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Using Trails

A View From: Kansas City’s Riverfront Heritage Trail

By: Cindy Barks
July 19, 2022

The observation deck on the Town of Kansas Bridge offers stellar views of the Missouri River, the railroads that run along it and the bridges that cross it. Especially at sunset, the bridge is a popular spot to enjoy the river vistas. | Photo by Cindy Barks
The observation deck on the Town of Kansas Bridge offers stellar views of the Missouri River, the railroads that run along it and the bridges that cross it. Especially at sunset, the bridge is a popular spot to enjoy the river vistas. | Photo by Cindy Barks

Compelling stories are around every bend, it seems, on Kansas City’s signature urban trail. From the time when more than a dozen Indigenous tribes were active, to Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the vast region west of the Mississippi River, to the days when freedom seekers found refuge in safe houses along the Underground Railroad, the stories of Kansas’ history play out today along the Riverfront Heritage Trail.

It’s no surprise that the trail was designed to follow the stories. The Kansas City River Trails website notes that the trail “links all of the most important sites in the development of this region.” And that’s not to mention the trail’s many other assets, like stunning river vistas, busy market areas and bridges that soar over the region’s two great rivers.

History buffs, foodies and sightseers will all find plenty to love about the Riverfront Heritage Trail. And at 15 miles, it offers a good workout as well. While much of the trail is flat and smooth, the bluffs along the Missouri and Kansas rivers make for gentle climbs in some areas.

For more information, read our companion blog about the trail.

