Does Banner have an undeserved bad reputation? I think it does. I believe these trails are just misunderstood.
I have said for years that “the trails at Banner may be the most fun and most feared trails in central Iowa.” But I think it’s time for us all to forget that fear and enjoy the fun. I’m tired of hearing that Banner is only for experienced riders.
Banner has some advanced trails, but that’s only some of the trails. And once you get a feel for Banner’s character by riding the beginner and intermediate trails first, the advanced trails become much more manageable.
Banner Lakes is the site of an old strip mine, and most of the trails there are built on the piles of tailings. This gives them a character that is quite different from the rest of the trails in central Iowa (gritty soil, blind corners, and short, steep hills), and maybe this is how Banner got it’s reputation for being tough. However, Banner also has a lot of variety.
Banner One Bite at a Time Plan
Maybe you or someone you know had a unpleasant first experience at Banner because a friend took you straight into the intermediate and advanced trails without any prep. This is what happened on my first trip there! I never wanted to go back.
By changing the order you explore the trails, from the typical race order to my “Banner One Bite at a Time Plan,” you can get a feel for Banner’s character, then figure out how to handle some loose climbs, then enjoy the longer trails, and then have the confidence to try the really fun stuff.
First Bite of Banner: Riverside
Start at the parking lot at the only T-intersection in the park. It’s the third lot in. Bike south in the bike lane, looking for the first marked trail to the right.
Enter Riverside (green). There is big logover with really sturdy ramps near this entrance. It’s very rideable, but if you want to walk over it on the first pass, go right ahead. Then it is fairly typical of any trail you will find along a river in Iowa. Yes, that means there is some sand; just keep pedaling.
When you pop back out on the road, turn around and ride it the other direction.
Ride it a few more times if you like, and then return to the T-intersection.
Second Bite of Banner: Missing Link
At the T-intersection, bike east in the bike lane, looking for the fist unmarked trail to the left. Right away the trail forks; turn right on Missing Link (green). This trail starts to introduce you to the gritty texture of Banner, but is short and level.
When the trail comes back to the road, you can continue riding it back and forth, or move on to the next bite.
Third Bite of Banner: New Ed Beach and Missing Link Laps
Instead of coming out to the road at the east end of Missing Link, head over the little hill with the “no swimming” sign. This takes you to a flat connector trail.
It’s a good idea to head out for a couple dozen yards on this trail and turn around. Now, as you race back toward New Ed Beach (blue), you can build up some speed for your first Banner hill. If you don’t make it quite to the top on the first try, that’s okay. There are a few more hills on this trail, but the first is the largest.
This trail has the ups, downs, and twists Banner is known for, but isn’t very long. It ends in a sweeping downhill hairpin that puts you back on Missing Link.
Do a few counter-clockwise laps of New Ed and Missing Link. As you get familiar with the trail, you’ll start to get the hang of setting up for the hills. Don’t worry about perfection, though.
Banner’s Main Course: Coal Miner’s Daughter
Now is a good time to explore the rest of Banner in the typical order. Ride the bike lane all way out to the parking lot at the entrance of the park. The entrance to Coal Miner’s Daughter (blue) will be on your right, directly across from the parking lot.
Coal Miner’s is the longest trail. It is mostly intermediate, with two forks that let you chose to take—or skip—advanced sections. There are also, honestly, quite a few tricky bits that all but the most advanced riders walk on their first visit. Remember, I mentioned blind corners. There is nothing wrong with walking things in mountain biking. It’s a natural part of the sport.
Coal Miner’s takes you to the far end of the connector trail you used to launch yourself up into New Ed Beach on the “third bite.” So go ahead and do another lap of New Ed and Missing Link.
Do you want to repeat Coal Miner’s? Maybe with the black sections, if you skipped them the first time? Are you finished for the day, or do you have room for dessert?
Banner Dessert: Corner Pocket and Extra Credit
There are a couple entrances to Corner Pocket (black) on the north side of the road where Missing Link ends. Once you make the first climb into the trail, you are rewarded with a lot of fun swoopy stuff.
When you hit the road again, turn left and proceed clockwise around the park in the bike lane. Turn left into Riverside. This is the direction this trail gets ridden in the race. When you come to its end, continue north to the T-intersection.
At the intersection, turn left, and then almost immediately turn right onto Extra Credit (black). I am not fond of the first climb, but the rest is awesome and characterized by a lot of climbs and steep descents on more conventional dirt. Once you ride this a few times, you’ll get a feel for what gear to be in and where, and it will get easier
Take a Beginner to Banner
I know that a lot of us, when we head down to Banner, park in the first lot and jump right into Coal Miner’s Daughter. Then we do a few laps of the whole thing. But if you are taking a beginner mountain biker with you, or even an intermediate rider who simply hasn’t been to Banner before, think about mixing it up and taking the trails in a different order.
I would love to see a lot of beginners at the next Summerset Shootout, or just out enjoying these trails on any random day!