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Big Woods Lake Cedar Falls Paddleboard

Big Woods Lake | Photo Credit: Elliot Tensen

Paddle, Pedal, & Play in Cedar Falls, Iowa

With a population of slightly over 40,000, Cedar Falls is the perfect city to enjoy a mix of outdoor adventures on land or water in an urban setting. Proximity to city hubs makes planning a last-minute day trip or extended weekend getaway easy. 

Travel by car:

  • Iowa City, IA: 1 hr.
  • Minneapolis, MN: 3.5 hrs.
  • Omaha, NE: 4 hrs.
  • Chicago, IL: 5 hrs.
  • Madison, WI: 3 hrs.

What sets the area apart is its Trail loop system. Well-maintained soft and hard trails are interconnected, providing the freedom to follow a suggested path, or carve your own. Whether your idea of fun is a leisurely one-mile stroll around the lake, a brisk ten-mile run through George Wyth State Park, a scenic 50-mile cruise around the Cedar Valley, or hopping from one charming restaurant or bar to another in a thriving downtown district.

Renowned nationwide, the Cedar Valley Trails are integral parts of the American Discovery Trail and the Great American Rail-Trail.  Over 140 wayfinding signs are strategically placed throughout the trail network, providing essential information such as mileage and travel time.


Bluebells at Katoski Greenbelt | Photo Credit: @MatOnTheDirt

Soft Trails provide a special connection with nature's rugged terrain; and Cedar Falls trails do not disappoint. Mountain bike, hike or walk the extensive network spanning George Wyth State Park, Hartman Reserve, Katoski Greenbelt, and other parks and encounter turkey, deer, eagles, and other wildlife. 

Venture to Ulrich Park to experience a true "hidden" gem of  tranquility, with unmarked trails and minimal foot traffic. This 100-acre park is intersected by the Chicago Central Railroad tracks, with trails that wind through single-track paths and provide riverfront views. Search for the picturesque tunnel constructed beneath them.


Bring your dog along for the adventure and stay at one of 8 pet friendly hotels.
Photo Credit: @MattOnTheDirt


Hard Surface Trails 

If you prefer to hop on a well-charted path for additional stability, it's quick and easy to begin your adventure by following one of the area's hard surface trail loops, which vary in distance, scenery, and points of interest.


1. Big Woods Trail | 2.5 mi | Greenway, Urban

2. Cedar Prairie Trail | 8.3 mi | Greenway 

3. Cedar Valley Lakes Trail | 16.4 mi | Greenway, Urban

4. Greenhill Trail | 6.7 mi | Urban

5. Hudson Road Trail | 2 mi | Urban

6. Prairie Lakes Trail | 2.2 mi | Urban

Big Woods Lake

Big Woods Lake. Photo Credit @felicia_fullwood

Water Trails

For wilderness canoeing, the Cedar Valley Paddlers Trail offers a 10-mile water and portage trail connecting various lakes across George Wyth State Park, Hartman Reserve Nature Center, and the Cedar River, With options for both shorter loops and longer excursions. Convenient access points with nearby parking enhance the paddling experience.

Big Woods Lake, near the Downtown District is perfect for a leisurely paddle or a day of exploration. Break up your aquatic excursion with disc golf, boating, or fishing in the same area - or make it a weekend and stay at the onsite campground

Downtown District

The historic charm of Cedar Falls' Downtown District is the perfect starting and ending point for your adventures. Begin and end your day with an impressive selection of dining, shopping, and entertainment options. Plan an overnight stay in the heart of it all at the iconic Black Hawk Hotel or the newly-built Hampton Inn.

Runners Flat

The Runners Flat. Photo Credit: Elliot Tensen


Visitors can wander through more than 40 locally owned shops in the Downtown and College Hill Districts to find everything from books, records, clothing. Adventurers will want to stop by The Runners Flat for the latest footwear, apparel, and accessories. Cook’s Outdoors has a great selection of kayaks, canoes, and outdoor gear. If you need bait and tackle, they have a 24-hour vending machine. National retailers can also be found In Cedar Falls, including SCHEELS, Farm & Fleet, Fleet Farm, Walmart and Target. 

Second State

Second State Brewery | Photo Credit: Elliot Tensen

When it's time for lunch and a drink - stop at one of the Downtown Districts bike-friendly breweries and restaurants, such as Second State and Single Speed. Beer enthusiasts can visit six local breweries and pubs while while earning perks with the Beer Trail Passport.

River Recreation Project

Cedar River Recreational Project

While you're in the downtown area, check out the ongoing transformation of the Cedar River —a multi-million dollar renovation, set to provide a hub of excitement and leisure as soon as Fall 2024. The project features artificial rapids designed for kayaking, tubing, and various water activities. The area will also offer walking trails, fishing jetties, picnic areas, and scenic overlooks. The project seamlessly integrates natural elements to enrich the environment, enhancing and promoting sustainability.


MAXX Rentals, conveniently located in George Wyth State Park, offers a variety of watercraft for rent, while Cook’s Outdoors at 1910 Center Street provides rentals at Big Woods Lake. UNI Outdoor Equipment Rentals, located at the Wellness and Recreation Center on the University of Northern Iowa campus, offers a wide range of equipment and camping gear for rental.