Kaw Point Park in Kansas City, Kansas, sits at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers and offers sweeping views of the skyline of downtown Kansas City, Missouri, just across the river. The park is among the many scenic features of Kansas City’s Riverfront Heritage Trail. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Kaw Point Park in Kansas City, Kansas, sits at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers and offers sweeping views of the skyline of downtown Kansas City, Missouri, just across the river. The park is among the many scenic features of Kansas City’s Riverfront Heritage Trail. | Photo by Cindy Barks
A special memorial to the 20 Indigenous tribes who have lived in the Kansas City area overlooks the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers. The memorial is a part of the Historic Lewis and Clark Riverfront Park at Kaw Point and is also along the route of the Riverfront Heritage Trail. | Photo by Cindy Barks
A special memorial to the 20 Indigenous tribes who have lived in the Kansas City area overlooks the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers. The memorial is a part of the Historic Lewis and Clark Riverfront Park at Kaw Point and is also along the route of the Riverfront Heritage Trail. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Named after the Kansas River (once known as the Kaw River), Kaw Point in Kansas City, Kansas, served as a stopping-off spot in June 1804 for the Lewis and Clark expedition’s exploration of the region known as the Louisiana Purchase. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Named after the Kansas River (once known as the Kaw River), Kaw Point in Kansas City, Kansas, served as a stopping-off spot in June 1804 for the Lewis and Clark expedition’s exploration of the region known as the Louisiana Purchase. | Photo by Cindy Barks
A cutout sculpture commemorates the spot at Kaw Point where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark famously stopped during their 1804 exploration of the vast region west of the Mississippi River. Today, the point is the site of the 10-acre Kaw Point Park. | Photo by Cindy Barks
A cutout sculpture commemorates the spot at Kaw Point where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark famously stopped during their 1804 exploration of the vast region west of the Mississippi River. Today, the point is the site of the 10-acre Kaw Point Park. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Lisa Peña, the founder of Urban Hikes Kansas City, walks along a section of the Riverfront Heritage Trail at Kaw Point in Kansas City, Kansas. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Lisa Peña, the founder of Urban Hikes Kansas City, walks along a section of the Riverfront Heritage Trail at Kaw Point in Kansas City, Kansas. | Photo by Cindy Barks
The Woodswether Bridge allows for pedestrian and bicycle crossings over the Kansas River. The bridge, which is adorned with local artwork, serves as a crucial link on the 15-mile Riverfront Heritage Trail. | Photo by Cindy Barks
The Woodswether Bridge allows for pedestrian and bicycle crossings over the Kansas River. The bridge, which is adorned with local artwork, serves as a crucial link on the 15-mile Riverfront Heritage Trail. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Located on the bluffs overlooking the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, the Strawberry Hill neighborhood borders a section of the Riverfront Heritage Trail in Kansas City, Kansas. The area has been home to immigrants from Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia and Russia. Churches, such as the St. John the Baptist Catholic Ethnic Croatian Parish on the hill, were started by those immigrant communities and remain today. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Located on the bluffs overlooking the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, the Strawberry Hill neighborhood borders a section of the Riverfront Heritage Trail in Kansas City, Kansas. The area has been home to immigrants from Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia and Russia. Churches, such as the St. John the Baptist Catholic Ethnic Croatian Parish on the hill, were started by those immigrant communities and remain today. | Photo by Cindy Barks
River Bluff Park, a pocket park in Kansas City, is located along the Riverfront Heritage Trail’s Historic West Bottoms section. The park includes an exhibit of the dugout canoes used by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804. | Photo by Cindy Barks
River Bluff Park, a pocket park in Kansas City, is located along the Riverfront Heritage Trail’s Historic West Bottoms section. The park includes an exhibit of the dugout canoes used by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804. | Photo by Cindy Barks
A sweeping view of the Missouri River and the industry of the West Bottoms area is featured at the small River Bluff Park, which is one of the stops along Kansas City’s 15-mile Riverfront Heritage Trail. | Photo by Cindy Barks
A sweeping view of the Missouri River and the industry of the West Bottoms area is featured at the small River Bluff Park, which is one of the stops along Kansas City’s 15-mile Riverfront Heritage Trail. | Photo by Cindy Barks
A number of parks and community gardens can be found along the 15-mile route of the Riverfront Heritage Trail, including the West Bottoms Community Garden. | Photo by Cindy Barks
A number of parks and community gardens can be found along the 15-mile route of the Riverfront Heritage Trail, including the West Bottoms Community Garden. | Photo by Cindy Barks
A commemorative sign at the Freedom Mall in Kansas City along the riverfront trail explains the role that the Missouri/Kansas border played in the fight to abolish slavery. “The border between Missouri and Kansas was once the most contested dividing line in the nation,” it says, adding that “[t]o many slaves in this area, the border meant one thing: freedom.” | Photo by Cindy Barks
A commemorative sign at the Freedom Mall in Kansas City along the riverfront trail explains the role that the Missouri/Kansas border played in the fight to abolish slavery. “The border between Missouri and Kansas was once the most contested dividing line in the nation,” it says, adding that “[t]o many slaves in this area, the border meant one thing: freedom.” | Photo by Cindy Barks
The Freedom Mall located along the Riverfront Heritage Trail in Kansas City depicts a family of people who had been enslaved attempting to escape to freedom across the state line in Kansas. Many Missouri freedom seekers escaped through a system of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad, which had a key station about 2 miles from the Freedom Mall site. | Photo by Cindy Barks
The Freedom Mall located along the Riverfront Heritage Trail in Kansas City depicts a family of people who had been enslaved attempting to escape to freedom across the state line in Kansas. Many Missouri freedom seekers escaped through a system of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad, which had a key station about 2 miles from the Freedom Mall site. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Located next to Kansas City’s Freedom Mall is the Darby Trotter Spirit Mall—a spot that celebrates the city’s “bold, visionary spirit” in the years after the Civil War, when the community became a railroad hub for the nation. The mall features a vintage train caboose. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Located next to Kansas City’s Freedom Mall is the Darby Trotter Spirit Mall—a spot that celebrates the city’s “bold, visionary spirit” in the years after the Civil War, when the community became a railroad hub for the nation. The mall features a vintage train caboose. | Photo by Cindy Barks
