s a rail trail northeast of Des Moines that extends over farmland, creeks, and the Skunk River. Trail users enjoy the rail history and stopping in the small communities along the route!
A Brief History of the Chichaqua Valley Trail
Like many other Iowa trails, the Chichaqua Valley Trail (CVT) was once a railway. Built in 1885, it was initially the Wisconsin, Iowa & Nebraska Railroad. Other railroad companies used the line, including the Chicago Great Western Company and the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Company.
The rail line was abandoned in 1984 and opened as a recreational trail in 1987. But trail users can still see traces of the railroad, like mile markers and stone bridges.
The communities along the route celebrate railroad history too. In Bondurant, The Depot features a train station replica that passengers used from 1883-1962. And in Baxter, a restored 1913 caboose sits at the trailhead. There you can see railroad relics and learn more about its history.
Here’s a fun fact—the name “Chichaqua” (said cha-chak-wah) is what local Native Americans called the river. Early French settlers thought the word meant Skunk (thus the Skunk River Valley!). They were close. Now it’s believed the term referred to the smell of wild onions growing along the river’s shores.*
Know Before You Go!
- For (much) more info on the trail, check out the trail brochure!
- This trail crosses gravel roads and highways.
- Between Bondurant and Baxter, there are very few places to get food or water. Plan ahead since it’s a stretch of close to 20 miles.
- Want to go camping along the trail? The trail passes right by Griff’s Valley View RV Park and Campground, north of Altoona. (The Chichaqua Valley Bottoms Campground is about 15 miles north to the north.)
- Bondurant offers the most of any community along the route. There you’ll find Founder’s Irish Pub and a couple of gas stations. There are also picnic areas and restrooms at Lake Petocka on the town’s northeast side.
Chichaqua Valley Trail Map
For more trail maps, see the Friends of CVT and Polk County Conservation websites.
Trailheads are from west to east, starting from Berwick, on the northeast side of Des Moines.
Mally’s Weh-Weh-Neh-Kah Park, Berwick. The trail begins southwest of Mally’s Park, where it intersects with the Gay Lea Wilson Trail. There is parking, picnic shelters, water, and restrooms, and it’s a great place to start from Des Moines. The address is 5792 NE Berwick Dr, Berwick.
Bondurant Regional Trailhead (The Depot), Bondurant. The Depot is between Main St. SE and Grant St. North, near the Fire Station (101 Grant St N). Water, restrooms, and an open-air shelter are at this stop. Parking is east of the trailhead on Railroad Street. Stop to rest and enjoy the trail history!
Lake Petocka Park, Bondurant. Here you’ll find parking, picnic areas, and restrooms. Trail access is on the south side of the lake. The lake is at 520 Pleasant St NE, Bondurant.
8123 NE 88th Trailhead, Bondurant. This trailhead is a parking area east of Bondurant in a rural area. Note that NE 88th St. is part gravel and narrow south of the trailhead. The best way to access it is from the north, off NE Hubbell Ave (Hwy 65).
Mingo. A gravel parking area next to the trail is on E. Railroad in Mingo. A playground and picnic shelter are nearby.
Ira. There is a gravel parking area along the trail on W 90th St. N.
Baxter. At the northeast end of the CVT, you’ll find plenty of parking in the Baxter Business District. Restrooms and water are nearby, and the trailhead features a restored 1913 caboose!
The Gay Lea Wilson Trail connects to the CVT to the southwest near Mally’s Park. It’s a great trail through diverse landscapes, with plenty of fun stops along the route. It’s still expanding too. Currently, it’s about 21 miles long and has two intersecting segments. From where the Gay Lea Wilson meets the CVT near Berwick, it extends south to Pleasant Hill. In Pleasant Hill, the other segment runs northeast to Altoona.
Chichaqua Valley Trail Facts
- Location: Berwick to Baxter (northeast of Des Moines)
- Distance: ~26 miles
- Surface: Asphalt
- Difficulty: Easy
- Description: The trail follows an old railroad extending from Berwick to Baxter, Iowa. It traverses farmland with some prairie, wetlands, and woodlands.
- Trailheads: Malley’s Park, The Depot (Bondurant), Lake Petocka (Bondurant), 8123 NE 88th, Bondurant, Mingo, Ira, and Baxter.
- Connectors: Gay Lea Wilson Trail
- Trail History. Friends of Chichaqua Valley Trail. https://chichaquavalleytrail.org/the-trail/trail-history/
- Chichaqua Valley Trail. NRT Database. https://www.nrtdatabase.org/trailDetail.php?recordID=3498#three