Missouri’s Katy Trail State Park is the nation’s second-longest rail-trail (at nearly 238 miles) and arguably one of its most celebrated.The route bisects Missouri at its waistline, allowing trail users to glimpse a 100-foot-wide slice of the state and revealing some of the geographic variety, cultural diversity, historical significance and exceptional people therein.
Each June since 2001, Missouri State Parks has hosted the five-day Katy Trail Ride. This destination feature, created for the 2016 Green Issue of Rails to Trails magazine, gives us a taste of this year’s experience. (All photos and captions by Danielle Taylor unless otherwise noted.)
History Abounds: Near the eastern end of the trail, St. Charles stays in touch with its 18th-century founding with a number of preserved historic structures just off the trail, including the state’s first capitol building. Here, two members of The Root Diggers band play traditional Ozark and Appalachian music at Boone’s Colonial Inn, a 1830s-era home on Main Street now serving as a bed and breakfast.
Rural Views: With much of its route located on or adjacent to the Missouri River’s fertile floodplains, the Katy Trail passes by a number of scenic farms like this one between Augusta and Dutzhow.
Best of the Wurst: German roots run deep in Hermann, where Mike Sloan shares his award-winning sausages with a customer at the Wurst Haus. The town’s heritage also shines through at the Old German School Museum and Tin Mill Brewing Company, where the beermaster hearkens back to German traditions and recipes in his brewing process.
Off the Trail, On the Rail: Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner route provides access to the Katy Trail at Washington, Hermann, Jefferson City and Sedalia, giving distance trail users a convenient shuttle back to their starting point. With advance reservations, cyclists can transport their bikes for a $10 fee.
Bridging the Gap: Jefferson City and the Katy Trail lie on opposite sides of the Missouri River, so the city added this pedestrian bridge onto the existing Highway 54 bridge to provide safe access to the trail. At 8 feet wide, the bridge is fully ADA accessible and includes two bump-outs that give spectacular views of the Jefferson City riverfront, including the Missouri State Capitol.
Creative Engineering: On the northern end of Jefferson City’s Missouri River Pedestrian Bridge, this cleverly engineered ramp allows cyclists to transfer from bridge to trail without having to dismount.
Home Cooking: Around the halfway point on the trail, Dotty’s Café in Hartsburg has served as a motivation destination for many weary bikers. Proprietor Dotty Manns’ pies and cobblers draw folks from miles away, and she keeps many trail users energized with homestyle meals for breakfast and lunch.
A Place to Rest: Each trailhead along the Katy features a covered kiosk with benches, maps and information about the local portion of the trail. This one sits at the intersection of the Katy Trail and the MKT Trail, an 8.8-mile spur toward the city of Columbia.
Ever-Changing Landscapes: Near Rocheport, limestone bluffs tower over the trail adjacent to the Missouri River. The eastern portion of the Katy Trail follows the path of the river for 165 miles between Machens and Boonville, passing by scenic farms, verdant floodplains and distinctive topographic features showcasing the area’s geologic history.
Remnants of Railroads: The Katy Trail gets its name from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, or MKT, which soon became known as the Katy. The rail company ceased operations on this line in 1986, but the former railway’s logo still dots rock walls, restored depots and other structures along the route.
Tunnel Vision: Intriguing trail features like this tunnel near Rocheport keep things interesting for cyclists covering long miles. During their famous Corps of Discovery Expedition, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark wrote about “curious paintings” left by Native Americans on the projection of limestone here.
Larger Than Life: Warm Springs Ranch in Boonville serves as the home and breeding facility for Budweiser’s famous Clydesdales, and trail riders can stop in for a tour and a dose of cute. More than 70 of these majestic creatures currently live on the 300-acre ranch, and they don’t mind a bit if their visitors come sweaty from the trail.
Sunday Services: Adjacent to the trailhead in Clifton City, the Katy Trail Family Church welcomes a small congregation each Sunday that invariably includes a new trail user or two each week. Several establishments across the state have adopted the trail’s name in their businesses, from the full-service Katy Bike Rental in the trail towns of Defiance and Augusta to Flat Branch Pub & Brewing in Columbia, which serves up its very own Katy Trail Pale Ale.
Head ‘Em Up, Rawhide!: Seeing the Trail’s End Monument in Sedalia might confuse some Katy Trail riders, as the western end of that path terminates 35 miles west in Clinton. The statue series instead celebrates Sedalia’s history as the first “cow town” at the end of long-bygone cattle drives when the livestock would be loaded onto rail cars for sale further west.
Future Developments: Crews are hard at work finishing the Rock Island Trail, which will connect to the Katy Trail at Windsor and head northwest to Pleasant Hill, a suburb of Kansas City. Although the completed portions of that trail are officially closed to all traffic until construction wraps up later this year, some local residents, including this Amish family, have already found the thoroughfare quite useful.
All photos and captions by Danielle Taylor unless otherwise noted.