Iowa City, Iowa
I live in Iowa. I know you think Iowa is flat and that we grow potatoes, but neither is true! Well, ok, parts of Iowa are flat, but parts of it are definitely not. I live in the eastern part of the state (Iowa City to be exact), about an hour away from the Mississippi River. If you’re looking for hills in Iowa, head to the West and East border and I guarantee you’ll find them.
As for weather, we literally get it all. It’s freezing in the winter (although this winter has been generally pretty warm with hardly any snow), wet in the spring, hot as hell in the summer, and our falls are crisp and gorgeous. The humidity can get pretty nasty in July and August, but it makes for good heat training.
Where to Run:
Since Iowa isn’t known for it’s trail scene, you can bet the trail runners make use out of every single trail available. In the Iowa City area, the best place to go for longer miles are the trails near Lake Macbride, located about 15 miles north of Iowa City, between North Liberty and Solon. You’ll find a variety of trails ranging from single track, dirt, crushed gravel, and grass. The best views are near the “spillway”, where water from Lake Macbride flows into the Iowa River. Any ultra-runner in the area knows these trails like the back of their hand.
Also nestled in these trails is the Iowa Raptor Project. There are about 20 unreleasable birds on display (hawks, owls, falcons, etc) and is free and open to the public. Take a few minutes to say hi to these beautiful raptors if you find yourself nearby!
Woodpecker trails would be next on my list. These are dirt trails next to Coralville Lake, about 10 minutes north of Iowa City. This is a popular hiking spot and a beautiful place to take in fall colors. If you hit every single trail, you could probably get seven miles, thus not recommended for super long runs (although it does make for good mental training). I usually stick to Woodpecker if I’m going to run 10 miles or less. You can definitely get some decent vert on these trails, too.
Next up is Hickory Hill. Hickory Hill is a cute park nestled in the middle of Iowa City. There aren’t many miles, but it’s accessible and there are really pretty views of the park and prairies. This is definitely an Iowa City staple and is pretty popular in the warmer months. You’ll find dirt, grass, and single track and enough trails that I still get myself turned around at times. This is a great place to take friends to introduce them to the trails for the first time.
Where to Eat:
Pre and Post Run Food:
Salt Fork Kitchen:
Salt Fork Kitchen in Solon is hands-down my favorite place to pig out after a long run at Macbride. The food is delicious and locally sourced (much of it from their own farm). The restaurant is cute, quirky, and comfortable. It’s about as unpretentious as you can get and we’ve never received any weird looks walking in all sweaty post-run. Their coffee is delish and is also local (Wake up Iowa) and my favorite item on the menu is the Flo Omelet, although I don’t think I’ve ever ordered anything I didn’t like.
Yotopia Frozen Yogurt
Yotopia Frozen Yogurt is my favorite treat after a long run. There are lots of options for those with dietary restrictions and tons of topping selections (Vanilla Wafers FTW!).
The Mill is a low-key restaurant with good beer on tap and good food on the menu. They’re an entertainment venue, too, so most nights you can catch a reading or concert.
If you’re looking for something a little nicer, Atlas is a good choice. They’re known for their burritos that include some yummy fixins (example: Buffalo Chicken Burrito that includes mashed potatoes).
My favorite vegetarian/vegan place is called Trumpet Blossom. The atmosphere is cozy and the menu is super creative and fun.
Where to Shop:
Unfortunately, Iowa City doesn’t have any running stores! Hard to believe, but true. We do have a few top-notch outdoor recreation stores in Iowa City – Active Endeavors downtown and Fin and Feather on the south side. While their running section isn’t extensive, they make up for it with great gear for outdoor lovers and knowledge of places to explore. If you’re really itching for a running store fix, there’s a running store in North Liberty about 15 miles north of Iowa City called We Run.
Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa and the famous Writer’s Workshop. Our downtown bookstore, Prairie Lights, is a staple in the literary world. Authors give readings every week and the coffee shop on the top floor is a popular place to read and study.
The Ped Mall is right next to the University of Iowa campus and is loaded with shops, bars, and restaurants. In the Summer, there are music and art festivals and concerts almost every weekend. Iowa City is like a different city during the Summer when the students are gone for break. The low-key vibe is always welcome after nine months of hustle and bustle!
While Iowa might not be first on your list of places to visit, I would definitely say Iowa City is a gem. The University of Iowa brings a lot of interesting and educated people to this little city, and every night there are lectures, concerts, workshops, etc. Iowa City is also a 1-2 hour drive to some beautiful areas (with beautiful trails!). Living in Iowa has forced me to explore and travel quite a bit (which I love!) and I’ve been lucky enough to run in some truly magnificent places – but it’s always nice to come home to Iowa City.
If you’re ever in the area and want to explore the trails or meet up, feel free to hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to show you around IC!
Also, for those wondering, Iowa grows corn and beans. Idaho grows potatoes. 🙂
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About the Author:
Kelly Teeselink is a marketer at the University of Iowa, a cat mom, and an ultra-runner. She began running in 2011 when trying to lose weight and found running (trail running specifically) shifted how she though about her body – what it can do, rather than what it looks like. Her passion is sharing this message as a Girls on the Run coach.