Missouri’s Katy Trail is Longest Rails to Trails

Former Railroad Bed Passes Wineries, Farm Fields and Missouri River

At 225 miles, the Katy Trail is the longest rails-to-trails project in the United States and crosses the width of the Show-Me State from St. Charles to the Kansas border.

Its first life was as the railbed for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (M-K-T) Railroad that crossed the breadth of Missouri from near St. Louis en route to Texas. That service ended in 1986 and 10 years later, the route was reborn and this time nicknamed The Katy Trail.

The Katy Trail is considered by many to be the crown jewel of the Missouri State Park system. Each year, about 300,000 people travel all or a portion of the trail. For many, the starting point is St. Charles, a historic French community on the banks of the Missouri River, just where the river joins the Mighty Mississippi north of St. Louis. This part of the Katy is also a part of the Lewis and Clark Trail because it follows the path of the Missouri River all of the way to Boonville in central Missouri.

From St. Charles to Hermann, the Katy passes through the region known as Missouri’s Rhineland, a number of German communities known for fertile vineyards, good wine, and great food. Prior to the Civil War, the best wines in the United States came from this region of Missouri.

Jefferson City, Missouri

At Jefferson City, the capital of Missouri, the trail actually passes on the north side of the Missouri River. Trail travelers who want to explore the state capitol on the south side of the river currently must risk life and limb to ride with the flow of traffic across the Highway 63 bridge.

However, good news exists. First, both of the bed and breakfast inns in Jefferson City offer a shuttle service for riders with reservations.

The second bit of good news, construction of a bicycle lane across the bridge begins in late 2009.

Crossing the river into the city of Jefferson City is worthwhile to explore the capitol grounds, visit a few historic sites and traverse the city’s greenway system.

Katy Trail in Mid Missouri

Through mid-Missouri, the trail passes through the historic towns of Arrow Rock, Boonville, New Franklin, Rocheport and other communities that have responded to the presence of the Katy Trail and its travelers with bike-friendly restaurants, lodging and other services. Here is where the trail is considered most scenic by some as its snuggles up against limestone bluffs, winds through tunnels and crosses over bridge tresses before it opens up onto the plains of western Missouri near Sedalia.

Sedalia, Missouri

The home of ragtime pianist Scott Joplin and the Missouri State Fair, Sedalia welcomes Katy Trail riders at the restored train depot and overnight accommodations at the historic Bothwell Hotel. The trail zigzags along city streets for a while, but the route is clearly marked, streets are wide and traffic is courteous. In addition, many of the homes, situated on stately lots with mature trees, represent some of the best Victorian architecture in western Missouri. Sedalia is also where the Katy welcomes those on horseback with about 25 miles of equestrian trails on the west of town.

From Sedalia to the Kansas state line at Clinton, the trail passes through rolling farmland, wetlands, and open prairie where bikers may enjoy some of the best birding in the state. Although the Katy is mostly flat, with a grade that seldom reaches more than 5 percent, it is this part of the trail where shade and services is most sparse, so travelers should prepare with lots of water.

A cross-state ride on the Katy Trail is held each Father’s Day weekend.

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