About this Itinerary
Stretching from western Missouri to the St. Louis Metro area, the Katy Trail State Park is certainly high on the list of must-ride trails for avid cyclists. Several accolades support this including the trail being a Rail-Trail Hall of Fame, part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, an American Discovery Trail, and a Millennium Legacy Trail.
Why all the acclaim? Well to start, this trail is the nation’s longest rail-trail project, providing a 240-mile run across nearly the entire state. The entire length is a state park, well-maintained and imbued with historical markers and points of interest. It occupies a segment of rail corridor that once carried trains of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (a.k.a., the Katy) and meanders through many small towns that still portray the rich heritage of Missouri and early-American history.
Not only that, but you can soak in some of the best scenery that Missouri has to offer: forests, wetlands, prairies and rolling farm fields. Perhaps the most unique characteristic is that the majority of the trail follows the route of the Missouri River, and cyclists will often find themselves cradled between the river on one side and great towering bluffs on the other. You could just as easily wile away the hours watching the abundant wildlife, especially birds, which live in the various habitats. Chickadees, nuthatches, robins, orioles and woodpeckers are common. Trail is alongside the Missouri River flyway, so you may see migrating birds and waterfowl, such as great blue herons, sandpipers, Canada geese and belted kingfishers. So bring binoculars!
Trip planning considerations:
Make sure to visit the Katy Trail State Park website for current trail conditions; washouts and rough areas are not uncommon as a result of varying weather. The website also lists the many special events that are held on the trail. There are 26 trailheads along the entire length with a variety of amenities. Not all trailheads provide water, however, so it is important to bring plenty with you each day. Additionally, while there are grocery stores and restaurants in many of the small communities you will pass through, the hours of operation vary throughout the year, and some businesses are seasonal, so keep a handy supply of snacks. Don’t forget your patch and bike repair kits. The crushed limestone trail can be dusty, and items that need to stay clean should be well-protected. (Read the Katy Trail discussion forum for packing tips and ideas.)
This is such a popular trail, that we recommend reserving your shuttle service well in advance. You will need to hire a shuttle service for a one-way point-to-point ride. There are many such services available, including B&Bs that offer shuttles for their guests. Lococo House is a popular St. Charles B&B that can accommodate families and groups as well as shuttle you to any point along the Katy Trail. If you need to rent bikes as well, or perhaps you would appreciate having the reassurance of trail assistance if needed, check out the Bike Stop Café or Katy Bike Rental.
Of final note: The Katy Trail uses the original mileage markers from the railroad days beginning with the current eastern terminuses at MM 26.9 (Machen) or MM 39.5 (St. Charles). And because there is so much to see and explore along the way, our proposed itinerary covers the entire length of the trail as a 7-day journey. The first day involves leaving your vehicle, if driving to Missouri, in St. Charles and shuttling four hours to the starting point in Clinton. You will ride the trail back over 6 days to return to St. Charles.
Day 1: St. Charles to Clinton (shuttle)
Fly into St. Louis Lambert Airport (STL), just 7 miles from the start of the Katy Trail in St. Charles. Meet your shuttle service in St. Charles or arrange a pick-up from the airport. If you are driving into St. Charles, the trailhead has 200 parking spots, and you can generally find a parking space unless there is a large event taking place. For trailheads, parking and access along the trail, the Katy Trail website is an excellent source of detailed information. The shuttle time from St. Charles to Clinton is approximately 4 hours.
Rest up, prepare for your adventure and ponder the rich historical heritage you will be passing through. To briefly set the stage: Native American people inhabited Missouri for thousands of years before European settlement. One civilization, the mound-building Mississippian culture, created vast regional political centers near present-day St. Louis, beginning before 1000 CE. St. Louis eventually became a major center for fur trading with Native American tribes after European settlement in 1750.
