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a thorny trail in May

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J Winch from Mazomanie, Wisconsin on 5/24/2023 10:40:11 AM:
Unless your absolute favorite thing to do in the whole world is to patch bicycle tube punctures, then thorn-resistant tires, slime, or other thorn mitigation measures are an absolute MUST to ride this trail. I rode the entire trail from Norfolk to Valentine as a series of out-and-backs over seven days (May 13-19, 2023), with just regular MTB tires. Stay on the main travelled part of the trail as much as possible. More than half of the 12+ punctures I experienced were after pulling my bike to the right side of the trail, though still on the limestone trail. The absolute worst section (from a thorn perspective) is between the Elkhorn gravel plant (2-3 miles west of Atkinson) and Stuart. I experienced two double punctures over this 6-mile section - one set heading west to Stuart, and one set on the return to Atkinson headed east. Highway 20 is close by over this section, and unless you are a rail-to-trail "purist", consider riding this 6-mile section on the ample 6-ft+ shoulder of Highway 20 to avoid the thorns. A 6-ft+ shoulder is available for the entire length of the Hwy 275 and 20 routes that closely follow most of the Cowboy Trail ( within 25-100 feet). The 16-17 miles east of Valentine were the most pleasant of the entire route, as they are well away from the highway and, until I got into Valentine city limits, thorn-free. Pack a sharpie pen so you can easily mark the puncture locations for patching

Alex from Lincoln on 5/24/2023 2:17:46 PM:
Thank you for this valuable information and I'm sorry goatheads gave you trouble on this trip. We will hit the sections described as soon as we can with the new implement we have.

Trevor from League City, Tx on 5/27/2023 2:32:48 PM:
Agree with the suggestion for hwy alternate in the Elkhorn Gravel Plant to Stuart section. On April 30th I did my last out-and-back of my trip from Atkinson to Stuart and had a rear flat somewhere between MM 98 & MM 100 and a front flat from a goat head on the return from Stuart to MM 100. I never went off-path but I guess I didn't get them all and must have left some for others to experience! :) Otherwise, I had no issues and really enjoyed the out-and-backs from Norfolk to Atkinson.