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Exploring the Trails in Palisades Park
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Exploring the Trails in Palisades Park

When one thinks of mountain biking, many folks gravitate towards thinking of destination trips, but did you know that we have fabulous biking in our back yard? Decorah has three parks in town that have recreational off-road trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.  Palisades, Van Peenen, and Dunning's Spring parks are within close proximity of each other and all three boast wonderful and challenging trails for all levels of riders. First, we will take a look at Palisades Park, which boasts some of the original off-road trails along with a scenic overlook of the town. To ride in Palisades you have a couple options on how to start, either by riding up the paved road for an easy way up (of course, with a lot of climbing), riding the gravel road to the entrance of Dead Pet if you're looking for a technical off-road trail challenge, or you could ride the gravel to the old road for a less-trafficked and scenic route up. The off-road trails in Palisades cross the paved road that cars drive up to see the overlook, so it's wise to use caution as you cross. 

To ride up the trails in Palisades: Dead Pet to Lower Pali, Middle Pali, and Upper Pali you will find yourself climbing a lot. It's a skilled rider's dream come true to see how well they can maneuver rooty switchbacks while going uphill! Once you hit Upper Palisades Trail, you'll find flow- it's actually not a bad trail to take newer riders on because it doesn't have drop-offs or ledges. 

There is a trail called Log Jam that is within the Upper Pali section, which provides a fun loop for extending your time in the woods. When you exit Upper Palisades you will see a trail called Lee's Loop directly in front of you- it boasts a fun ride with pine trees surrounding you. It is twisty and a great area to work on tight corners- you will come to a split where you can take a climb up to see the overlook or you can keep right and exit the woods. If you stay right you'll come to Smeby's Trail, this is a fun and slightly challenging trail that will literally take you thru Joanie and Mark's back yard or you can take a detour and explore Larson's Loop if you wish to extend the ride. Personally, I enjoy taking an easier way up and challenging myself with a few climbs, then I'll turn around and double back on the trails I rode to ride Upper Pali, Middle Pali, Lower Pali, and Dead Pet down. It's fun to work on technical descents and feel the flow of those trails going down them! Remember, watch for car traffic!

Many folks want to know how technical the trails are and I would say that Palisades trails are intermediate to advanced. There is elevation, steep descents, roots, tight corners, and rocky sections that might not inspire confidence with new riders (with the exception of the Upper Pali trail.) There is something for everyone up in Palisades, you just have to climb to get there! If you are looking for a paper map, you can stop by Decorah Bicycles, or go online and print one off.

If you are smart phone savvy, you can download the app MTB Project, and find the Decorah trails with descriptions of what they are like.

Follow Decorah Mountain Bike Trails on Facebook to keep tabs on trail conditions.

For women who mountain bike or are mountain bike curious, Josie hosts a Fearless Women of Dirt (FWD) 5 p.m. Sunday ride. The first Sunday of the month she hosts a 7:30 a.m. and a 5 p.m. ride.

(Author Note: In 2018 the first Sunday of the month will be a FWD Intro to Mountain Biking ride at 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. All other Sunday at 5 rides will be Intermediate to Advanced.)

Photo Credit: Josie Smith

We love the Northeast Iowa trails! Share your trail stories here!
  1. Imagine Northeast Iowa Support
    Imagine Northeast Iowa Support
    Welcome back to Imagine, Josie! Thanks for this terrific post for our Summer Trail Series!

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