The region passed through Spanish and French hands before finally becoming part of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase. Missouri would be named “Gateway to the West,” serving as the departure point and return destination of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which departed up the river in 1804 to explore Western territories. In time, early American settlers from the south migrated to the flatlands alongside the Missouri River for plantation agriculture, continuing the institution of slavery. And the state was the setting for many battles during the American Civil War. Phew. Let’s see what we can find along the way.
Day 2: Clinton to Sedalia (36 miles; MM 264.6-MM 229)
Stay at the Hampton Inn and fill up on their free hot breakfast before biking 2.5 miles to the trailhead. Fortunately, this first day of biking—when your legs are still fresh—includes the greatest elevation gain of the entire trail. Nice to get it out of the way. The starting elevation in Clinton is 780 feet, and the high point, between Windsor and Green Ridge, is 955 feet (St. Charles lies at 452 ft.).
The original plan for the railroad was to follow the path of Lewis & Clark up the Missouri River—today over half of the Katy trail follows this path. In 1870, workers laid rails across the Kansas border, winning the race to be the first railroad to reach the “Indian territories.” Two years later, the Katy became the first railroad to enter Texas and eventually became part of railroad developer and speculator Jay Gould’s empire, peaking in prosperity during WWII. In 1986, the railroad ceased operations between Sedalia and Machens, MO, due to extensive damage from Missouri River floodwaters, eventually paving the way for the Katy Trail State Park.
Today, you pass through several communities before reaching your destination of Sedalia. The trail cuts through rural farmland bordered by swathes of trees and woodlands for much of the way. The trailhead at Calhoun, in 9.1 miles, provides a water fountain and a restroom that is open spring through fall. Another 7.5 miles farther is Windsor, a good place to stop for lunch because of the several eateries and grocery stores to choose from. If you want to push on to Green Ridge, another 8.8 miles, the dining options become fewer, but Burf’s Green Ridge Grill offers a mean pork tenderloin sandwich (head north on N. Main St. for 2 blocks and take a right on E. Cooper St.).
For the last 10.2 miles, enjoy a gentle descent into the town of Sedalia, home of composer and pianist Scott Joplin. At E. 5th St., take a left and head west for several blocks into the downtown area where the historic Hotel Bothwell will greet you in all of its 1920s American Revival architectural elegance. Stay the night here and enjoy the easy convenience of dining and unwinding on the premises at The Ivory Grille and The Oak Room Lounge. If a simpler fare is what you had in mind, simply go down the block to Fitter’s 5th Street Pub. For more time in the countryside, stay instead at the Georgetown Country View Estate. Relax in the pool or hot tub and take in the beauty of the 80-acre grounds. It is several miles outside of town, but the owners are accommodating and often are willing to pick up cyclists and their bikes at the Katy Depot. The depot is worth a visit, too, housing the Sedalia Chamber of Commerce, a railroad heritage exhibit and bicycle rental and repair shop. Keep in mind that the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival and the Missouri State Fair are held in Sedalia each June and August, so make lodging reservations well in advance if traveling during these times.
Note: Missouri is home to two venomous snakes: the copperhead and timber rattler. Though these aren’t commonly seen on the trail, it is important to be aware of them. Also be prepared for horse-back riders on this stretch of the trail.
Day 3: Sedalia – Rocheport (50 miles; MM 229-MM 178.3)
Today is the longest section of your Katy tour so be sure to stock up on water and food. You will pass through more timber and rolling green hills, cross the Missouri River, visit the historic town of Boonville and enjoy an evening stroll along the river banks in Rocheport.
The first community, Clifton City, is 13.6 miles from Sedalia and offers few amenities beyond a restroom. Another 12.1 miles farther is Pilot Grove. By the time you reach this town, you will have completed about half of the day’s allotted miles, including a 100-foot elevation gain. And you’ll need lunch! An easy place to stop is Becky’s Burgers and Cones, just off the trail. Pilot Grove was established in 1873 after the arrival of the MKT Railroad. The landmark for the small town was a grove of trees in an otherwise wide prairie. It is now home to the Copper County Historical Society as well as several antebellum homes that are open for tours. If you want to spend the time, consider visiting the Pleasant Green Plantation House (at about 7 miles south of town, head north on Church Ln. for 0.5 mile and take a left on MO 135 S). Be sure to determine hours of operation for any of the plantation tours in advance, however, as they are limited and seasonal.
