The Flint Hills Nature Trail runs for 117 miles (east-west) across northeast Kansas, linking six counties and dozens of towns between Osawatomie and Herington. The rail-trail is the 7th longest in the United States, but many sections remain unimproved and rough going, making it difficult to attempt on a road bike but fine for mountain or hybrid and cyclocross bikes, and horses. Thus, some sections of trail are still under development. For specific details, see the latest trail condition report on the local website (under Related Links to the right). In addition, some sections of the trail have gates, which you can either go through or, in one case, climb over. Whenever you encounter a gate, please close it again behind you.
The trail traces a course through the Flint Hills, one of the last remaining tall-grass prairie ecosystems in the world. Along the trail you will encounter prairie flora and fauna, historic areas and unmatched views of the surrounding prairie and countryside. Wildlife includes bobwhite quail, wild turkeys, prairie chickens and bobcats.
From Herington at the western end through Allen and Admire, you encounter the tall-grass prairie; from the eastern end in Osawatomie, about 50 miles southwest of Kansas City, the Flint Hills Nature Trail is more wooded. For much of this stretch through Ottawa and on to Osage City, the trail follows the Marais des Cygnes River, with the water just north of the pathway and river bluffs to the south.
The trail is built upon an old railroad corridor, which was developed beginning in 1886—the Council Grove, Osage City & Ottawa Railway (which serviced coal mining) and the Missouri Pacific. The route fell out of service in the 1980s. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy later acquired and railbanked the corridor in 1995 and then transferred it to Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy (KRTC) to develop. In 2001, the all-volunteer nonprofit began trail construction.
As the overseeing body, KRTC divided the trail into geographic divisions, which manage the day-to-day operations and development of their local sections. As of 2013, more than 60 miles of the trail have been completed. KRTC hopes to have the trail fully smoothed-out with crushed stone in the next three to five years.
The Osawatomie Trailhead is located directly south of the Kansas City metropolitan area. To get there, follow John Brown Highway west through town. The trail begins at the western city limit along the south side of the road.
The Vassar Trailhead is located beside an old grain elevator (which is visible for several miles) near downtown Vassar. From US 75 in Osage County, go east on State Route 268, then go north a short distance on Vassar Street to reach the trailhead in the small community.
Parking areas are also found in Rantoul in Franklin County and in Admire in Lyon County. Parking is allowed at road crossings as long as cars don't block the public road or trail.
Additional parking and access points are described on the Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy website.