Type: Rail Trail
Length: 27 miles
The surface is a mix of asphalt and concrete
Grade - Gentle Grades
The Wapsi–Great Western Line Trail is a 27 +-mile pathway on the former Chicago Great Western Railroad. The trail passes through a plethora of backdrops, including wide, rolling landscapes, Iowa agricultural land dotted with a large wind farm in contrast to Amish farmsteads, upland timber, wetlands, oak savanna, and a lake. The trail flirts with the Wapsipinicon River as it runs diagonally from the northwest in Mitchell County to the southeast in Howard County.
All of the WGWL Trail is hard surfaced except for about 1/8 of a mile on Valley Avenue before you reach the final northern two miles. Presently a stone RR culvert is washed out by flooding. It is being replaced in 2018. Then the last mile to the Minnesota/Iowa border has just been purchased in 2018 and it will be hard surfaced in 2019. The Minnesota Mower County Commissioners stated that the Shooting Star Trail will come down the 4 miles to connect to this point at the state line. The Minnesota State Legislature passed a Resolution in 1994 stating that their “Bluff land Trail System will connect to Riceville, Iowa.” From Riceville to the state line is 13+ miles. If you return to the Trailhead via the alternate Lake Loop (which adds a 1.8 miles), the up and back to the WGWL Trailhead is 30.6 miles.
Update: On May 5, 2018, the Southern Branch of the WGWL Trail was opened with a full day of fun activities. Visit http://wgwltrail.com/eventspage/ to see the fun events at the five Celebration Stations on the Southern Branch. The morning of May 5 witnessed the first annual IronHorse Half Marathon, 10K and 5K on the Northern Branch. Please note that some amenities like benches, kiosks, signage, and plantings are in the final stages of completion during the summer of 2018.
Trail activities: Biking, Running, Walking, Skating, Cross Country Skiing, Fishing, Kayaking, Wheelchair Accessible
Location - Where is this Trail?
110 East Main St. (U.S. Hwy#9), Riceville is the WGWL Trailhead. This is where the Northern Branch and Southern Branch merge. The Northern end point of the Northern Branch is the State Line Road (Minnesota/Iowa border). The Southern end point of the Southern Branch of the WGWL is the northern City Limits of Elma where it meets The Old Roundhouse Trail Segment. This segment is an additional .44 miles to Elma’s Welcome Center.
WGWL Trailhead 110 Main Street; Riceville, Iowa (U.S. Hwy #9)
The WGWL Trailhead Welcome Center sits on the county line between Mitchell and Howard County in a former pioneer Baptist Church that is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It has a small stage with audience seating. The lower level has a kitchen and refreshment area with outdoor patio. The WGWL Committee’s famous homemade pies are served on Pie Sundays. The Welcome Center can be reserved and rented for events including small weddings. On summer Saturdays and Sundays the Center is manned with a Host/Hostess from 2:00 to 5:00 P.M. Water, ice cream sundaes and root beer floats are available.
Art and culture are evident at the Welcome Center in the display of a selected local artist’s work in a Summer Art Show that changes each year. On the upper level is a permanent display of some of Isabelle Moore Kimball’s sculptures that have been given to the Welcome Center. Kimball was a Riceville girl who studied under the artist who designed the bronze doors for the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington D. C. She is a recognized artist in her own right. Pieces of her art are displayed in Chicago, Brooklyn, Winona, the art department of Southern Illinois University etc.
Northern Branch of the WGWL Trail – Riceville to Iowa/Minnesota Border (State Line Road) 15 + miles of paved trail. The following amenities are listed from the Trailhead to the north.
- Memory Lane Different varieties of trees planted in memory of a loved one. Markers on trees.
- Iowa Prairie Visions 1.3 acre prairie plot with observation deck. Prairie flower kiosk.
- Lake Hendricks 234 acre park. 83 campsites. Dirt walking trail around the lake. Map Kiosk.
- Jeweled Wings Butterfly Garden Educational butterfly kiosk. Rental gazebo in garden available. Contact WGWL Committee
- Two Pratt thru trust bridges moved to the trail. Documented to Washington D. C. for historic preservation
- Former Pretty Boy Floyd hide-out location. History kiosk.