Refresh your water supply and use the restroom before leaving Pilot Grove because the next town, Boonville, is 11.5 miles down the trail. The good news is that Boonville will feel like an oasis of comfort options by the time you get there. Don’t miss Taylor’s Bake Shop (head east 4 blocks on Spring St., left on Main, 1st right on Morgan St.). A cappuccino and a slice of chocolate cake will do a find job of refueling depleted calories.
Boonville is steeped in history, with over 400 sites and buildings listed on the National Historic Register. Add to this cultural events, such as the Missouri River Arts Festival held at the 1855 Thespian Hall, and you will agree that Boonville deserves more time than you might have. This town is part of a region known as Boone’s Lick Country, which takes its name from the salt spring, or “lick,” commercialized by Nathan and Daniel Boone. One of Missouri’s important early industries was salt, and the Boonslick Trail, ending at the salt lick and traced by Daniel Boone, was a major 19th-century transportation route from eastern to western Missouri. Boonville houses another depot station—the only Spanish Mission style depot remaining out of the original five that were built on the Katy system. A mural, located on the north end of Main St., depicts various stages of Boonville’s past (of which there are many!) The self-guided walking tour is a great way to learn about the town’s historic highlights.
Leaving Boonville, you encounter the mighty Missouri River for the first time. Pause and take in the immensity and beauty of North America’s longest waterway. Flowing from the Rocky Mountains of Montana to the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, the carries many a tale. New Franklin is in 3.8 miles, and you might want to stop here briefly to read the Santa Fe Trail marker, which marks the end of the Boonslick Trail and the beginning of William Becknell's Santa Fe Trail. After this, the last leg of your day’s journey (9.7 miles) is underway. When you enter the cool darkness of the Rocheport tunnel at MM 178.9 (the only tunnel on the trail), you will know that the historic town of Rocheport is close.
Rocheport, founded in 1825, still gives today’s visitors a sense of how the town looked those many years ago. The buildings, shops and historic markers speak to the region’s past as a bustling port, with over 500 steamboats docking each year at the height of its prominence. It was also the site of Confederate guerrilla raids during the Civil War. Even the pre-settlement geography and pictographs in the surrounding bluffs were described by Lewis and Clark, as their expedition followed the Missouri River to its convergence with Moniteau Creek.
Once in town, head straight to the School House B&B, a restored building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The owners provide secure bike storage, an air compressor and maintenance tools, so put the bike away with ease of mind and prepare for a full evening of fun. The quaint streets of Rocheport are packed with antique shops, galleries and many places for fine dining. Abigail’s offers an eclectic and mouth-watering lunch and dinner menu that changes daily and seasonally. Stroll along the Riverfront Walk or head to Les Bourgeois Winery for a bluff-top view of the Missouri River valley. Enjoy a glass of wine, a meal at their bistro or the grape-stomping fun of the annual fall Crush Festival. The vineyard is a mile out of town, and many B&Bs offer shuttle services there and back. Les Bourgeois also has its own trail leading directly from Katy Trail, about a mile south of Rocheport.
Day 4: Rocheport to N. Jefferson (35 miles; MM 178.3- 143.2)
This day begins beneath towering limestone bluffs, as you leave Rocheport, and will take you through wetlands and forests with occasional glimpses of the Missouri River. The trail passes through several conservation areas, and the forest canopy of silver maples, green ash and slippery elm provide a home for many birds and animals. Look high and low to catch a glimpse of a bald eagle, turtle or maybe a red fox.