As the Riverfront Heritage Trail heads south from downtown Kansas City, it provides overpasses that allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross busy freeways. Near Mulkey Square Park, a pedestrian bridge across I-670 features a decorative walkway and ornamental iron fence depicting birds that inhabit the area. | Photo by Cindy Barks
As the Riverfront Heritage Trail heads south from downtown Kansas City, it provides overpasses that allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross busy freeways. Near Mulkey Square Park, a pedestrian bridge across I-670 features a decorative walkway and ornamental iron fence depicting birds that inhabit the area. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Along the route of the Riverfront Heritage Trail south of downtown Kansas City, the multipurpose Mulkey Square Park offers playgrounds, parking and restrooms. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Along the route of the Riverfront Heritage Trail south of downtown Kansas City, the multipurpose Mulkey Square Park offers playgrounds, parking and restrooms. | Photo by Cindy Barks
The observation deck on the Town of Kansas Bridge offers stellar views of the Missouri River, the railroads that run along it and the bridges that cross it. Especially at sunset, the bridge is a popular spot to enjoy the river vistas. | Photo by Cindy Barks
The observation deck on the Town of Kansas Bridge offers stellar views of the Missouri River, the railroads that run along it and the bridges that cross it. Especially at sunset, the bridge is a popular spot to enjoy the river vistas. | Photo by Cindy Barks
An elevator along the Riverfront Heritage Trail allows people to easily get from the lower section of the trail that follows the banks of the Missouri River to the 650-foot-long Town of the Kansas Bridge, which provides access to Kansas City’s bustling City Market area. | Photo by Cindy Barks
An elevator along the Riverfront Heritage Trail allows people to easily get from the lower section of the trail that follows the banks of the Missouri River to the 650-foot-long Town of the Kansas Bridge, which provides access to Kansas City’s bustling City Market area. | Photo by Cindy Barks
The Riverfront Heritage Trail passes under the ASB (Armour-Swift-Burlington Bridge), a stretch along the Missouri River that is popular with scooter riders and cyclists. | Photo by Cindy Barks
The Riverfront Heritage Trail passes under the ASB (Armour-Swift-Burlington Bridge), a stretch along the Missouri River that is popular with scooter riders and cyclists. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Kansas City, Missouri, was born on the banks of the Missouri River, and the Town of Kansas Bridge provides a bicycle and pedestrian link along the Riverfront Heritage Trail between the north end of Main Street and the original townsite. The bridge, which is bordered in the summer by leafy trees and colorful flowers, spans the Town of Kansas archaeological site, two railroads and the Missouri River floodwall. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Kansas City, Missouri, was born on the banks of the Missouri River, and the Town of Kansas Bridge provides a bicycle and pedestrian link along the Riverfront Heritage Trail between the north end of Main Street and the original townsite. The bridge, which is bordered in the summer by leafy trees and colorful flowers, spans the Town of Kansas archaeological site, two railroads and the Missouri River floodwall. | Photo by Cindy Barks
The ASB (Armour-Swift-Burlington Bridge) is a railroad crossing that once also carried vehicular traffic until the Heart of America Bridge opened to the east in the 1980s, replacing the vehicular portion. The Riverfront Heritage Trail passes under the bridge. | Photo by Cindy Barks
The ASB (Armour-Swift-Burlington Bridge) is a railroad crossing that once also carried vehicular traffic until the Heart of America Bridge opened to the east in the 1980s, replacing the vehicular portion. The Riverfront Heritage Trail passes under the bridge. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Kansas City’s well-groomed Berkley Riverfront Park features a section of the Riverfront Heritage Trail. The wide, smooth trail closely follows the flow of the Missouri River and provides panoramic views of the river and its bridges. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Kansas City’s well-groomed Berkley Riverfront Park features a section of the Riverfront Heritage Trail. The wide, smooth trail closely follows the flow of the Missouri River and provides panoramic views of the river and its bridges. | Photo by Cindy Barks
In Berkley Riverfront Park, the “Three Trails from Westport Landing” interpretive sign tells the story of the traders on the Santa Fe Trail who brought their goods by steamboat as far up the Missouri River as possible before departing on foot and wagon for Santa Fe. By the late 1830s, the traders were disembarking at this site, called Westport Landing. | Photo by Cindy Barks
In Berkley Riverfront Park, the “Three Trails from Westport Landing” interpretive sign tells the story of the traders on the Santa Fe Trail who brought their goods by steamboat as far up the Missouri River as possible before departing on foot and wagon for Santa Fe. By the late 1830s, the traders were disembarking at this site, called Westport Landing. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Throughout the spring of 2022, 156 sculpture hearts were installed all over Kansas City as a part of the Parade of Hearts, a celebration of the community’s claim as America’s Heartland. The hearts, all unique, were designed by local artists. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Throughout the spring of 2022, 156 sculpture hearts were installed all over Kansas City as a part of the Parade of Hearts, a celebration of the community’s claim as America’s Heartland. The hearts, all unique, were designed by local artists. | Photo by Cindy Barks
The cable-stayed Christopher S. Bond Bridge is one of the numerous Kansas City bridges that cross the Missouri River. The Riverfront Heritage Trail passes by the picturesque bridge, which was built in 2010. | Photo by Cindy Barks
The cable-stayed Christopher S. Bond Bridge is one of the numerous Kansas City bridges that cross the Missouri River. The Riverfront Heritage Trail passes by the picturesque bridge, which was built in 2010. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Just steps from the Riverfront Heritage Trail, trail users will find a wealth of dining choices at the bustling City Market. The market attracts thousands of people on Saturday mornings, when numerous vendors are out selling snacks, goods and fresh produce. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Just steps from the Riverfront Heritage Trail, trail users will find a wealth of dining choices at the bustling City Market. The market attracts thousands of people on Saturday mornings, when numerous vendors are out selling snacks, goods and fresh produce. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Dog owners flock to the Riverfront Heritage Trail, in part because of the proximity of Bar K, a unique business just steps from the trail that features a combination of a modern bar, restaurant, event space and dog park. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Dog owners flock to the Riverfront Heritage Trail, in part because of the proximity of Bar K, a unique business just steps from the trail that features a combination of a modern bar, restaurant, event space and dog park. | Photo by Cindy Barks
Riverfront Heritage Trail | Photo by Cindy Barks

Related: Riverfront Trail Offers Glimpse Into the Heart of Kansas City

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Cindy Barks
Cindy Barks

Cindy Barks is a freelance writer/photographer and Arizona newspaper reporter who has covered trails extensively in her community and in the southwestern U.S. She writes a travel and hiking blog at nearandfaraz.com.

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