National Recreation Trails Database


Trail Description Continued

A trip on the Chichaqua Valley Trail is as rich in scenic beauty as it is in history. Tall grass prairie once flooded the valley. Buffalo roamed the landscape and wild onion lined the riverbanks. It was the strong smell of the onion that prompted the Fox Indians to name the river Chichaqua- interpreted as "Skunk", which probably referred to the wild onions. While the area no longer carries buffalo or retains the overwhelming odor of skunk, a ride on the Chichaqua Valley Trail gives visitors the complete illustrative range of Iowa's natural land. The twenty-mile route is constructed on a converted railroad bed. It connects several small towns along the Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt just as the railroad did many years ago.

The Chichaqua Valley Trail was built in 1987; four years after the Chicago Northwestern Railway abandoned the corridor. The alignment has seen many rail lines over the past 100 years including the Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska Railroad; Chicago, St. Paul, and Kansas City Railroad; and the Chicago Great Western Railroad. Traces of all of these companies can still be seen on the route. Families can begin their trip at the northeast end in Baxter. The trailhead hosts a fully restored caboose that users can visit to view additional railroad memorabilia. As users continue down the trail they will cross several stone bridges built in 1885 during the initial railroad construction. Whistle crossings and mile markers still spot the corridor declaring the distance to Kansas City.

Plan your trip accordingly. The slope of the Chichaqua Valley Trail is very gentle due to the railroad bed it is constructed on. This makes it a great trail for beginners and families. The route crosses through open farmland, rolling meadows, forested river valleys. The western portion of the trail is shaded by tree arches. Mid way along the trail a long wooden railroad trestle crosses the Skunk River, which is the backbone of the 7000-acre Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt conservation area. The River bridge has pull out areas where users can stop to admire the tranquil Skunk River and Greenbelt. Nowhere else in Iowa do trail users have the access to such an extensive natural area. Polk and Jasper County Conservation Boards are working together restore the Greenbelt to its native prairie, wetland and savanna landscape.

The paved surface of the Chichaqua Valley Trail allows for a variety of uses including skating, hiking, running, and bicycling. In the winter, the trail is open to snowshoeing and cross county skiing. Bird watching is a major attraction to the area. A variety of wetland fowl such as Blue Herons, egrets, and pelicans can be spotted from the trail. Many species of woodland birds can be enjoyed by enthusiasts as well. Wildflower photography and geocaching are also popular activities in the area.


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This website provides access to the National Recreation Trail (NRT) database, a collection of information on the various trails which have been designated as NRT's. These trails are located throughout the United States and U.S. territories. The amount of information may vary from trail to trail. If you need more information than is available on this site, please use the contact(s) listed for that trail. (If no contacts, are listed, you may request help from American Trails at

The on-line database has details on the currently designated National Recreation Trails. The NRT Program online is hosted by American Trails: