The 5 mile loop trail around Lake Ahquabi is a mix of singletrack and doubletrack. It is a multi-use trail that allows hikers, bikers and cross country skiing (obviously for winter). This loop contains wooden bridges to cross, singletrack with roots, gravel singletrack and doubletrack, grass covered path, woodchip covered path, leaf covered path, logs to cross and one will often find muddy areas along the way depending on the rainfall. You can ride it in either direction, although riding it in clockwise direction provides for the most challenging hill climb of the day where most end up bailing and walking up the hill. There is an optional loop to a Monument that is marked.
There are several difficult climbs along the main Lake trail that are technical in nature - although they are in the "not very long category". The rest of the trail around the lake is up and down as well as gentle rolling hills that will have the biker working the gears to keep the momentum flowing. About 95% of the trail is in the woods and shaded the entire way. It is very peaceful. I would rank the trail beginner and intermediate.
The trails and several loops near the first picnic area upon entering the State Park provide the most challenge for mountain bikers. These are real mountain bike trails that give you white knuckles and raise your heart rate. They are all singletrack with steep descents and steep climbs. These trails are more "rugged" in nature in terms of maintenance with branches and logs left to lie where they fall. I like that compared to the perfectly groomed, trails only open when things are dry area types found in other parts of Iowa. Lots of deer tracks and rough ground from the tracks when the deer walk in the mud. No shortage of ruts, roots, rocks, loose conditions, fallen trees and branches to navigate and hills to negotiate. There is even a several hundred yard long gravel and log staircase that leads back down to the lake trail. One can pick up thorns, so think about slime tubes or carrying an extra tube with you when riding here. I would rank this section of trails intermediate and advanced with conditions sometimes making it extreme.
Mixing the difficult singletrack trails with the Lake Ahquabi main 5 mile loop trail provides plenty of riding for everyone to make a good day of it and the drive to Lake Ahquabi State Park worthwhile. Camping is allowed in the campground, so it makes for a nice weekend trip to camp, ride, swim, fish, boat, bike, eat, bike, sleep, bike, hike, etc... . There are even some hiking/biking trails across the highway that are nature trails which beginners and intermediates would find quite enjoyable.
This is one of the best kept secrets in Iowa for mountain biking.
This is located about 16 - 18 miles south of Des Moines's South Ridge Mall. Take US Highway 65 south out of Des Moines and go through Indianola. The sign for the entrance to Lake Ahquabi State Park is six miles south of Indianola.
Turn right at the sign and head into the main entrance of the State Park. The first picnic area on the right is the place to park to enter the mountain pike trails in the woods. Or you can continue down the road to the parkting lots near the lake. The 5 mile trail around the lake can be picked up from any of the parking lots as the trail is marked with both a hiker and a mountain bike.Camping is available. Fishing is available. Boat rental is available. Swimming is available.Parking is free and there is no access fee charged for using the trails.
5 miles for main lake trail. Surrounding trails cover many acres.
Summary: Just rode this trail after the 2011 Mullet race. The trails were well-groomed and exactly as described in the main write-up. Riding with those familiar with the trail for years, we experienced new additions to the trail that vary the ride, and add some extra length. With extensive fall leaf coverage, the trail was hard to find at times, and hid occasional obstacles and hazards. Makes for a fun and challenging ride. It's not the longest, but it was fun. I'll be back.
Recommended Route: We started at the main pavilion at the lake and rode once each direction.
Other recommended trails in the same area: Greenwood park area in DSM (Denman's, Squirrel's Nest, Hillside, Roller Coaster, etc.).
Summary: Horrible not worth the time or effort. 100% overgrown and just a poor excuse for trail.
Recommended Route: We started at the south shelter and rode some double track that was of course overgrown. We finally made it down to the lake and that trail was even worse so we turned around and called it a day.
Other recommended trails in the same area: n/a maybe some up in Des Moines
Summary: A nice mountain biking area in a very wooded setting that is surrounding a lake. Best mountain biking specific singletrack trails are off of the long log/gravel staircase which is an area north of the first picnic area when first entering the State Park. These trails are excellent singletrack with steep descents and climbs.
The trail around the lake is a mixture of singletrack, doubletrack, grassy areas and is filled with up and down gentle hills as well as lung and leg burning climbs. Trail around the lake is 4.5 - 5 miles and can be ridden in either direction. Some areas never really dry out due to the amount of rain, but you will encounter logs, mud, bridges, roots, rocks, leaves and lots of wildlife.
Recommended Route: Park in the first picnic area on the right upon entering the park. Head off into the trailhead at the northeast corner of the picnic area. There are several loops that intersect each other, so just wander around exploring all of them. Once you get your fill of this area, head down the log and gravel stairs to the lake. Follow the trail in clockwise fashion to get the maximum challenge of the climbs. Once you get to the campground area, you need to ride to the top tier of the camping area to pick up a figure 8 hiking trail/biking loop that goes off in the woods and pond area. Lots of deer here and the trail is mainly grass covered, but fun. Plan on spending at least a good 1 to 2 hours mountain biking around and enjoying all of the trails. Due to rainfall in this area of Iowa - you can expect some mud. So I would advise using a set of tires that can handle mud (disc brakes a plus as well). Dryer times provide thorns on the trails - so be prepared for fixing a flat or use a slimed tube.
Other recommended trails in the same area: Sycamore Trail and Brickyard in Des Moines. Sugar Bottom north of Iowa City and Seven Oaks Ski Area outside of Boone.