Iowa is not known as a motorcycling destination but a through state. Motorcyclists travel primarily on the four-lane roads thinking that’s all there is to see, and that includes many of those who live in Iowa. Even our maps don’t make it look inviting, as the squiggly lines aren’t all that squiggly. So here are some roads that I enjoy traveling that will be a treat for any motorcyclists looking for lightly traveled, interesting roads, and a highly adaptable route.
I start at the intersection of State Route 13 and U.S. Route 151 in Marion only because I live near there. The route begins on what I call “transit” roads, or primarily straight roads. At County Road E34, head east toward the small town of Whittier (a few houses, a Friends meeting house and a small store), then turn north. I should note that terms like “village” and “hamlet” are not common in Iowa, so even a few houses grouped together are called a town. At Waubeek you’ll cross the Wapsipinicon River, where an old mill has been turned into a rustic bar. You’re now on Boy Scout Road, a former gravel road paved in the chip-and-dip manner. It’s narrow, the pavement is uneven but not rough, and it has some tight corners. It’s a short stretch to savor before returning to more traditional Iowa-style main roads.
When Boy Scout Road ends, turn east onto County Road E16 and enjoy some smooth pavement with nice open curves. At a four-way stop, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, turn north on County Road X20. This is a nice paved road off the beaten path where you can enjoy the scenery with a few curves thrown in to keep you from getting white line fever (remember that!). Next take the road toward Hopkinton where you can, and most likely will, encounter horses and buggies, since there is an Amish population that runs several inviting country stores along the route. The road to Hopkinton, County Road D47 / 310th, starts out straight but then gets nice and curvy, with a tight S curve that can catch out the unaware. At Hopkinton, there’s a college that used to be active — it was in business about a hundred years ago and today you can do a ghost hunt/sleepover if that’s your thing. Heading north, you’ll find it is mostly smooth and mostly straight with a few open curves. The road is, however, somewhat rough between Hopkinton and Delhi. Delhi makes for a nice stop, with fuel available and a couple of good restaurants located on the small-town main street. You’ll run into State Highway 3 at a T intersection, where you’ll head left, then in a few short miles turn right onto Co. Rd. C7X. Turn right before the first big grain storage facility — bright metal bins — you can’t miss them.
The road is smooth and has plenty of curves with gentle elevation changes. As you look around you’ll see what I call “vista views” across the hills that make up this corner of Iowa. You’ll pick up CR X3C at what’s left of Elkport. A flood devastated the community some years ago: they made the best of the situation and created a greenspace camping facility. The curves keep coming along with the views and smooth pavement until you intersect with State Highway 13 — yes, the same highway I started on. Head south toward an Iowa Welcome Center that has information, a small “Iowa Made” shop and displays of Iowa wildlife, making for a relaxing stop. There are plenty of opportunities to get food or gas along the way, but this stop makes for a quiet interlude. Leave the welcome center heading south looking for a right turn, County Road C24 / State Highway 112, heading west to Volga — any guesses as to what group settled here?
This road twists and turns, rises and falls, with a few blind turns thrown in as well. At Volga there’s a park that offers camping as well as access to the Volga River for kayaking. This area has become a destination for both leisurely kayakers and whitewater kayaking. Volga, like most of the other towns on the route, has a convenient city park perfect for a picnic. Follow the signs to Wadena and you’ll be on a trip back through time to what many people think of when they think of rural Iowa. In Wadena you can stop at a locker, a no-frills meat market, and pick up travel food like meat sticks and jerky or steaks to take home if you have a cooler. You’ll also see an old hotel turned into a private residence that still has the name Wadena stenciled on the windows (so that when you got off the train a hundred years ago you knew where you were). Been wondering why so many very small towns exist along this route? One word — railroad. These towns owe their existence to having access to a rail line when rail was the only reliable transportation and communication line in Iowa. In Claremont you’ll see an old depot that a local group is trying to save.
When you reach Claremont, also known as “Brick City,” you can’t miss the turn of the century architecture throughout the town. Claremont was the home of the first governor of Iowa and has a statue and museum to prove it. Wadena and Claremont are still active and offer hospitality in the form of small-town restaurants and bars. These are not tourist towns, though they do cater to hunters in the fall and you won’t feel out of place.
My ride doesn’t end at Claremont, you can reverse it (I like the way the curves string together heading north to south better then south to north), meander back on the other good roads in the area, explore the many graveled roads along the way if you’re so inclined or pick a new destination. I suggest that the best time to ride the route is any time you can — I’ve ridden it four times already this year and plan on riding it at least one more time. So look for the guy on a BMW RT wearing hi-viz gear. That most likely will be me!
I travel to Wadena most week’s from Cedar Rapids. You picked some great roads to ride. Ever want a fellow BMW rider to ride along give a shout out and let me know.
Thank you Joe. I enjoyed your article. This is what touring is all about for me… some quiet roads and small towns.