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The Rock Island Spur of Katy Trail State Park totals just over 52 miles (in two disconnected sections) through woodlands, wetlands, and bucolic fields nestled in the foothills of the Ozarks. 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.
The 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.
The longer (46-mile) section opened in December 2016 and is managed by Missouri State Parks. It runs between Windsor, where travelers can seamlessly continue onto the world-renowned Katy Trail (which spans nearly the entire state), and Pleasant Hill, a suburb of Kansas City. 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 city's 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. Two blocks from the Rock Island Spur trailhead, you can also pick up the MoPac Trail, which offers an opportunity to extend your journey by a few more miles into the countryside.
Equestrians can ride this 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.
A second section of the trail opened in Jackson County in 2019 and spans 6.5 miles from Jefferson Street in Lee’s Summit to Brickyard Road in Kansas City. A highlight of the trail is the 453-foot-long Vale Tunnel under Bannister Road, which was originally completed in 1904. In the future, the trail will continue its northwestern trajectory to end at the Truman Sports Complex, home to the NFL’s Chiefs and MLB’s Royals. This additional phase will add another 7.1 miles of trail and include three trailheads: one at the Truman Sports Complex, one in downtown Raytown, and one at Woodson Road in Raytown.
Another developing project is connecting the Jackson County trail to the longer Rock Island segment that ends in Pleasant Hill; this missing 8-mile piece is being called the "Greenwood Connector" as it crosses the community of Greenwood.
On its opposite end, a final 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.
For the 6.5-mile Jackson County segment, there are two trailheads: one at Hartman Park (700 SW Pryor Road, Lee's Summit) and the other at the 98th Street Trailhead (12600 E. 98th Street, Kansas City).
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