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The Rock Island Spur of Katy Trail State Park travels just over 46 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 ride the trail beginning at the Purvis Road entrance and heading east. (Equestrians are not permitted on the western tip of the trail between Pleasant Hill and Purvis Road.) For a longer ride, equestrians can continue onto the Katy Trail in Windsor; horseback riding is permitted on the Katy Trail 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 phase 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.
Four of us rode the 15 miles between the Purvis Road access point and the Medford access point, which is not marked on the current trail map, using bikes varying from a road bike to a mountain bike. The trail is apparently well used since we met more than 20 people on bikes, horses, or hiking. Overall the section we rode is in good shape. There a few rough spots but not rough enough to cause the road bike rider to dismount. The rough sports are signed which leads me to wonder whether the effort to put up the signs might in fact exceed the few minutes of work with a shovel and rake to eliminate a rough spot. I hope to be able to ride the complete trail in the near future. Overall it's a worthwhile complement to the Katy Trail. Even better would be completion of the proposed extension to the St. Louis area in the near future.
We just covered the 170 miles of Katy Trail & (new) Rock Island spur that took us Jefferson City to Lee’s Summit over 3 days. I’ll offer some insights and details for you to use if you want to repeat it.
We are 4 old guys in our mid-60’s to early 70’s who ride frequently, but are just average riders. We have touring bikes and cross bikes. All with a rear wheel rack and light luggage to carry a change to street clothes and any extra bike gear. We had 32 mm tires (which are perfect) and our lightest member had 28 mm and did fine. We comfortably ride at 12 mph on the trail, but with stops, average about 10 mph.
Along the trail we met couples from England, Ohio, Colorado and a lady from California who all had made riding the Katy Trail a destination vacation. Some were going a very leisurely 35 miles a day.
Start point for us was Jefferson City Amtrak station. 2 of us drove a car from St. Louis and parked it at the station. The other 2 took the morning train from Lee’s Summit and left our cars there. The St. Louis guys bought a one-way afternoon ticket back from Lee’s Summit to Jefferson City for 3 days later. We all arrived at noon in Jefferson City.
Getting on the Amtrak train with your bike is easy. You leave your luggage on the bike if you can physically hoist it up the stairs. As you stand on the station platform, the conductor will point you to the car you will be getting on and where to put your bike once on the train. - They only have room for 4 bikes on the train, so you need to buy your ticket for you and your bike well in advance as a first step to make this trip. - The bikes are parked side by side behind some seats on a coach car. – When you get to the destination station, you should be ready to move with your bike in advance of the stop. The conductor will usually offer to stand at the bottom of the steps and take the front of your bike as you descend the stairs carrying the back. – They leave the restroom open at Jefferson City station, but we all arrived dressed to ride.
Day One – 53 miles to Boonville
We grabbed a quick bite to eat and a beer at “Arris’ Pizza” on High Street at the top of the hill above the Jefferson City Amtrak. It’s across the street from the capitol.
We rode northwest on High a couple of blocks, then down the ramp past Mulberry, turned right on Missouri and then left on Main. When you get to Clay (just before the highway), you will see the “Pat Jones bike path” on the right, that takes you on the bridge across the Missouri River and puts you on the path to the Katy Trailhead.
We went left or west on the Katy Trail. That’s milepost 143. - Our first stop was “Coopers Landing” at milepost 163.5. This is campground and restaurant on the river bank. It’s a wooded area near houses on stilts. Some of the campers are long-term, living in houseboats on blocks. It’s a great place to grab a beer on their back deck on the river bank. - Our next stop was Rocheport at milepost 178 where we stopped at the “General Store” located at the far end of town and just a couple of blocks off the trail. We had another round of beers and some chips. – Then we set off for the “Hotel Frederick” in Boonville which is milepost 191. The Frederick is located at the south end of the bridge over the Missouri River so is convenient and easy to find. They lock your bikes in a basement room that is accessed off the street. In the morning, they will loan you a pump for your tires. – It’s a historic hotel which has been restored. We stayed in a couple of suites that had twin queen beds and two daybeds. They showers were terrific and the beds were very comfortable. They have a great restaurant in the lobby called “The Fred” which was very good. We had a round of beers in the pub room and then ate dinner on a second story outdoor patio that overlooked the bridge.
Only word of warning is to pace yourself to get off the trail before sunset. Since we started at noon in Jefferson City and ate first, we arrived at 6:30 with a 7:15 sunset.
