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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.
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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