The Raccoon River Valley Trail is a fantastic 89-mile paved trail spanning four counties in Central Iowa. It extends through Polk, Dallas, Guthrie, and Greene Counties along a former rail line. From Clive near Des Moines, it stretches northwest to Jefferson, a quintessential Midwest town. Trail users love the amenities in the small communities along the route!
A Brief History of the Raccoon River Valley Trail
Like many of Iowa’s recreational trails, the Raccoon River Valley Trail was once a railway. It follows a former rail route from Des Moines northwest to the Iowa Great Lakes.
In the late 1800s, the Des Moines Western Railroad Company was the first rail company to run the route. A few years later, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad took over.
It became a prevalent passenger line, taking vacationers from Central Iowa to the northern Iowa lakes. In the 1950s, passenger service ended from increased automobile use and road expansion. Freight service continued until the mid-1980s when the farm crisis affected the railroads. In 1987, the Central Iowa Energy Cooperative (CIECO) purchased the right-of-way.
CIECO joined forces with the Iowa Trails Council and Dallas and Guthrie Co. Conservation Boards to develop a multi-use trail. The first section opened in 1989, and by 1999, there were 56 miles of trail stretching from Clive, west to Redfield and north to Jefferson.
In 2013, a 33-mile section of trail completed a loop, making the trail a total of 89 miles. This section spans from Waukee north to Perry. It then turns west to meet up with the older section of the Racoon River Valley Trail, past Jamaica. The trail loop is 72 miles.
The Raccoon River Valley Trail (RRVT) extends from Clive northwest to Jefferson. It totals 89-miles, including a 72-mile loop. And it journeys through diverse landscapes—woodlands, prairie, wetlands, and farmland.
The 72-mile interior loop runs from Waukee, north to Perry, west to Herndon. There it turns south to Panora and Redfield, where it turns east through Adel to Waukee.
A spur off the north end of the loop at Herndon extends to Jefferson. And a spur east of Waukee takes you to Clive.
You’ll find many excellent restaurants and things to see in the fourteen (14!) communities along the trail. Several stops offer visitors a taste of railroad history. With so many places to explore, you can make a weekend of it!
Trail passes are $2/day for adults 18+. Annual passes are $10/year. Day-use and annual pass fees help support trail maintenance. Passes are available at drop boxes at many trailheads, or you can buy them here.
The RRVT stretches through the 14 communities listed below. Each offers unique amenities! For more on what’s in each town, visit the Raccoon River Valley Trail website.
- Dallas Center
Know Before You Go!
- See the RRVT website for up-to-date trail news (including trail closures and maintenance).
- From Waukee, the loop is 72 miles long. The leg on the north end of the loop takes you to Jefferson. The leg east of Waukee goes to Clive, near Des Moines.
- A 600-foot-long trestle bridge crosses the North Raccoon River south of Jefferson.
- Most towns have restrooms and water available.
- There are many fun places to stop along the trail. To see what’s in each town, check out the RRVT website.
- You can use the Clive Greenbelt Trail to access the RRVT.
- In the winter, the trail is a snowmobile route. Go to the Dallas Co. website for the trail snowmobile policy.
Raccoon River Valley Trail Map
At the south end of the RRVT loop is the Waukee Trailhead. It’s on the western edge of town, at Hickman Rd/Hwy 6 and Ashworth Road/N. 10th. There is a large parking lot with overflow parking across the street. Learn more about the trailhead here.
At the north end of the trail is the Jefferson Trailhead. It’s on the eastern edge of town, near the softball fields. Parking is just past the restored railroad depot off East Lincoln Way (on the south side of the road).
Of course, you can get on the trail in many of the other towns along the route. The Dallas County website lists all trailheads with parking, restrooms, and water availability.
Places to stay along Raccoon River Valley Trail
Though it’s possible to bike the entire trail in one day, most people want to take more time. Make it a multi-day adventure, so you can enjoy all the trail has to offer! Below are a few of the options for overnights in towns along the route.
- Jefferson Trailside Campground, Jefferson. On the trail • tents, electric at the Fairgrounds.
- Spring Lake Park Cabins and Campground, Jefferson. 8 miles northeast of Jefferson • electric, non-electric sites, & cabins.
- Lenon Mill Park Campground, Panora. One mile from trail • electric and non-electric sites.
- Sportsman Park, Dawson. About ½ mile from the trail • electric, non-electric sites, cabins.
- Dallas County Fairgrounds Campground, Adel. About 2 miles north of the trail with a short stretch on Highway 169 • full hookups, electric, and non-electric sites.
- Adel Island Park Campground, Adel. About 1½ miles north of the trail with a short stretch on Hwy 169 • electric/water and non-electric sites.
- Cobblestone Hotels and Suites, Jefferson. 2.2 miles from the trail, with a stretch along the highway.
- Super 8 by Wyndham, Jefferson. Two miles from the trail with some highway time.
- Hotel Pattee, Perry. Just off the trail.
- Super 8 by Wyndham, Perry. Two miles east of the trail, shared roadway.
- Lake Panorama National Inn & Suites, Panora. 2½ miles west of the trail, shared roadway.
- The Port on Lake Panorama, Panora. .7 miles off the trail, shared roadway.
- Big Blue Bed & Breakfast, Adel. Just off the trail near the library, no shared roadways.
- Sleep Inn, Waukee. Four miles south of the trail, accessible via Heart of the Warrior Trail and Waukee trails; no shared roadways, but you must cross streets.
- Courtyard by Marriot Clive/Des Moines West. ½ mile from Clive Greenbelt Trail, accessible via sidewalks.
- Days Inn by Wyndham Clive/Des Moines West. ½ mile from Clive Greenbelt Trail, accessible via sidewalks.
- Hotel Renovo, Urbandale. ½ mile from Clive Greenbelt Trail, primarily accessible by sidewalks; crosses a busy intersection at Hickman Road.
- Revel Hotel, Urbandale. ½ mile from Clive Greenbelt Trail, mostly accessible by sidewalks; crosses a busy intersection at Hickman Road.
And don’t forget to check Airbnb for rentals in the towns along the trail!
From the Clive Greenbelt Trail, access the RRVT just past the Campbell Recreation area—after the Northwest 128th Street underpass. A short connector heads north to the RRVT along Hickman Rd.
Heart of the Warrior Trail in Waukee connects to the RRVT on the west edge of Waukee (near the trailhead). It extends southeast along Ashworth Drive. It links to a few roadside trails that run throughout Waukee.
You’ll find several roadside trails off of the RRVT in Waukee, Clive, and Urbandale.
Construction is underway for a nine-mile connector from the RRVT in Perry to the High Trestle Trail in Woodward. Fundraising is going on now! If you’re interested in helping out, go to the Iowa National Heritage Foundation’s project page.
Raccoon River Valley Trail Facts
- Location: From Clive to Jefferson through Polk, Dallas, Guthrie, and Greene Counties.
- Distance: 89 miles; 72-mile interior loop
- Surface: Asphalt and concrete
- Difficulty: Easy (some moderate hills)
- Description: Extends along a former rail line from Clive northwest to Jefferson. It traverses a diverse landscape of woodlands, wetlands, prairie, and farm ground.
- Trailheads: Waukee, Jefferson (and many other towns along the route)
- Connectors: Clive Greenbelt Trail, Heart of the Warrior Trail, sidepaths in Waukee, Clive, and Urbandale