- 800 foot boardwalk plus pedestrian/bike bridge across Wapsipinicon River followed by HoffmanWildlife area, oak savanna, river crossing made with 3 railroad cars, followed by working quarry.
- Town of McIntire, Iowa. Route thru town: from trail to Grace St. then turn left. Turn right on 2nd St. and then left on Main St. Then right on 4th St. to trail resting area with map kiosk. Bathroom in the park south of Main St.
- Pinicon Alders, an upland timber of 310 acres. 2 cabins. Contact Mitchell County Conservation for rental of them. Trout stream runs through this wildlife area.
- The ghost town of Bailey. Parking lot, portapotty, 2 picnic tables, Fix-it station. Map kiosk.
- Minnesota/Iowa Border
Southern Branch of the WGWL Trail - Riceville to Old Roundhouse Segment (.44 miles located in Elma )
The official bike route mandated by the Riceville City Council through the town is as follows: As you leave the WGWL Trailhead, cross Hwy #9 and then south on Cherry Street for one block. Turn left on 2nd St. The large WGWL Parking Lot is at 203 Second St. It will hold campers. Go east 3 blocks on 2nd St. to Oak St. Cemented trail picks up here to go north one block and then east on the trail.
- The ghost town of Acme. The WGWL Committee will be installing a map kiosk, Fix-it Station, benches and an art sculpture in the future as funds are raised. Two business ventures are being planned near this trail point.
- Lylah’s Marsh 155 Acres owned by Howard County. There is a body of water with shore fishing, a picnic area with tables, a shelter, trails, a playground and restrooms.
- Elma, Iowa and the Old Roundhouse Segment
- The WGWL Trail ends at the northern City Limits of Elma where it meets the Old Roundhouse Segment. This beautiful piece of city trail leads to the town trail’s Welcome Center. One will find a covered bridge, a picnic area, parking available on Busti and Elm St. and two museums. The historical site of an old train roundhouse is in the city. Planned landscaping, picnic tables, playground equipment, benches grace the trail that have been installed with the funds and labor of the local residents.
- Old Roundhouse The foundation structure of a turntable pit is evidence that Elma was a major hub of railroad activity for 10 years before the center was moved to Oelwein, Iowa. 12 engines at a time could be serviced at this roundhouse. Various support buildings for railroad were at this 80 acre site purchased for this purpose in the 1800s.
- The Old Roundhouse Trailhead and Welcome Center is open 7:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. in biking season every day of the week. There are restrooms, information brochures and vending machines for the biker’s convenience.
- The Depot Museum is an added interest point housing a history of the railroad in Elma. Historical points of Elma are also on display. Hours are 2-4 P.M. on Sundays from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
- The Schoolhouse Museum has the history of Elma area schools. Hours are the same as the Depot Museum.
Sites & Attractions
- Valentine Luminary Cross-Country Ski (1st or 2nd Saturday in February) WGWL Trailhead – Riceville
- IronHorse Half Marathon, 10K, 5K Race (1st Saturday in May) WGWL Trailhead – Riceville
- Summer Art Show (Saturday & Sundays Memorial Day Weekend – Labor Day Weekend, 2-5 PM) WGWL Trailhead Welcome Center - Riceville
- Pie Sundays – 1st Sunday of the Month (June-September) 2-5 p.m. WGWL Trailhead –Riceville
- Farmers Market – Saturday Mornings (Memorial Day Weekend – Labor Day Weekend) 9-11:30 AM – Riceville
- Old Roundhouse Trail Days (2nd Saturday in July) Old Roundhouse Welcome Center – Elma
- Wapsipinicon Festival 5K Run/Walk (1st Saturday in August) WGWL Trailhead – Riceville
- BBB Adventure and BEB Adventure Bike Ride (3rd Sunday in August) WGWL Trailhead – Riceville
- Multi-Event Adventure Race (3rd weekend in September) WGWL Trailhead – Riceville
- Christmas Tea (1st Thursday and Friday in December) Reservations required. WGWL Trailhead Welcome Center – Riceville
History of the Trail
see trailhead information for historical details and attractions.
Planned Mileage: 1 miles - The Southern Branch is now complete and the last mile to the MN border purchased and construction will be gone soon (June 2018)
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This trail was last edited by bikeiowa on Jun 1, 2018.