When I was on campus in Dubuque for an intensive in June, I had a long run planned. 20 miles. No plan. Away from my normal stomping grounds (although, hopefully my form is a little better than “stomping”), I did some asking around. A few locals suggested I check out the Heritage Trail. I did and (spoiler alert) I loved it.
The Heritage Trail is a “mountain trail in prairie country”, as per it’s official website. That sums it up pretty well. The northeastern corner of Iowa, as well as the adjacent corners of Minnesota, Illinois, and my native Wisconsin, make up what is known as the driftless region. This area was not levels by massive glaciers and, therefore, have no glacial drifting, or soil deposits made by the glaciers as they advance and retreat. So, there are some beautiful bluffs that have been there for thousands and thousands. So, if you run this, be prepared to tackle a few hills and to be running/riding/walking through some pretty cool and unique geological features.
The trail is a crushed gravel trail with some paved sections that connects Dubuque and Dyersville (of “Field of Dreams” fame). It also features a number of other interests, such as interpretive centers, fossil hunting areas, railroad artifacts, and some nice scenic overlooks. It winds by a number of small towns, is very well marked, and really pretty. I loved running through the trees and by the streams. I remember thinking that, aside from the fact that I was running on a maintained trail and the faint sound of traffic, that I was totally alone. That maintenance does come at a cost, although it is minimal. The donation is $2.10 per day, or a whopping $10.25 per year. Definitely worth the change you can scrape together from your car.
The Heritage Trail is roughly 26 miles. Now, of course, you marathoners will see that and think, “Awesome! Let’s get a proper marathon on that thing!” Well, that’s been done for you. The Run 4 Troops is a marathon, starting in Dyersville and running toward downtown Dubuque, that supports local military families. By all accounts, I’ve heard it’s a very well run race and it is a Boston Qualifier, which is pretty awesome!
Long story short, this is a beautifully maintained trail that offers a challenge and respite from the typical road/trail running you’ll get around the Midwest. The fact that it’s being utilized by a BQ marathon and is available use for a very nominal fee around the year is perfect. If you are interested in experiencing some of the nature of NE Iowa, this is a must-run trail to add to your travel log!