It seems like every time we do an article on walking and biking in Missouri, we include the Katy Trail State Park; and rightly so. At more than 237 miles, it is the longest and most renowned rails-to-trails conversion in the United States.
We all know it is mostly level, hard-packed crushed limestone. Everyone knows it traverses varied terrain beside bluffs along the Missouri River and through open prairie. It is common knowledge the trail is handicap-accessible.
So, let’s look at The Katy from a different point of view: what you’ll find at some of the trailheads.
We’ll cover the eastern half of this long-distance walking and biking trail that welcomes people of all ages to discover the heartbeat of Missouri. Many local trails extend from the Katy into communities along the way.
The town where Lewis and Clark started their epic adventure has lots to offer. Paralleling the Katy, the brick-paved Main Street is lined with one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants, in restored circa 1800s buildings.
Visit the Lewis and Clark Boat House and Museum to learn about the Corps of Discovery trek to the Pacific Northwest coast.
Just a block from the Katy, you can tour the First Missouri State Capitol, which housed the seat of government from 1821 until 1826. Finish your stop with a beer and sandwich at Trailhead Brewing.
From St. Charles, the trail travels 19.6 miles through the Missouri River bottom-lands of Chesterfield, to our next stop in Defiance. (There are four trailheads along the way.)
A large parking lot sits directly adjacent to the trail. At that point you’ll find the Katy Bike Rental, offering (as you might guess) single and tandem bike rentals, plus a repair shop and shuttle service. Rental reservations can be made on their website. Also, there are two pubs at the intersection.
Across the street (careful, it’s a busy road) Yellow Farmhouse Winery serves their hand-crafted wines, along with craft beers, cheeses, sausages and snacks. You are welcome to take your own picnic; but no outside beverages are allowed (it’s Missouri law). Spring thru fall, they have easy listening, live entertainment, Sat. and Sun., 1-5 p.m.
Four and a half miles west of Defiance, easily accessible from the Katy, Sugar Creek Winery has a commanding view from their hillside location. They offer live music most weekends. Again, you are welcome to take your own picnic; but no outside beverages.
Just 7.3 miles west of Defiance you’ll find yourself in Augusta, the center of the first federally designated U.S. Wine District or AVA (American Viticulture Area), in America. The hillsides are covered in grape vines.
Oddly enough, bordering the trail here in wine country, the first business you see is Augusta Brew Haus & Bier Garden. Along with their hand-crafted beers, they serve pub-style foods and barbecue specialties. Park your bicycle and pull up a chair indoors, under the covered patio or on the outdoor terrace. Live music and many special events are scheduled, spring thru fall.
The town of Augusta is home to two of Missouri’s top award-winning wineries; several other wineries are in the area.
Augusta’s quaint bed and breakfast inns (there are several) pamper you after a long day on the Katy Trail. Within a few blocks of the Katy, Swan Haven Inn occupies a circa 1860 house, with a blend of old-world country charm and modern-day conveniences. At Weinstrasse Cabins, choose among three, 1800s log cabins, updated with modern conveniences, just a third of a mile from the Katy Trail. Halcyon Bed and Breakfast & Spa has one cozy room, with breakfast delivered to your door. The suite opens to a private patio. There is a day spa on-site.
- Mount Pleasant Estates, founded in 1859, has a huge, tree-shaded patio with a sweeping view. They have a full schedule of concerts and special events. Tour the original limestone cellars.
- Two blocks away, step into old world charm at Augusta Winery. Savor Augusta Winery’s award-winning wines, craft beers and locally produced cheese and sausage on the outdoor wine terrace and inside the tasting room. Free live entertainment weekends, May-October.
Jefferson City (These sites are easily reached by bicycle.)
A spur-trail from the trailhead takes you across the Missouri River bridge (on a dedicated pedestrian passageway), into the city. After crossing the bridge it is just four blocks to the Capitol, completed in 1918 in downtown Jefferson City. The dome rises 238 feet above ground level. In addition to government offices, it holds the Missouri State Museum, which features exhibits of historical significance. Guided 45-minute tours are given, free of charge, at various times, daily. Self-guided maps are available. No reservations.
Across the street, tour the Missouri Supreme Court Building, which opened in 1907. Tours are scheduled at various times on weekdays. Reservations highly suggested.
Two blocks east of the Capitol, you’ll find the Governor's Mansion, constructed in 1871. Public, guided tours of the first floor are conducted at various times of various days; check the website for schedules.
Five blocks farther east sits the Missouri State Penitentiary, which opened in 1836. Tours of the decommissioned (in 2004) facility take you through a prison that was 100 years old when Alcatraz began taking inmates. In 1967, Time magazine called the Missouri State Penitentiary the “bloodiest 47 acres in America.” Reservations should be made well in advance.
For a real treat, also across from the Capitol, stop for some authentic Greek-style pizza at Arris’ Pizza Palace. Opened in September 1961, it was one of the first Greek-style (very thin crust; cheese on top of the "toppings") pizza houses in the Midwest and the first pizza in central Missouri.
Whether you’re a bicyclist, walker, a nature lover, a history buff, or any combination, Missouri’s Katy Trail State Park offers an opportunity to explore our natural beauty year-round. Motor and engine driven vehicles are not allowed on the trail. However, horseback riding is allowed on a 15.3 mile portion between Portland (about 50 miles west of Augusta) and Tebbetts; also along a 26.5 mile section between Sedalia and Calhoun. A mere 12 miles west of Tebbetts is Jefferson City, Missouri’s capital.
As you might guess, there are thousands of miles of trails throughout Missouri, so there is no way to cover them all. Here are some prime samples.
- The Ozark Trail System is comprised of more than 390 miles of trails, divided into (mostly) linked sections; plus, a number of spur trails. Most of the trail is multi-use: hike, backpack, cycle and horseback (there are some restrictions). This natural surface trail is often strenuous and quite rugged, passing through wilderness areas. Hikes can range from just a few miles to a 230-mile "thru hike" lasting several days. For the most part, this system is not for the casual walk.
- The Highway 36 Bicycle Route stretches approximately 260 miles across northern Missouri. The route follows county and state roadways that generally parallel Route 36, with some stretches on Route 36 itself. There is generally no shoulder on the secondary roads that have sparse vehicular traffic; however, extreme caution is advised, as these are “country roads.”
- The Roger Pryor Pioneer Backcountry is a remote area of the Ozarks with nearly 30 miles of trails, including about 15 miles of Current River frontage. This is truly rugged, backpacking territory for the dedicated outdoors enthusiasts, where careful planning is required.
Almost every Missouri State Park contains pathways suitable for hiking and biking, some even have ATV access. All ages and all levels of experience can find a place to hike/walk in a state park. As the facilities vary greatly from park to park, it is best to consult the Missouri State Parks website for details and restrictions.
Here is a link to 14 other walking trails listed on VisitMO. Find one (or more) to your liking and get some exercise while exploring Missouri’s great outdoors. As we say ... enjoy the show.