Day Two – 57 miles to Windsor
The path to the Katy Trail begins on the far side of the street from the Frederick Hotel. - There is a 12 mile climb up a grade out of Boonville to Pilot Grove. It’s only a 220 foot climb, but you know it’s uphill. – Pilot Grove at milepost 203 is the last source of water before Sedalia 24 miles later, so be sure to fill up. – There is another uphill grade the last miles into Sedalia.
You travel on well-marked streets a couple of miles to get into Sedalia and return to the actual trail. We were tired from the ride in 90 degree heat. A block after you pass the big cemetery, there is a little Mexican restaurant called “Tacos Santa Cruz”. We ducked in there for some fruit drinks, tacos and tamales.
The Katy Trail continues at its old depot. One of our bikes had a broken shifter cable on the rear derailer. There is a great bike shop “Champion Bicycles” in the depot that set to work on the bike repair as we waited. Unlike my friends, I was “popped” from the ride and my friends were having to repeatedly wait for me. I asked the bike shop about a shuttle service for the next 19 miles to Windsor. The bike shop gave me the number of a lady named Laura who will haul up to 4 bikes and riders for $1/mile/round trip distance. I did that and it cost me $60 with tip.
Windsor is enjoying an increase of business activity because of the junction of the Katy Trail and the new Rock Island spur trail. Its milepost 248 on the Katy. We stayed at “Kim’s Cabins” which are brand new cabins featuring twin queen beds and a pullout coach. The showers have terrific water pressure. However, they don’t have TV’s, but do have a complete kitchen. You can get to Kim’s Cabins off a short access trail that is just south of the junction of the two trails. Kim's gives you access to a locking shed to stow your bikes overnight. – As the advance party, I got some beers at “G&L Package Liquor” southeast of the main intersection in town. – We had a terrific Mexican dinner at “Cinco De Mayo” which is next to G&L Liquor. You can get a beer there, too. Getting home from there is very easy on a bike, you go one block to the northeast to Florence, turn left and coast downhill back to Kim’s Cabins.
Day Three – 60 miles to Lee’s Summit (sort of)
Overnight a thunderstorm poured rain and it was continuing when we woke up. In a break in the rain we walked a few blocks over to a breakfast/lunch diner called the “Sidetrack Café”. (Google Maps still has it under the old owners “Nita’s”.) This place has a great breakfast menu and I recommend it. It was a Sunday at 7:30 AM and the place was full of older gentlemen who were the informal chamber of commerce. We were alien bicyclists and so we had a good time talking to them.
The weather radar had storms continuing to pound the area for the foreseeable future and two of our group needed to catch that train in Lee’s Summit at 4:30 PM. We couldn’t wait it out and it was miserable biking weather with lightening. From Kim’s Cabins, I called back the Sidetrack Café and identified myself as a bicyclist who was just there. I asked the waitress on the phone to ask the group of men in the place if any of them had a pickup truck and would be willing to take all 4 of us to Chilhowee, 20 miles up the Rock Island Spur for $50. We had several takers, but none had a club cab to haul us 4 passengers. The waitress offered that she had a pickup with a club cab and would if we could do it fast enough for her to get back for the church crowd. – So that worked great and turned out to be a terrific strategic move. We ended up getting to the train just one hour before the departure.
The prior posts talk of the trail bed problems just east of Chilhowee and we skipped over that with our truck ride. We also were prepared for no water access until Pleasant Hill in 28 miles. We put water bottles in our luggage and back pockets to supplement the water in the bike bottles. The trail is beautiful and mostly a tunnel of trees. The trail was finished at the very beginning of 2017 and it has low spots and washout areas that are soft spots, but overall we found the trail to be in good shape, especially considering after a heavy rain. We quickly rode out of the rain and into sunny weather. – At the end of the trail, we exited onto a path to the right and it took us to a road. We turned left and then left again onto Hwy 58/First Street that took us ¼ mile into town. The road delivers you to the front door of “Big Creek Café”, which is a great place for a hearty lunch.
Directions to safely get to Amtrak in Lee’s Summit (15 miles – 90 minutes ride):
*From Big Creek Café go NE ½ block across tracks to Broadway.
*Turn left and go ½ block to Cedar – You will then see an entrance to a bike path to your left.
*The path runs for 2.2 miles. – Parts of it have soft silt/sand and puddles that bog your tires, so be careful.
*Path crosses 175th Street and ends at 167th and Smart (gravel road). Go straight ahead north onto Smart and climb the gentle grade.
* In less than ¼ mile, bear right at fork to stay on Smart.
