The Rock Island Spur of Katy Trail State Park travels 47.5 miles through woodlands, wetlands, and bucolic fields nestled in the foothills of the Ozarks. At either end are two towns full of charm and hospitality: Windsor, where you can seamlessly continue onto the world-renowned Katy Trail (which spans nearly the entire state) and Pleasant Hill, a suburb of Kansas City.
The trail has a well-compacted, crushed limestone surface best suited for hybrid bikes, though road bikes can also navigate the pathway. The difficulty for skinny tires would come after a rain when the trail’s surface becomes soft. Equestrians can also ride the full length of the trail, plus it ties right into the section of the Katy Trail where equestrians are permitted (between Sedalia and Clinton).
At the outset, you’ll find a nod to the trail’s railroad history with a caboose at the Windsor trailhead and, about half way through your journey, you’ll come to the picturesque Rock Island Lake, where steam locomotives once stopped to fill their boilers.
At trail’s end, you’ll enter Pleasant Hill, which has a Downtown Historic District that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as colorful murals that depict the area’s history and culture. Here, you’ll find plentiful amenities for tourists, including antique shops, art and craft boutiques, and cafés.
History buffs will also want to stop in the Missouri Pacific Depot, a one-story brick building dating back to 1903; inside you’ll find information on local trails and the trains that once ran through the region. The town's MoPac Trail offers an opportunity to extend your journey by a few more miles through the countryside.
The new rail-trail is named after the Rock Island Railway, a company incorporated as the Rock Island and LaSalle Railroad Company in 1847. Mergers in the early 1900s saw the railway spanning Missouri, connecting Kansas City and St. Louis on opposite ends of the state. As railway traffic faded away, so too did the Rock Island Railway. The last train on the tracks through Kansas City was seen in the early 1970s and, by the 1980s, the rail corridor sat empty.
Though building a trail through the expansive Rock Island corridor is a massive undertaking and will take several years to complete, the project is off to an auspicious start with the opening of its first 47.5 miles in December 2016. This section is managed by Missouri State Parks.
A future segment will continue the trail’s northwestern trajectory through Jackson County to the outskirts of Kansas City, where it will end at the Truman Sports Complex, home to the NFL’s Chiefs and MLB’s Royals. On its opposite end, another future segment will head eastward from Windsor stretching a whopping 144 miles to the town of Beaufort before angling northeast to meet up again with the Katy Trail near the town of Washington.
To reach the eastern trailhead in Windsor: From Kansas City, take I-70 eastward. Take Exit 58 for MO 23 and follow it south for 39 miles to a T-intersection with MO 2. Turn left and travel 2.7 miles to the outskirts of Windsor; as the highway enters town, it becomes W. Benton Street. Turn left on Mill Street, then your next left on W. Florence Street and you’ll see the parking area immediately to your right.
To reach the western trailhead in Pleasant Hill: From US 49, take Exit 174 for MO 58. Turn right (east) onto MO 58 and travel the highway for 14 miles to Pleasant Hill. In town, the highway becomes W. Commercial Street. Take a left on Broadway Street and you’ll immediately see the town’s restored train depot and parking.