The majority of small villages en route today provide water and restroom amenities, but restaurants are somewhat sparse. It may be a good day to plan for a picnic and stock up on supplies before leaving Rocheport. If you can wait till Hartsburg (24.7 miles), Dotty’s Café (35 E. Main) offers a good breakfast and lunch menu. The area’s rich river bottomland proved fertile for agriculture over the years, in particular for pumpkins. If traveling through Hartsburg in the fall, stop to enjoy festivities of the annual pumpkin festival.
In Huntsdale, 6.6 miles from Rocheport, see if you can spot the Native American Petroglyphs. They are faint, but two small red figures can be seen a MM 174.4, about 40-50 feet above a cave entrance just to the left. In McBaine, another 2.2 miles farther, Missouri’s largest oak stands majestically at MM 170. At MM 166.9 outside of Providence, look for the “Pierced Rock” natural arch above the trail that was observed and noted by the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
Your final destination is the trailhead in North Jefferson, MM 143.2, across the river from Jefferson City. Jefferson City has so much to offer that we propose you bike the extra mile into town for the night. Use the Katy Trail Spur to reach the Jefferson City Bridge’s bike/ped lane (go left on Katy Rd. for 187 feet to the trail). Pull over at the two lookout points on the bridge for a view of the Missouri State Capitol.
Jefferson City was the first city in the country named in honor of President Thomas Jefferson. Though the town was unremarkable in 1826 when the legislature first met, it would become a bustling town with stagecoach, riverboat and rail traffic. The railroad completed its line to Jefferson City in 1855, though the first train to head toward the capital from St. Louis met with tragedy—it plunged into the Gasconade River when a trestle collapsed. The state’s capitol building overlooks the Missouri River and is worth the visit. The structure is notable for many architectural features, as well as for a Thomas Hart Benton mural that covers the walls of the House Lounge. It also houses the Missouri State Museum, and free guided tours are offered year-round. At the museum is the Jefferson Landing State Historic Site, and a Lewis & Clark Monument is nearby.
But first, check into Cliff Manor B&B for the night and put your feet up for a brief repose. This local historical landmark is right around the corner from the bridge and within walking distance to much of downtown’s attractions. Be warned, Jefferson City is another place that has much to offer history enthusiasts. You might want to consider allowing an extra day to explore its streets and sites. Need energy for adventuring? Ice cream lovers will want to head to Central Dairy, a well-loved and long-established ice cream shop. Vitality Café is a popular vegetarian restaurant that even wins over meat lovers with its inventive and tasty dishes. Arris’ Pizza offers pizza and salads with a Greek flare, and its sister bistro continues the Greek tradition but takes the gourmet level up a notch or so. If pub fare is more to your liking, consider Prison Brew or Paddy Malone’s Irish Pub.
Day 5: N. Jefferson to McKittrick (42 miles; MM 143.2-MM 100.8)
Start your day with a return across the bridge to the trailhead at N. Jefferson. Between here and Portland, halfway through your day’s mileage, the trail gently wanders through rural landscapes and several small towns of some historic note as early railroad towns—though they are not particularly noted for their range of service offerings for trail users. Remember to stock up on water and snacks before leaving Jefferson City.
In 12 miles, grain elevators will herald your arrival to Tebbetts, a railroad town that sprang up in the 1890s. It was named after a St. Louis investor, one of nine towns to carry the name of railroad investors. There is a restroom at the trailhead. Mokane, 6.2 miles farther, was established in 1818, though it wasn’t given today’s name until the railroad came through in 1893 and a contest was held to select the new name, which was taken from the MissOuri, KANsas and Eastern railroad (the railroad later became the Missouri, Kansas and Texas). If you need to stop for food, Mokane Bar & Grill and Mokane Market are both off the trail on Fulton St. From here you will pass quickly through Steedman and arrive in Portlandin 9.1 miles. Today, Portland seems to be most noted for its fish. The largest fish ever recorded on the Missouri River was taken near here: a 315-pound blue channel catfish. The smaller fried variety can be found at the Riverfront Bar & Grill (head north on Market Street).
