Missouri’s Katy Trail State Park has been one of the state’s best-loved natural destinations since its first section opened back in 1990. The trail -- well-known for its flat-as-a-pancake, crushed limestone surface, is a dream for bicyclists looking to rake in the miles, take in stunning views, and come face to face with a bit of small-town history along the way.
While the Katy remains open year-long, spring brings pleasant temperatures and first blooms including dogwood and redbud; summer yields dense forest and rolling farmland views; and the fall foliage along the bluffs is nothing short of stunning.
Perhaps the best thing about the Katy is that you can customize your trip to suit your individual needs and skill level. Whether you’re looking for a simple day-long ride or a week-long meander, the trail’s got you covered! Here are a few of our favorite stops you can work into your own itinerary.
How Long Is The Katy Trail?
Now spanning a total of 237.5 miles across the state, much of the trail’s path runs along the Missouri River -- from Machens in St. Charles County near St. Louis to Clinton, which is 76 miles southeast of Kansas City. In fact, it’s the longest continuous “rail-trail” in the country.
Katy Trail History
The trail was built on the corridor of the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railroad, better known as the Katy. The railroad was established in 1865, and in 1870, the company renamed the stretch the MKT to show its intention to be the first railway company to connect the state of Texas to the rest of the country.
When the railroad ceased operation on its Missouri route in 1986, the Missouri State Parks Department acquired the railroad right-of-way, and construction of the Katy Trail began in 1987. The first section of the trail at Rocheport was opened in 1990. In subsequent years, different stretches of the old railway were added, eventually leading to the complete 237-mile trail.
The MKT ran through many small towns; some of them still exist and are thriving thanks to the hikers and bikers who flock to the Katy. Here are a few of our favorite stops, starting near the St. Louis area through to the trail’s terminus in Clinton.
1. St. Charles
From Machens, St. Charles (Missouri’s first state capital!) is just 12.5 miles to the west. The city’s downtown historic district is known for its red brick buildings which house charming shops, boutiques, and cafes. It’s also got sweeping Missouri River views. Bike service, rentals, and terrific vegetarian snacks are available at the Bike Stop Cafe. For a quick caff pick-me-up, buzz by Picasso’s Coffeehouse.
Pro Tip: While St. Charles is just a dozen miles from the start of the Katy, it makes a charming out-and-back destination for a day trip, especially if you’re a novice bicyclist not accustomed to heavy mileage.
At the 32-mile marker, you’ll hit the town of Defiance. Legend holds that the townfolk here so desperately wanted the railroad to come through their town -- instead of nearby Matson -- that they changed the town name to reflect their defiance to neighbors. Defiance was where frontiersman Daniel Boone settled, and you can still visit the stone farmhouse where he lived with his family.
Today, the village offers cyclists a number of amenities. The Defiance Roadhouse is a good sandwich stop, Katy Bike Rental is a great place to pick up anything you’ll need for the trail, and if you want to stop here overnight, the newly renovated Merry House Inn is near the trail.
Pro Tip: When you hit Defiance, you’re entering Missouri wine country. Consider a detour to one of several wineries within two miles of here (Chandler Hill is terrific!) or save the wine for later in your trip -- there will be plenty of opportunities.
A quick seven and a half miles from Defiance is the charming village of Augusta. This quaint spot boasts historic homes, art boutiques, antique shops, and two wineries right in the town limits -- making it the perfect place to stay with everything you’ll need for an overnight or weekend trip. Many bicyclists make the nearly 40-mile trip from Machens in a single day, and novices can, too. Just take your time, and plenty of breaks, to soak in the scenery along the way!
Pro Tip: Mount Pleasant Estates Winery, with its sweeping Missouri River Valley views, and Appellation Cafe, is a must-stop for the afternoon.
Another 30 or so miles down the trail -- miles that will take you through bluffs, past rolling fields, and by eight more trailheads (in case you need to stop for a bio break!) -- and you’ll reach the town of Hermann. Simply cross the newly-built bridge over the Missouri River and you’ll find yourself in the historic downtown district. German immigrants established Hermann in the 1840s; the terrain reminded them of their homeland’s Rhine River valley. The settlers built homes, churches, and wineries in short order -- many of them remain today. Like Augusta, Hermann is also a terrific place to spend the night or weekend -- with many cute shops, cafes, and quaint, riverside bed and breakfasts.
Pro Tip: If you decide you’d like to conclude your trip in Hermann, then head back to St. Louis via Amtrak. The train stops here, and for a nominal fee, you can also bring your bike aboard!
5. Jefferson City
Once you’ve rested up in Hermann, keep pedaling until you reach mile marker 116.5, the North Jefferson Trailhead. From there, hop on the Katy Spur South, cross the Missouri River Pedestrian and Bike Bridge, and voila, you’ll find yourself in Missouri’s state capital, Jefferson City. This city is packed with amenities that make it a great place to explore and spend the night. Take a tour of the State capitol, and check out the State History Museum housed on its first floor. Pedal the downtown historic district, peruse the shops, and for fun bites and sandwiches, head to JQ’s on High.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to add something sweet to your Jeff City visit. Central Dairy, a short ride from downtown, has been serving up homemade ice cream treats since 1934. It’s beloved by locals and visitors alike.
At mile marker 151.5, you’ll pass through the tiny hamlet of Rocheport. Only 240 people live here, but it’s absolutely worth a stop. This is a place where time seems to slow down, and the rest of the world melts away. The only stone tunnel on the Katy Trail is near town, and Rocheport’s adorable shops, galleries, and inns provide what might be a welcomed respite from your bike seat!
Pro Tip: If you’re making Rocheport an overnight stop, be sure to visit nearby Les Bourgeois Vineyards for sips paired with stunning river views.
Less than 15 miles west of Rocheport is the bustling river town of Boonville. Explore the visitor center -- which is the only remaining original depot building on the trail -- to get your bearings. The town is crammed with history, with more than 450 sites and structures on the National Historic Register. Tour a mansion, a theater, or even the old jail. Animal-lovers might want to get up close and personal with some of the Budweiser Clydesdales at their home, Warm Springs Ranch.
Pro Tip: If you’re feeling especially lucky, book a room and spend a fun night at the tables or slots at the Isle of Capri casino.
The final highlight of our Katy Trail trek is Sedalia, home to Missouri’s state fair. In addition to its charming downtown district, the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art is well worth a visit, featuring works from modern masters including Andy Warhol, Dale Chihuly, and Helen Frankenthaler. The stunning Bothwell Lodge State Historic Site, with its grand manor home and hiking trails, is another great place to explore here. From here, it’s less than 40 miles until the end of the Katy!
Pro Tip: Splurge with a stay at the Hotel Bothwell, and be sure to book a massage at the on-site spa. If you’ve come this far, you deserve it!
More On The Katy Trail
If you plan a several-day trek, consider packing a bike trailer with your extra clothes and necessities. Also, make your lodging reservations ahead of time to ensure you’ve got a place to rest at the end of each day on the trail. Charge your cell phone or other devices completely in the evening so they are ready to roll in the morning. And while extended parking at the Katy’s trailheads is usually okay, call the local police or sheriff’s department ahead of time to double-check.