The High Trestle Trail features one of the world’s tallest and longest pedestrian bridges! It’s a 25-mile rail-trail, and it’s right here in Central Iowa! And even if you’re not up for the entire trail, it’s worth walking to the trestle bridge west of Madrid. Trust us—you won’t want to miss this one.
A Brief History of the High Trestle Trail
The High Trestle Trail is a “Rails to Trails” project through the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF). In 2003, the Union Pacific Railway stopped using the line from Woodward to Ankeny. And in 2005, they sold a 469-acre section of land to the INHF, with considerable donations. As a result, a trail committee formed and began planning the new rail trail.
But the Union Pacific needed the steel I-beams from the trestle bridge over the Des Moines River for a new bridge near Boone. So, the bridge got dismantled. Still, twenty-two 130 foot-tall concrete piers remained for a future trail bridge.
In 2006, enough public funding was available to construct 20 miles of trail—or the trail bridge. The trail committee chose to start the 20-mile trail, and it opened to the public in 2008.
Fundraising continued, and the committee decided on an artistic concept for the bridge. Soon, contributions from Vision Iowa and other donors allowed them to begin bridge construction. The iconic High Trestle Bridge grand opening was in 2011 (and worth the wait!).
The High Trestle Trail
The 25-mile High Trestle trail extends from Ankeny to Woodward. Along the way, it passes through five towns and four counties. And because of the spectacular High Trestle Bridge, it’s one of the most visited in Central Iowa. The bridge is a favorite during the day—and at night, too, because of LED lighting.
The trail starts near Des Moines in Ankeny, north of the DMACC Campus. From there, it extends north through Sheldahl to Slater. From Slater, it goes west through Madrid and crosses the bridge before ending in Woodward.
The Iconic High Trestle Bridge: From Here to There
The High Trestle Bridge artwork is titled “From Here to There.” It symbolizes entering a mine and traveling through coal mining history. It features 41 steel frames to represent coal mine cribbings that light up with blue LEDs at night.
At 130-feet tall and over 2300 feet long, it’s one of the largest pedestrian bridges in the world. And, it doesn’t matter when you visit—the view overlooking the scenic Des Moines River Valley is always fantastic! There are six separate viewing areas along the bridge, with an overlook at the east end. Also, informational kiosks help visitors learn about the bridge, river, animals, and landscape.
Walking to the High Trestle Bridge
The closest parking to the bridge is in Madrid, at 2347 QF Lane. QF Lane is a paved road south of Hwy 210. You’ll find a small gravel parking area right along the trail. From there, it’s almost a mile on the paved path to the High Trestle Bridge. There are no restrooms or water on site.
Or, you can park at Grant’s Woods at 2335 Qf Ln. There’s a large gravel parking lot there. You’ll walk about .4 miles on a gravel trail from the parking lot to get to the High Trestle Trail. Then, go west (right) another ½-mile on the paved path to get to the bridge. Note that there are no restrooms or water at this location.
Know Before You Go!
- The trail bridge lights up at night (until around midnight in the summer and 9:00 pm in winter). Note: In July 2021, signs said the lighting is not working, but they’re working on getting it restored asap.
- The closest parking to the High Trestle Bridge is at 2347 QF Lane, Madrid. From there, it’s almost a mile to the bridge.
- Paved trails will take you to Des Moines from the south end of the High Trestle Trail. Head west on the Oralabor Gateway Trail to get to the Neal Smith Trail, which leads downtown. Or head east to access the Gay Lea Wilson Trail. It follows Four Mile Creek south through Des Moines to Pleasant Hill (and then east to Altoona).
High Trestle Trail Oasis, 13197 NW Sheldahl Dr, Polk City. Though there’s no parking here, it is an excellent place to stop for water, restrooms, and shade.
Nite Hawk Bar & Grill, 105 Greene St, Slater. This popular stop has a full menu and drinks. And a large outdoor patio is set up for any weather (and live music!). Bike parking and an air pump are available.
Flat Tire Lounge, 304 S Madison St, Madrid. This bar is off the trail by the Johnson Family Trailhead in Madrid. They serve all types of drinks (alcoholic and non) and have ample outdoor space. (Food trucks often serve nearby.)
Trailside Rentals Bike Shop and Guest House, 326 W 2nd St, Madrid. Stop in for bike sales, repairs, parts, and accessories. And be sure to check out the vintage bikes on display. Also, you can stay a while in the guest house or suite! Bike rentals are only available to overnight guests.
The Filling Station, 129 S Water St, Madrid. After checking out the scenic High Trestle Bridge, head into Madrid for ice cream! The Filling Station has several flavors of malts, shakes, cones, and “flurries.”
High Trestle Trail Map
Ankeny Trailhead, West 1st Street. The trailhead is across the street from the Market and Pavilion, near the Fire Department HQ. It has easy trail access and over 70 parking spaces.
Slater Trailhead, 6th Avenue/Hwy 210. The trailhead is a gravel lot next to a park. There you’ll find restrooms, water, and a playground, with access to the trail on the north side of the park.
Dalander Park/Johnson Family Trailhead, 702 E 3rd St, Madrid. Here is a large gravel parking area right along the trail. Restrooms and water are available.
High Trestle Trail Bridge Parking/Grant’s Woods, 2335 Qf Ln, Madrid. The gravel parking area is off a paved road south of Highway 210. It’s about .4 miles via a gravel trail to get to the High Trestle Trail (and another ½-mile to the High Trestle Bridge). No restrooms or water at this location.
High Trestle Trail Bridge Parking, 2347 QF Lane, Madrid. A small gravel parking lot is right on the trail here, just south of Grant’s Woods. There is limited parking, but this is the closest to the bridge. No restrooms or water.
Woodward Trailhead, east of S. Main (just north of S. Main & E. 1st). A “train depot” shelter, parking area, modern restrooms, and water are available here. You can also use bike tools and pick up maps. The trailhead is 2.6 miles west of the bridge.
Ankeny City Trails. A trail north of Ankeny’s DMACC Campus connects to where the High Trestle Trail begins. At DMACC, you can also access the Oralabor Gateway Trail to go southwest to the Neal Smith Trail. Or head east to Gay Lea Wilson Trail. It follows Four Mile Creek south through Des Moines to Pleasant Hill (and then east to Altoona).
Heart of Iowa Nature Trail. This trail connects to the High Trestle Trail in Slater. It’s a 32-mile trail extending east through Cambridge and Maxwell. Most of the trail surface is crushed limestone, though some areas are paved. The trail passes through prairie, wetlands, woodlands, and farm ground too.
Coming soon: Trail connector to the Raccoon River Valley Trail. Work on a 9-mile trail connector from Woodward to Perry is underway. (The RRVT is 89 miles long!). Fundraising for the project is ongoing! If you’re interested in helping out, go to the Iowa National Heritage Foundation’s project page.
High Trestle Trail Facts
- Location: Ankeny to Woodward
- Distance: 25 miles
- Surface: Concrete and asphalt
- Difficulty: Easy
- Description: Rail trail stretching from Ankeny, north to Slater, and west through Madrid to Woodward. It crosses an iconic, award-winning trestle bridge.
- Trailheads: Ankeny, Slater, Madrid, and Woodward
- Connectors: City of Ankeny Trails, Heart of Iowa Nature Trail