FROM TOWN TO TOWN
The 89-mile Raccoon River Valley Trail, the longest paved loop trail in the nation, is known as the “quintessential central Iowa experience.”
Since opening in 1989, the trail has been a vital tourist attraction and embraced as an asset for health, wellness and connections among the region and state. This trail—offering views of woodlands, prairies, public art and a unique “lighted bridge”—connects rural communities to larger cities, including Jefferson, Des Moines, Waukee, and Perry.
THE FOLLOWING IS A DESCRIPTION OF WHAT A USER WILL ENCOUNTER ON THE 89-MILE LOOP OF THE TRAIL:
Jefferson to Herndon
At the northern trailhead in Jefferson, you’ll be greeted by a former Milwaukee Road depot. Although the building is open only for special occasions, ample parking is available, and a drinking fountain can be found outside to for water bottle refills. From the depot, head south past country homes for a few blocks until the trail dives under a shady tree canopy. A highlight of this section is the 600-foot-long trestle bridge over the North Raccoon River. This trail section also features the Winkleman Switch, named after Jacob Winkleman, a nearby pioneer farmer. This was a railroad section with a steep grade where trains had to be split to make it up the hill.
The trail opens up to farmland as it approaches the old railroad town of Cooper at mile 7. In Cooper, a plaque describes how legendary Tonight Show host Johnny Carson became Cooper’s honorary 51st citizen. From Cooper, it’s 5 miles to Herndon, where you’ll come to your first trail junction.
Herndon to Perry
The loop portion of the trail begins here. Turn left to travel east to the towns of Jamaica, Dawson and Perry. You’ll find peaceful, picturesque terrain: farm fields and wildflower meadows interspersed among trees. To either side of the trail, the brushy embankments will be bustling with birds. Depending on the season, you may find some of Iowa’s most colorful birds: Baltimore Orioles, Indigo Buntings, Goldfinches (the state bird) and Cardinals. Jamaica was once home to a recording studio where the metal band Slipknot recorded their album, "All Hope is Gone", in 2008. In Dawson, there is another depot (circa 1889) sitting trailside. Peek inside to see railroad history displays and the old baggage room. You'll also find restrooms and drinking water.
In another 6 miles, you’ll come to Perry, one of the larger towns along the route. You’ll pass a self-service bicycle repair station on the way into town, which also has a refurbished depot with restrooms, drinking water and a covered picnic table. Restaurants and lodging are plentiful here.
Perry to Waukee
From Perry, your trajectory turns southeast as you travel through the small farming town of Minburn. Here, there is a restored depot that now houses a restaurant and bar with plenty of patio seating. In a few miles, you will enter Dallas Center, which features a shaded trailhead with restroom facilities, a water fountain, bicycle racks, several benches and a picnic table. In Waukee, you arrive at your second trail juncture. Waukee is one of Iowa’s fastest growing cities where you will find a spectacular piece of art work, the Waukee Railroad Pergola, "In the Shadows of the Rails". Each RRVT trail town has a small replica of this piece of art.
Waukee to Redfield
To stay on the Raccoon River Valley Trail in Waukee, pivot west and continue on the trail’s loop toward Adel. Approximately halfway between Waukee and Adel will be the former village of Ortonville, now mostly gone. It was named for the Orton Family, which owned a traveling circus that wintered in Ortonville in the early 1900s. A plaque here describes the circus.
Upon entering Adel, there is a bridge built in 1899 that crosses the Raccoon River, which is illuminated each night from dusk until 1:00 AM with 66 color-changing LED lights. Adel is also the home of Nile Kinnick, the 1939 University of Iowa Heisman Trophy winner.
From Adel to Redfield, you'll pass through the former village of Kennedy Station, an old railroad stop. In Redfield, the depot has been restored, and on weekends between May and October, it's staffed by volunteers selling a variety of refreshments. Public restrooms are also located in the depot. Redfield was a stop on abolitionist John Brown’s 1859 Freedom Trail journey across Iowa as he led 12 escaped slaves to their freedom in Canada.
Redfield to Herndon
From Redfield, you will head to Linden (named for its many Linden trees), once considered the center of baseball in central Iowa. The baseball diamond, one of the first in Iowa to have lights, is visible from the trail. After Linden is Panora, where you’ll pass a lovely trailside garden, a covered shelter with railroad signage and a small section of tracks. The trail turns north, and you’ll have 6 miles to go before reaching Yale. You’ll pass by a massive grain silo, as well as a city park with restrooms and water. Yale is also home of the Yale High School Gymnasium, built with a distinctive round architectural design. In its heyday, it was home to boys’ and girls’ basketball teams and even the Harlem Globetrotters.
With just 5 miles to go before reaching Herndon, you're in the home stretch and the site of your first trail junction. Herndon was once a thriving community in the late 19th century due, in part, to the discovery of natural gas there. However, extraction was difficult and a tornado in 1900 and a blizzard in 1906 destroyed some of the wells and buildings in the town. Herndon never recovered, and the town faded away. Upon arrival in Herndon you’ll have experienced the entirety of the Raccoon River Valley Trail - congratulations!
As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the Raccoon River Valley Trail Association relies on the support of individuals and organizations to keep our historic trail in good shape. Our partners and sponsors understand the value of having scenic, historical and nationally recognized opportunities for Iowans and tourists to enjoy our state while supporting our local businesses. We hope you'll consider joining us by partnering with us financially as a friend or sponsor!