The trail snuggles up to the Missouri River a bit more on this next 5-mile stretch to Bluffton. A mile east of town, you skirt by the Grand Bluffs Conservation Area, a bluff-top glade with a view across the river bottom that includes two Lewis and Clark camp sites. In 5.9 miles, the Trailside Bar and Grill in Rhineland (Bluff St.) is another option for food. The nearby Doll House B&B, built on a 5-foot-high stone foundation, is the only house to remain standing after a 1993 flood swept away or damaged the rest of the town (30 or so houses have since moved up the hill to the new Rhineland).
Today’s destination, McKittrick, is close at hand, with only 4.2 miles remaining. Meyer’s Hilltop Farm B&B is a great option for tonight’s lodging if you are ready to be off the bike at this point. Find it just 0.5 mile from the McKittrick trailhead. They offer a complimentary ride into Hermann for your evening meal. You will definitely want to spend time across the river in Hermann, a beautiful German-flavor town founded by the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia in 1836. There are many wonderful options for lodging in Hermann as well, and biking the extra 3 miles is easily done because the bridge over the river has a bike/ped friendly lane and most of the side trail to Hermann is on a dedicated trail (though a section is along a wide shoulder of the highway). If you prefer not to bike, some Hermann B&Bs will pick up their guests at the McKittrick trailhead.
Hermann is a popular destination for those looking for old-world hospitality, at the heart of which are wineries and festivals. Festivals are held regularly throughout much of the year, but the biggest are the Maifest and Octoberfest and may well be worth planning your trip around. The site for Hermann was originally chosen because of its resemblance to Rhineland in Germany. Wild grapevines grew in abundance, and early settlers became avid viticulturists. Within 10 years of Hermann’s founding, there were more than 60 family wineries in the community. Though not that many today, there are still plenty to enjoy (see The Hermann Wine Trail). On the south side of town, Stone Hill Winery is an award-winning venue offering tastings and guided tours.
If you are interested in exploring more of the town’s cultural heritage, the Deutschheim State Historic Site (open year-round) and the Historic Hermann German School Museum (open April-October, Thurs.-Tues.) provide a further glimpse into German-American life of 150 years ago. Throughout the town, as you wander, look for the more than 110 buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
With all there is to enjoy, don’t forget to eat! Looking for good German bratwurst? Hermann Wurst Haus is the place (they also offer sausage-making classes). For a quieter dinner ambience and hand-made pasta dishes paired with local wines, eat at the Black Walnut Bistro.
Day 6: McKittrick to Augusta (35 miles; MM 100.8 – MM 66.4)
Still in the heart of wine country, today you continue to be immersed in the peaceful landscape of farms, vineyards and German sensibilities. If you can imagine sipping wine and eating a picnic lunch with bucolic views of rolling hills around you, you will enjoy the day. There are a couple of opportunities for this before reaching Augusta. In Gore (MM 93.8), the Lost Creek Vineyard welcomes picnic baskets and has some snacks and beverages available for purchase (hours of operation vary with the season so check website in advance). Keep in mind that service amenities are not abundant on today’s route, and the first trailhead water isn’t until MM 77.7 at Marthasville. Marthasville—where pioneer Daniel Boone and his wife were buried, though their remains were supposedly removed and taken to Kentucky in the 1940s—is also your best bet for grabbing lunch at an established eatery.
Dutzow, another town settled by German immigrants, is 3.7 miles farther, and the Dutzow Deli and Blumenhof Winery both are conveniently located close off the trail (head northeast on MO 94 E. toward Bluff Rd. and take the 1st right to stay on MO 94 E.).
