Missouri is a midwestern state with a humid continental climate of cold winters and hot, humid and wet summers. The flat expanse and gently rolling hills of the Northern Plains stretch out above the Missouri River. The namesake river bisects the state, dividing it into northern and southern regions with many river bluffs along its path. Southern Missouri rises to the Ozark Mountains and is home to various limestone formations and caves. Along with the Missouri River, the longest biking trail in Missouri runs through the center of the state. As it follows an old transportation route it hits on important landmarks and towns as it guides riders through the varied landscapes of the ‘Mother of the West.’
What is The Longest Biking Trail in Missouri?
The longest biking trail in Missouri is the Katy Trail which runs 237 miles across the state. It is also the longest rails-to-trails route in the entire nation! It is built along the former corridor of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. There are 26 trailheads and four railroad depots along the way. It’s a flat and scenic multi-use trail where you’ll likely pass many other bicyclists, as well as people walking, running or even on horseback on certain sections of the trail. The surface of the trail is limestone pug, or crushed limestone.
Over half of the route follows along the Missouri river, taking riders on a journey through towering river bluffs. Once the path leaves the riverside, it wanders through farmlands and various forms of small-town Americana. One segment of the trail is part of Adventure Cycling’s Lewis & Clark route. The Katy Trail is also part of the American Discovery Trail, and is a popular route for cross-country cyclists. It’s a Millennium Legacy Trail and in 2008 was added to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Hall of Fame.
The Katy Trail Route
As the longest rail-to-trail route in the country, and the longest biking trail in Missouri, the Katy Trail begins northwest of St. Louis in Machens and travels west to Clinton as it passes through the state capital of Jefferson City. At the west end of the trail cyclists can connect to the Rock Island Spur of Katy Trail State Park, which runs about 50 miles and offers a northwestern leg to Kansas City.
Much of the route meanders along the MIssouri River, with limestone bluffs adorning one side of the trail and the river gracing the other. The path will have you visiting forests and rolling hills, wetlands and prairies, in addition to touching upon over 40 towns along the way.
History of the Longest Biking Trail in Missouri
The National Trails System Act of 1968 made the conversion of the railway to a multi-use trail possible. In 1982 the city of Columbia opened the MKT Trail, a spur of the Katy Trail, as one of the first rails-to-trails projects of the United States.
A section of track along the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroads route from Sedalia to Machens, Missouri was damaged by flood water from the MIssouri River on October 4th, 1986. While the route had been flooded and repaired many times, this time officials decided to retire the tracks from service. Trains were rerouted and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources purchased the trail with the help of a donation from Edward D “Ted” Jones and Pat Jones of Williamsburg and St. Louis. The first section of the trail officially opened to the public in Rocheport in 1990. In 1991, 33 miles from Sedalia to Clinton was donated by the Union Pacific Railroad. The completed trail from St. Charles to Sedalia was opened in 1996 and subsequent sections opened in 1999 and 2011.
Navigating The Route
“BikeKatyTrail” is a handy online resource that offers an online trail map in addition to a printed version that is laminated and foldable. A physical copy of the trail map is recommended and this is an affordable option detailing the length of the route along with points of interest and services. Also available on the site is “Katy Trail: A Guided Tour Through History,” a guide book by Kathy Schrenk full of itineraries, tips, historical background, restaurant recommendations and more to help you plan your cycling journey. The Trip Planner section of the site lists businesses, services and mileage for the section of trail that you input and the timeline tool gives your expected arrival at each trailhead as well as estimated travel time between trailheads.
How Long Does it Take to Complete
The longest biking trail in Missouri can be completed at your own pace. Some may choose to bike it at a steady speed and break only minimally, while others will meander and stop all along the way to explore and take in the sights, tastes, smells and sounds and textures of the former MKT rail line. The above mentioned tool, the timeline calculator, estimates that at a steady speed of 10 mph with 3 minute breaks at trailheads the route would take roughly 33 hours to complete.
The Katy Trail Difficulty and Preparation
This trail is well-established, flat and there are no motorized vehicles allowed along the route. This makes it an excellent option for less experienced cyclists wanting to do their first long ride, but it’s excellent for experienced riders as well. Anyone who wants to explore a paved motor vehicle-free route rich in history will enjoy this ride! This is not a steep or rugged trail, so it’s a long, sustained challenge. The sheer length of the trail makes riding the Missouri River Trail a feat to accomplish. Make sure to carry a first aid kit, wear a helmet and clothing appropriate for the weather. Cyclists should be physically prepared for the challenge and stay hydrated along the way!
Wildlife on the Longest Biking Trail in Missouri
You are likely to encounter various forms of wildlife while pedaling alongside the Missouri River, through forests, wetlands, or prairies. Waterfowl like swans, ducks and geese as well as pelicans and herons and loons might be spotted. Look out for osprey and eagle nests high above the cycling path and take a moment to watch the turkey vultures or hawks in flight if you happen to spot any. Songbirds like eastern bluebirds, flybirds, chickadees, warblers, swallows and sparrows are likely to grace your presence while you pedal.
White-tailed deer are plentiful in the state and you are likely to spot some along the route. You might spot a Texas horned lizard or a skink sunning themselves along the banks of the river. Black bear and bison are both present in Missouri, and in the unlikely event that you encounter one of these animals be sure to give them plenty of space and if a close encounter is imminent, do not flee but rather make yourself large and yell loudly and firmly.
Bicycle touring puts you into a state of harmony with the natural world as you travel at a rate that is more in line with your surroundings. So have fun exploring, just be sure to respect the territories you traverse along your way.
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