12 Best Iowa Snowmobile Trails: Adventure & Explore

The Hawkeye State of Iowa is known for its cold winters and beautiful landscapes, perfect for exploring with your snowmobile. With gently rolling hills and broad flat plains, there are plenty of trails to ride.

January is the coldest month in Iowa, and snow may start to fall in November. Winters in Iowa can be harsh, but there are many fun recreational activities and adventures to enjoy, including snowmobiling. So, where are the best snowmobile trails in Iowa?

Here are our picks for the 12 best Iowa snowmobile trails:

  1. Backbone State Park
  2. Big Creek State Park
  3. Chichaqua Valley Trail
  4. Cinder Path
  5. Heart of Iowa Nature Trail
  6. Heritage Trail
  7. Prairie Farmer Trail
  8. Raccoon River Valley Trail
  9. Sauk Rail Trail
  10. Solon-Lake Macbride Recreation Trail
  11. Three Rivers Trail
  12. Wapsi-Great Western Line Trail

Let’s dive into each of these popular snowmobile trails in Iowa for your next winter adventure.

12 Best Iowa Snowmobile Trails

Snowmobile Trail Tracks Near Forest

1. Backbone State Park

Backbone State Park is Iowa’s oldest state park. There are 21 miles of multi-use trails that weave through old cedars and rocky areas.

Snowmobiling is not permitted in the State Forest, but sleds may be unloaded in the parking lot and ridden to the entrance, which is by the park’s parking lot.

Aside from snowmobiling, Backbone State Park is also open to cross country skiing, rock climbing, boating, mountain biking, fishing, and hiking. Wildlife viewing is also a treat for visitors.

Visitors can stay in the park’s modern cabins. For snowmobiling, check the routes with a good trail map. Before heading out, make sure to be aware of weather reports for the day. For safety, there are established trails for snowmobiles. Trailblazing is not permitted.

2. Big Creek State Park

Often considered the most popular snowmobile trail in Iowa, the 3500-acre Big Creek State Park offers 13 miles of snowmobile trail around its 814-acre lake. Just 20 miles from Des Moines and 2 miles north of Polk City, this family-friendly park has facilities for picnics and outdoor recreation.

It’s a favorite Iowa outdoor destination throughout the year. Activities include hiking, swimming, boating, biking, fishing, and disc golf. During winter, it’s an excellent place for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. The groomed snowmobile trail is dotted with a few gentle turns.

You cannot camp in the park, but there are several spots near Saylorville Lake. Visit their website for more information. 

3. Chichaqua Valley Trail

In the past, the Chichaqua Valley Trail was a railroad bed. Today, the hard-surfaced, blacktop trail offers a 20-mile snowmobile trail that extends from Bondurant to Baxter. The tree-lined track weaves through the forested banks of the Skunk River, treating riders with incredible views of prairies and farmlands. Fox Indians called the river “Chichaqua,” thus the name of the trail.

The trail is one of Iowa’s first rail-trail conversions. It still follows the original railroad route connecting Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska.

From the suburban sprawl of Mally’s Weh-Weh-Neh-Kee Park in Berwick, riders pass through rural Iowa farmlands before arriving at Bondurant. The town’s trailhead park has restrooms and drinking water.

From Bondurant to Baxter, fields of wildflowers offer fantastic views along the curvy route with lots of opportunities to spot wildlife. You’ll know when you have arrived at the end of the trail in Baxter when you see a restored 1913 wooden caboose. There are restrooms, taverns, cafes, and stores in Baxter.

4. Cinder Path

Cinder Path is in Lucas and Wayne counties in the southern part of Iowa. It offers 13.5 miles for various outdoor activities such as biking, mountain biking, walking, cross country skiing, and snowmobiling. The mostly shaded, crushed stone and cinder surface trail weaves past farmlands and wetlands through the Chariton River Valley. Visitors experience fields of wildflowers, prairies, and plenty of wildlife.

The Cinder Path Humeston Trailhead is at the intersection of Fletcher St. And Eaton St.

5. Heart of Iowa Nature Trail (HOINT)

The 32-mile Heart of Iowa Nature Trail (HOINT) is a popular recreational trail corridor for horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, and, if the weather allows, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. The HOINT is part of the Great American Rail Trail, the nation’s first cross-country multi-use trail that stretches for more than 3,700 miles between Washington State and Washington D.C.

Most of the trail is crushed limestone with brief stretches of asphalt. The scenic route weaves through classic Iowa farmland and forested areas as well as wetland areas. The HOINT meets the High Trestle Trail in Slater.

Trailheads in Slater, Huxley, Collins, and Rhodes have water and bathroom facilities.

6. Heritage Trail

Blue Snowmobile Parked in Snow

Heritage Trail offers 29.4 miles of scenic all-season trail that was once a railroad taking visitors through old mining and mill towns and a 450-ft valley. The rugged beauty of the Upper Midwest welcomes thousands of visitors each year for biking, boating, fishing, picnicking, hiking, and snowmobiling.

The trail from Dubuque to Dyersville can be used for snowmobiling if there is a minimum of 4 inches of snow. Other winter activities include inline skating and cross-country skiing.

The Heritage Trail weaves along for almost 30 miles from Dubuque to Dyersville. It is where the movie, Field of Dreams, was filmed. The trail passes through the valley beside the Little Maquoketa River, a couple of farms and former mining communities.

7. Prairie Farmer Recreational Trail

The Prairie Farmer Recreational Trail stretches from Calmar to Cresco. The 20-mile trail is open for various outdoor activities throughout all seasons of the year.