*Smart will zig zag to the left twice over the next mile and half, then it continues straight north and finally becomes a paved road.
*Cross 150 Highway and continue on Smart one mile after crossing 150 Highway.
*Turn left on Browning (paved) at bottom of a hill and go into woods.
*After 2.1 miles turn right on Ronson.
*Continue on Ronson and cross 50 Highway on overpass bike path. Road become Todd George Parkway.
*Get on bike path on east side of road and continue north for about a mile to the light a Langsford.
*Turn left on Langsford and ride in street one mile to Highway 291.
*Continue across Highway 291 and road becomes 2nd street. We got on the protected sidewalk where 2nd bends to left and then re-entered the street in a bike lane after that bend to the left. (The street reduces traffic to a single lane while it goes through that bend to left.)
*After ¾ mile you will see the rail road overpass over 2nd Street. Turn left just before the overpass onto SE Main Street. There is a restaurant/pub there called “The Peanut”. You can change out of your bike clothes in the bathroom and have something to eat and drink as you wait for the 4:30 PM train. The actual train station platform is across the street, but you have to go south ½ block and go around the fence to get to the station platform. It’s on the other side of the caboose. Be ready for the train a few minutes early.
We sailed through the hot sun completing 98.6 miles which was intenseeeeeeee. We camped at Pleasant Hill City Lake which was lovely and started in Pleasant Hill early morning biking from there to Windsor and back. Loose gravel most of the way with a packed edge to it except for three or so miles from Chilhowee towards Leeton. Those three or so miles were very loose gravel which we came to say was "that hellish part." Hopefully, it gets more redone as years go by in that section. Nice wide spread to bike on for the whole trail with little ponds here and there.
Our intentions were only to go to Chilhowee and back but we felt that sense we could do the long haul. One of our group headed back at Chilhowee hanging with a cool crew of a German long distancer and two men with a small dog. It's that way on these trails although VERY little people were seen. We saw a total of maybe 5 bikers the entire day although the heat may have scared off a few.
We started at 7:30am and ended at 10:00pm. We did have an hour eating and napping at Windsor which was lovely and stopped both ways at the store in Chilhowee. You MUST stop at this cute rural mecca with a homegrown feel and easy to get tire tubes and a hot meal if needed(no hot food Sunday). Such nice folks too and a little room to eat and get air conditioning if needed. Needing water is a really big deal as this trail is pretty non established in terms of little stores and such. On this trail you can get water in Chilhowee and that's pretty much it unless you ask at farmhouses or go into the small towns more than a few miles off trail.
However, beautiful corridor of trees, fields and fields of corn, and the beauty of friends, the sun as it rose and set and sounds of nature.
We rode from the Medford Trailhead west for about 8 miles and back on 6/26/17. The trail was in fantastic shape and we enjoyed riding past Rock Island Lake where the locomotives used to refill their boilers.
We got caught in a torrential downpour for the last 3+ miles on our way back to the car. Although it didn't make for the best ending to a great ride, we were very impressed at how the trail maintained its integrity during such heavy rain.
We can't wait to go back and ride other sections of this trail.
We rode the Western 10 miles out of Pleasant Hill and found the trail to be in excellent condition. The scenery is excellent and the getting out of the city/suburban setting is really there. Great job Missouri!
I ride fairly regularly, rode one longer ride from Pleasant Hill to Windsor then on to Sedalia on the Katy. PH to Windsor was about 46 miles, total to Sedalia was about 70 to the Amtrak station.
There was about a 6 mile stretch near Chilhowee that had larger rocks, was a bit of a pain. I've heard they have rectified that, now smaller rock, but haven't ridden that far again to verify.
Other than that small stretch, a great trail. The only reason I didn't give 5 stars is the relative lack of water and restrooms. The Katy has nice water stops in many areas. Not much water on the Rock Island, and it's pretty far from Pleasant Hill until you get to a store, i.e. Chilhowee or Leeton. Make sure to take water with you.
Pleasant Hill PD was very kind, let me park my car overnight in their lot. I took the Amtrak back home from Sedalia to Lee's Summit, then caught an Uber to PH the next day to retrieve my car.
I rode this trail out of Sedalia, MO in November 2016. Most days were so nice I only needed a light jacket. For a dirt/gravel trail it was a smooth ride even with City tires! Through the town it got a little bumpy. Caused by more traffic. But once you leave town, it's smooth sailing. Lots of fresh air, country scenery, and wildlife. Take a bag if you like black walnuts. They fall all over the side of the trail. Highly recommend!
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