Beginners will find this mostly flat, mostly wide, mostly smooth trail very welcoming. Small rocky sections, occasional log-overs, and a few short, punchy climbs offer challenges waiting to be mastered. Expert riders will want to try the “mosaic jump.” There is a BMX-style optional fun loop with lots of rollers. A new, more technical trail parallels part of the north end of the main Sycamore Trail and offers tighter trees, dips, turns, and roots.
This trail system is an urban gem — tight trails twisting through lush woodland in the heart of the city. This 10-plus-mile system of singletrack is named for its location in the center of the Des Moines metro and its proximity to the Des Moines Art Center and the former Science Center of Iowa.
Hillside is a web of climbs and descents, switchbacks, log-overs, and bridges. Roller coaster rides just like its namesake but with wooden bridges in the valleys to test your nerves as you try to carry speed for the next uphill. J-11 is a friendly little trail to enjoy when riding between the northern trails and the southern trails. Denmans Woods is has the features: log piles, ramps, roots, tight trees, roots and tight trees together, a 30 ft skinny 4 ft high above a ravine, and even an upended tractor tire. Though not designed for beginners, it is a favorite among beginners because of the b-lines around the major features and the relatively flat terrain. Squirrel’s Nest and Rhythm offer two more loops similar to Denmans south of the railroad track.
The entire area is small enough that you don’t have to worry about getting lost. Each trail eventually comes out to a paved trail which will lead you back to the main parking lot.
The trails at Banner may be the most fun and most feared trails in central Iowa. Banner Lakes is the site of an old strip mine and most of the trails there are built on the piles of tailings. On the northern trails (Coal Miner’s Daughter, New Ed Beach, Missing Link, and Corner Pocket) you will always find yourself going up, going down, or going around a tight corner — very often at least two of those at once, and probably on slightly loose rock or going over a bridge to boot. The beginner’s trail (Riverside) is on the south side of the main lake and is great for kids or for adding a recovery mile to your ride. In the Summer of 2012, a group of architecture students from Iowa State University designed and constructed wooden technical trail features in an area near the end of Coal Miner’s Daughter.
The trail in Ewing park, currently about 2 miles long, is the newest trail in Des Moines. There are already several unique wooden bridges and a bunch of flowy berms. Ride it now to help burn it in and keep your ears open for more trail work days to be scheduled next season.
The trail is 7 miles of single track with 1300 feet of climbing laid out over 200 acres of wooded ravine and creek crossings on the backside of the Seven Oaks ski hill. This is the best climbing workout in central Iowa: long climbs, short climbs, steep climbs, climbing turns, technical switchbacks. And with climbs come descents and place names such as “Deadman’s Curve/187″ and “G-drop.”
Although it is one single lap, the paths of off-camber soil punctuated with natural roots wrap back and forth on themselves over and over until you aren’t sure if you’ve ridden that section earlier in the lap or not.
$4 daily riding fee. Season passes available. Helmets are required. Tent camping and showers available.
The Lake Ahquabi course is fast and open with quite a bit of variety. A large portion of the trail is wide double track which is open to cross country skiing and snowmobiling; additional sections ride through the open, right along the the lakeshore; and wooded single track runs up and down lung-busting hills. Surfaces include dirt, gravel, wooden bridges, grass fields, and even an old asphalt road, overgrown and decaying in the woods.