The trail is an excellent way to enjoy the great Northeast Iowa outdoors while walking, rollerblading, biking, and hiking. During winter, there are many cross-country skiers and snowmobiles. Snowmobiles, however, are restricted only between Ridgeway and near Cresco. Ridgeway Park on the east edge of town offers the most convenient access.

The snowmobile trail is well-groomed and connects seven communities with Cresco. More than 250 miles of trails take visitors through the beautiful river valleys of the Upper Iowa and Turkey rivers.

There are picnic and parking facilities at the park, water, pit toilets, and shelter. There is also a playground for kids.

Check out the Winneshiek County Conservation website for more info.

8. Raccoon River Valley Trail (RRVT)

The 89-mile Raccoon River Valley Trail is a paved, multi-use recreational trail that passes through fourteen communities in three counties. The trail offers incredible adventures and views for hikers and runners and those on rollerblades and skateboards. During winter, when Iowa snowmobile trail conditions permit, the path becomes alive with cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers.

For snowmobiling, the park offers a south and north route. The south route extends from the Waukee parking lot to Jefferson, while the north route is from the Waukee parking lot to Dallas Center. Take note, however, that snowmobiles are not allowed to go through the city of Dallas Center. The cities that allow snowmobiles include Minburn, Dawson, and Jamaica. Snowmobiles are not permitted through the city of Perry, but there is a marked alternate route.

Trail users 18 years old and older should secure a permit. Annual permits are valid from January to December. They are available online or at the Dallas County Conservation Board administration office.

9. Sauk Rail Trail

The 323.2 mile Sauk Rail Trail weaves through Carroll and Sac Counties. The asphalt/concrete trail is open for biking, inline skating, hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. Visitors will be treated to some of the best rural panoramas of west-central Iowa, from rolling prairies to farmlands to wetlands and wooded areas. 

The Sauk Rail Trail is the first recreational trail in Iowa to connect two state parks — Blackhawk Lake State Park and Swan Lake State Park. The trail passes through private property, and when trails are open, visitors should ride on designated trails only.

For more information about fees and permits, click on this link.

10. Solon-Lake Macbride Recreation Trail

The Solon-Lake Macbride Recreation Trail offers 5 miles of scenic views for visitors as it winds through the wooded northern Lake Macbride shore. The trail is open for cycling, hiking, and during winter, skiing and snowmobiling. The park also offers fishing, boating, and other outdoor recreational activities. Access to the trail and parking area is at Lake Macbride State Park or Solon near Racine Avenue.

11. Three Rivers Trail

The 33-mile long Three Rivers Trail links five communities along a former stagecoach route. The crushed rock trail weaves through 3 counties — Humboldt, Pocahontas, and Wright, and offers visitors miles of beautiful woodlands, valleys, and open prairies.

The trail got its name as it crosses three rivers — Boone River and the east and west Des Moines River forks. Three Rivers Trail is open year-round for various outdoor activities, including biking, camping, horseback riding, fishing, hiking, and running.

When conditions are right during winter, families go to Three Rivers Trail for snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. For more information, contact the trail managers.

12. Wapsi-Great Western Line Trail

The 27-mile Wapsi-Great Western Line Trail extends through Howard and Mitchell counties and is a designated interstate trail that connects Iowa and Minnesota’s Shooting Star Trail. The trail has both a southern and northern branch with the trailhead located in Riceville. The Northern branch extends to the Minnesota border, and the Southern branch links Riceville and Elma.

The rail trail is open for biking, fishing, hiking, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing. Visitors are treated to beautiful rolling landscapes typical of Iowa’s farmscapes, wetlands, tree canopies, and a lake. It will also take you through Iowa’s largest wind farm and Old Order Amish.

Snowmobiling Regulations in Iowa

Icy Winter Landscape in Rural Iowa

Iowa has formulated regulations for snowmobiling, including yearly renewal of snowmobile registrations from September to December. Snowmobiles entered into the Recreational Vehicle and Vessel Registration System (RVVRS) must register through the County Recorder’s Office in the county where the owner resides.

For snowmobiles registered with RVVRS, Iowa Resident User Permits can also be purchased at the Iowa DNR Online License and Registration site.

The state of Iowa requires snowmobile riders ages 12-17 to take and pass a snowmobile education course. Riders should have an education certificate on their possession when riding on designated snowmobile trails.

Conclusion – 12 Best Iowa Snowmobile Trails

Once again, what are the 12 best snowmobile trails in Iowa? Here are our top picks:

  1. Backbone State Park
  2. Big Creek State Park
  3. Chichaqua Valley Trail
  4. Cinder Path
  5. Heart of Iowa Nature Trail
  6. Heritage Trail
  7. Prairie Farmer Trail
  8. Raccoon River Valley Trail
  9. Sauk Rail Trail
  10. Solon-Lake Macbride Recreation Trail
  11. Three Rivers Trail
  12. Wapsi-Great Western Line Trail

As the snow starts to fall, many Iowa trails and parks become a winter wonderland for snowmobiling and other recreational activities. Even if you enjoy exploring the trails in the summer, winter will be a unique adventure.

Iowa’s frigid air and cornflower blue sky are not the only things that will take your breath away. Your route will take you through wide-open spaces, lakes, wildflowers in the prairies, forests, valleys, historical landmarks, and iconic farmlands.

Kris Peter

Adventure seeker and off-road enthusiast. I love the thrill of going off-road and taking on the elements.

Recent Posts