One of Iowa’s newest Water Trails has recently been established on Middle River in Adair and Madison County.
The trail begins in eastern Adair County at their Middle River Forest County Park and meanders downstream, covering approximately 45 river miles, and currently ends at the historic Holliwell Covered Bridge located approximately 3 ½ miles southeast of Winterset. All the accesses, and routes to the accesses, are marked by the signs shown here. All developed accesses on designated Water-Trails on various rivers located throughout Iowa are numbered by the corresponding river-mile number nearest to each respective access.
Middle River is a scenic stream that flows easterly through a mixture of lazy country side of croplands and rolling pasture, forested hills and limestone bluffs. It twists and turns through these landforms creating a moderately challenging paddle, especially at high or low water levels. Middle River provides an exciting paddle with occasional chutes and ledges that can be navigated with moderate effort.
Along with the natural beauty found along Middle River, there are also a few historic man-made features that add to cultural experience of the Water-Trail. Spanning the river are two of Madison County’s famous “Bridges of Madison County”, Roseman Covered Bridge and Holliwell Covered Bridge. Paddlers must also portage around the historic “ford” at Pammel Park that was constructed in the early 1900’s. And while making this portage, be sure to inspect the “Harmon Tunnel”, originally constructed in 1858, and later enlarged to become the first vehicle tunnel on a State Highway in Iowa.
The following accesses, and descriptions of the river sections between each access, are listed in order from west to east along the Middle River Water-Trail.
Middle River Forest County Park – Access #89:
Middle River Forest Park Access is the Trail-head access to the water-trail. It is located in eastern Adair County and can be found by driving west of Winterset on Highway 92 for approximately 14 miles, then north on Vinton Ave. for 3 miles and then east on 200th Street to the entrance of the County Park. Please take time to appreciate Middle River’s natural beauty of limestone outcroppings, woodlands and abundant wildlife. You should expect moderately challenging paddling as you navigate through the numerous river bends and riffles. Schildberg Access is approximately 11 miles (3 hours) downstream.
Schildberg – Access #78 (gradient of 4.44 feet/mile from Access #89):
Schildberg Access is located approximately 10 miles west of Winterset on the north side of Highway 92 adjacent to the NE corner of the highway bridge. A walk-down ramp is available for canoes and kayaks near the parking area (river-left). Roseman Covered Bridge Access is approximately 7 river miles (1 hour, 45 min) downstream. This stretch of river travels through both timbered valleys and open pasture. A few chutes and riffles are scattered throughout this 7 miles stretch, with a moderately challenging drop-off created by a ledge of shale which is located a few hundred yards just upstream of the P53 bridge.
Roseman Covered Bridge – Access #71 (gradient of 4.63 feet/mile from Access #78):
Roseman Bridge Access is located approximately 11 miles southwest of Winterset (follow Water-Trail signs west of Winterset on Highway 92 and then south on Elmwood Avenue). Beginning at one of the celebrated “Bridges of Madison County”, and ending at one of central Iowa’s oldest and scenic parks, Pammel Park, this section twists and turns through the most scenic portion of river in Madison County featuring a myriad of natural attractions, from majestic limestone bluffs and dense woodlands, to gently rolling grasslands. As the gradient suggests, you should expect moderately challenging paddling as you drop down through numerous chutes and ledges. You will encounter more rock bluffs and longer fast-water chutes as you approach within a mile or two of Pammel Park. The Pammel Park Ford Access is approximately 8 miles (2 ½ hours) downstream. Be prepared to exit river-left for the short portage route around the Pammel Park Ford.
Pammel Park Ford – Access #63 (gradient of 5.97 feet/mile from Access #71):
The Pammel Park Ford is located approximately 4 miles southwest of Winterset. Pammel Park provides modern camping, showers, bathrooms, picnicking, yurt-cabins, shelters, hiking trails, water, and historic features. This section of river is a favorite amongst beginning paddlers and camp ground users due to the short 2 mile distance to the next downstream access point. This section begins at the Pammel Park ford (accesses located on both sides of the river), makes an extended oxbow bend around the landmark limestone backbone ridge and re-enters Pammel Park on the east side of the Harmon Tunnel. This two mile route requires no vehicle shuttle as you begin your trip on the west end of Harmon Tunnel and end your trip on the east end of Harmon Tunnel – a short 200 yard walk back to point of beginning. Expect easy to moderate paddling as you encounter numerous sharp bends, rock riffles and chutes. For paddlers that like to stop and fish along their route, the area immediately surrounding the Pammel park ford provides some of the best Channel Catfish and Flathead fishing anywhere in Central Iowa. The next access is approximately 2 miles downstream at the entrance to Pammel Park.
Pammel Park – Access #61 (gradient of 6.5 feet/mile from Access #63):
The Pammel Park Access #61 is located approximately 4 miles southwest of Winterset near the main entrance of Pammel Park and adjacent to the east end of HarmonTunnel. Pammel Park provides modern camping, showers, bathrooms, picnicking, yurt-cabins, shelters, hiking trails, water, and historic features. This section of river is a favorite amongst paddlers due to the convenient distances between downstream access points. This section begins just inside the main entryway to Pammel Park. Expect easy to moderate paddling as you encounter a few rock riffles and chutes, but are mostly treated to a shaded meandered course through timbered banks and open country side. For paddlers that like to stop and fish along their route, the area immediately surrounding the Pammel park ford provides some of the best Channel Catfish and Flathead fishing anywhere in Central Iowa. Expect to encounter numerous fallen trees/snags between the Highway 169 bridge and the Middle River County Park access. The next access is approximately 7 miles downstream at Middle River County Park, which is located on the south edge of Winterset.
Middle River County Park – Access #54 (gradient of 5.28 feet/mile from Access #61):
Middle River County Park access is located 1 mile south of Winterset on County Road P-71. Middle River County Park provides modern bathrooms, picnicking, picnic shelter, hiking trails and water. Modern camping is available at the Winterset City Park campgrounds located approximately 1 mile north of this access. A recently renovated walk-down ramp is available for canoes & kayaks (river-left). The river remains fairly shaded with a lot of timber edge and the gradient begins to flatten out, but remains challenging due to a higher degree of meandering. Expect to find more downed trees and snags in this final stretch of the Middle River Water Trail. The final developed access on the Water Trail is approximately 4 river miles (1 hour, 15 minutes) downstream and located on river left immediately adjacent to the northwest corner of Holliwell Covered Bridge.
Holliwell Covered Bridge – Access #50 (gradient of 3.3 feet/mile from Access #54):
Holliwell Covered Bridge is located 3 1/2 miles southeast of Winterset by traveling 1 mile east of Winterset on Highway 92, turning south on Norwood Avenue and then east on Holliwell Bridge Trail. This is the last developed access point on the Middle River Water Trail. The river below Holliwell is very navigable and remains highly meandered. Paddlers should be aware that access to Middle River below this point, at this time, is limited to existing bridge crossings and can be difficult to negotiate due to steep-bank slopes and dense vegetation. The Madison County Conservation Board plans to continue working to extend the water trail to eventually include developed access sites in the towns of Patterson and Bevington.