Tall cherry, elm, basswood, maple and oak trees grow together, creating a natural canopy 25 feet above the Cedar Valley Nature Trail south of Cedar Rapids.
The long corridor offers cool shade on a hot summer bike ride through Linn County. Benches off to the side invite riders to relax and appreciate the quiet. Up the trail are bike-centric stops for food, drinks and repair.
Somehow, after 13 years in Eastern Iowa, the Cedar Valley trail was still a mystery for me until recently. Now I wonder why it took so long to check it out.
With my bike strapped to the hatch of my car, I drove to Ely with plans for a 30-mile round-trip ride to Hiawatha a few Saturdays ago.
Ely marks the southern end of the Cedar Valley trail, which extends 72 miles northwest to Waterloo. Much of it is paved except a stretch of crushed limestone north of Hiawatha.
The trailhead opens from the west corner of a dirt parking lot on Hillcrest Street, a block northeast of Ely's Main Street. Parking is free, and water and restrooms are available near baseball diamonds about 50 meters from the parking lot.
After a small strip of cornfields and a newer housing development are two quick road crossings a mile into the trip. Ely Road has moderate automobile traffic whizzing by at 55 mph or more. Don't forget to stop. Fifty feet later the trail intersects Mable Road, which has a nearby stop sign to slow down traffic you might encounter.
The interruptions dissipate for the next eight miles as the trail winds through timber, dives under Highway 30, weaves past "Mount Trashmore" and industrial sites and hugs the Cedar River.
The trail emerges at Sokol Park, across the street from the New Bo Bike Collective, which has odds and ends for a quick fix. Lion's Bridge Brewing Co. serves award-winning beer a block further down 16th Avenue SW into Czech Village.
The ride continues crossing the 16th Avenue Bridge. A bike-themed bar, Kickstand, which hadn't yet opened in late June, is within view before the trail turns along the river bank.
The heart of Cedar Rapids is a bit painstaking by bike. Seventh Avenue isn't bad, but after turning north the ride is stop-and-go with traffic crossings until First Avenue.
All-in-all, it took about 15 minutes to get through downtown, which isn't bad other than lost momentum. Making it a planned stop for ice cream, a beer or lunch could help mitigate that feeling.
Hall Bicycle Co., at 419 Second Avenue SE, is also a block off the trail for a spare tube or a faster bike, but it's closed on Sunday and locks up at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
The trail picks up pace passing under Interstate 380, the rail yard and the vacated steam generation plant. A left at the fork at Cedar Lake runs adjacent to railroad tracks, or to the right by Sag Wagon Deli and Brew, before the spurs reconnect north of the lake, which is lined with small park shelters and people fishing.
Parlor City Ice Cream is an option at the crossing of 42nd Street, which is under construction. Near Collins Road are several hotels and motels - consider them an incentive to come back for an overnight trip to tackle the entire Cedar Valley trail.
The back deck of the new Broken Spoke, visible from the trail as it parallels Center Point Road, is hard to pass without stopping. Craft beer lovers will appreciate the selection, which includes several Surly and New Belgium beers and a $40 Bloody Mary appetizer. I chose the Lagunitas IPA. Guthridge Park in Hiawatha has several places to take a nap before turning back for Ely.
With smooth, well-maintained trails and lots of bike-friendly options to stop, it could be bar-hopping day trip or a quick morning bike ride.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
WHERE TO: Cedar Valley Nature Trail for a 30-mile round-trip from Ely to Hiawatha.
EXERTION FACTOR: Mostly flat terrain with some tree cover, the ride should take two-to-three hours or more depending on stops.
DON'T FORGET: Water, sunscreen, bug spray and money for businesses along the way. The trail is busy with cyclists, runners and walkers, so follow trail etiquette by staying to the right and chiming a bell, an "on your left" or just a "hello," when passing.
FUN FACT: Partial funding has been awarded to extend the trail south six miles to Solon.
KCRG and The Gazette have reporters and photographers checking in throughout the week; find their coverage at kcrg.com/ragbrai2015.