Missouri’s Katy Trail Is Longest Rails-to-Trails Project

Missouri’s Katy TrailKaty Trail State Park Welcome Sign, at 237 miles, is the longest rails-to-trails project in the United States, crossing the width of the Show Me State from St. Charles to the Kansas border.

It 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. And Bruce and I have decided we want to ride its entire length.

Who’s with us?

An old train car from the M-K-T railroad sits on the Katy TrailThe Katy’s first life was as the rail bed 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. Ten years later, the route was reborn and this time nicknamed The Katy Trail.

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Where does the Katy Trail Start

The St Charles Depot on Missouri's Katy Trail.For many, the starting point is St. Charles, a historic French community on the banks of the Missouri River, just where that 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.

You might want to plan a little extra time on this part of the trail for some sipping and sitting.

Sipping wine in Missouri Wine Country along the Katy Trail

Riding the Katy Trail in Mid-Missouri

Biking through tunnels on Missouri's Katy Trail.

At Jefferson City, the capital of Missouri, the trail actually passes on the north side of the Missouri River. Crossing the river into the city of Jefferson City via a bike lane added to the Highway 63 bridge, completed in 2010, is worth your while.

As a result, the city has added lots of bike trails. Plus the capitol grounds and Governor’s Mansion are just beautiful places to explore.

Through mid-Missouri, the Katy Trail passes through the historic towns of Arrow Rock, Boonville, New Franklin and Rocheport. In each little town, you’ll find bike-friendly restaurants, lodging and shuttle services. In New Franklin, Pilot Grove and Rocheport, you’ll find some of nicer campgrounds on the Katy Trail.

Biking along the Missouri River on the Katy TrailThis part of the trail is my favorite, so ride slowly and appreciate your surroundings. Limestone bluffs create one border of the trail as the Missouri River spreads out before you. For me, it’s easy to imagine Meriwether Lewis hiking along with his dog Seaman as the rest of the Corps of Discovery push their way up river in 1804. The going had not yet become rough.

You’ll ride through tunnels and over bridge trusses, then suddenly, the trail opens up on the plains of western Missouri near Sedalia.

Where does the Katy Trail End?

Cyclists resting on a park bench on Missouri's Katy Trail.

The home of ragtime pianist Scott Joplin and the Missouri State Fair, Sedalia welcomes Katy Trail riders at the restored train depot slightly east of downtown. For overnight accommodations, consider the historic Bothwell Hotel.

The trail zigzags along busy city streets, but the route is clearly marked and the streets are wide. Take time to appreciate some of the wonderful Victorian homes in Sedalia. If you’re riding in the autumn months, stand by for some Instagram-worthy color as the massive trees along Highway 50 turn color.

Sedalia is also where the Katy Trail welcomes those on horseback to ride about 25 miles west out of town.

Cafes along the Katy Trail welcome cyclists.From Sedalia to the Kansas state line at Clinton, the trail passes through rolling farmland, wetlands and open prairie. This is where cyclists and others enjoy some of the best birding in the state. This was the last part of the trail to be developed and, as a result, services are somewhat sparse. Travelers should plan accordingly.


A Katy Trail Extension to Kansas City

For years, A family biking the Katy Trail, the longest trails-to-trails project in the U.S.bicycle enthusiasts have encouraged the state to expand the Katy Trail into Kansas City. That, of course, is easier said than done. But finally in March 2018, ground broke on Phase 1 of the Rock Island Trail, which will eventually intersect with the Katy near Windsor.

When it’s all said and done — and who knows how many years it will be — the Rock Island Trail will loop back around a more northern route across Missouri toward St. Louis. It will be a 400-mile loop around Missouri when complete.

Annual Cross-State Ride on the Katy Trail

Each June beginning on Father’s Day weekend, the state coordinates a cross-state ride on the Katy Trail. We might not join the group, but our goal is to some day soon ride every foot of Missouri’s Katy Trail. So I ask again – who’s with us? 

Tools to Ride the Katy Trail in Missouri