You reach the quaint village of Augusta in another 7.6 miles. Situated on the hills overlooking the Missouri River valley, Augusta was founded in 1836 by one of the settlers that followed Daniel Boone to Saint Charles County. The fertile river bottom supported a booming agricultural economy, and today many farms and wineries still flourish. The annual Harvest Festival is a fun way to celebrate the farming heritage of the region. Many of the farms in the area also host special events as well as u-pick opportunities. Spending time knee deep in blackberries or pumpkin patches is a particularly gratifying way to savor and experience the harvest season. Should your hands be itching to get in the dirt (which is decidedly different than the trail grime), visit Aholt Farms or Centennial Farms and Orchard.
It could well be that the kind of rejuvenation you have in mind is soaking in a pool or hot tub. If so, stay the night at H.S. Clay House B&B and Guest Cottage. Not to mention the full gourmet breakfast, you can look forward to happy hour appetizers, and the beautiful perennial garden. You may not want to leave. But if you do, you will be close by Augusta’s other charms, such as the antiques stores and artisan shops. There are several restaurants to choose from and, yes, there are more wineries in town to visit.
Day 7: Augusta to St. Charles (27 miles; MM 66.4-MM 39.5)
Today is your final and shortest day of cycling. You will travel through the small towns of Matson, Defiance and Weldon Spring to arrive at your destination: St. Charles. Though only 7.3 miles into the day, the town of Defiance offers the best eatery options, and you may want to take in some calories before the last stretch of 19.6 miles. If you weren’t able to stop yesterday to enjoy a picnic, the Yellow Farmhouse Winery offers another chance. Defiance was the final home of Daniel Boone. His house, now the Historic Daniel Boone and Heritage Center, is open to visitors, though it is about 6 miles out of town. Note: Katy Bike Rental operates out of Defiance.
On your way to St. Charles, you sidle alongside the Weldon Spring Conservation Area for a while. This is perhaps your last chance to see large numbers of birds and wildlife, so get the cameras and binoculars ready and simply enjoy the final gentle descent into St. Charles. Once you arrive in Weldon Springs, St. Charles is another 16.5 miles.
By the time you get to St. Charles, you will have earned the opportunity to be one of St. Charles’ esteemed overnight guests. Join the ranks of pioneers, explorers, statesmen and steamboat captains who have also wandered down brick-lined Main St. to the rhythmic clip clop of horses’ hooves and horse-drawn carriages. Founded in 1769 as Les Petites Cotes (“The Little Hills”) by a French Canadian fur trader, St. Charles would become Missouri’s first state capitol from 1821-1826. That is a long time to be welcoming visitors, and they know how to do it right! But first, let’s get into town.
The St. Charles trailhead (MM39.5) is at the St. Charles Depot in Frontier Park, on the edge of the river. Having traveled the path of Lewis and Clark for several days, take one last moment to appreciate them at the nearby monument created in their honor. Also close at hand is the First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site. Find your car or bike the 2 miles to Lococo Guest House (continue down the trail to Olive St.; take a left then a right on N. 5th St.). Or, if you would prefer to stay smack dab in the center of the historical downtown area, go to Boone’s Colonial Inn on Stone Row, Main St.
The night is yours to roam the ten-block National Register Historic District. Shop, dine, stroll under the antique gaslights or sit by the river for another Missouri sunset. The Municipal Band often plays along the riverfront, or you might time it right for one of St. Charles’ Music on the Main concert series (generally once a month May-Sept.). However you decide to celebrate your journey’s end, you can’t go wrong. Enjoy, and congrats!
If you are able to spend more time in St. Charles, there is plenty to do. For even more history on Lewis and Clark, but this time with a neat trading post to boot, visit the The Lewis & Clark Boat House and Nature Center. There are many festivals held here throughout the year, including The Festival of the Little Hills, the Missouri River Irish Fest, and Oktoberfest. The Foundry Art Centre holds performances, classes and art exhibitions. And if you are in town on a Saturday morning anytime between May and October, enjoy the delights of the farmers market. Don’t forget to get a hold of the self-guided walking tour brochure, taking you through the historic downtown (available from the Visitors Bureau). Choose from the old-fashioned map version or an iPod/audio option.