On October 4, 1986, floodwater from the Missouri River severely damaged the track along the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad’s route from Sedalia to Machens, Missouri. The route had been washed out and repaired many times, but this time, railroad officials decided not to return the tracks to service. Lucky for cyclists, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources purchased the right-of-way with a private donation, and in 1990 the first segment of the Katy Trail officially opened. The crushed limestone trail currently extends from Clinton to Machens, MO, and plans are also underway to expand the trail to the suburbs of Kansas City.
What to Know
Riders can start at the western terminus in Clinton, MO or in St. Charles, MO (east). The trail’s official eastern terminus is in Machens, MO 13 miles east of St. Charles but isn’t as commonly used due to lack of services. Some riders choose to start in Sedalia, MO (leaving a vehicle there) and ride 190 miles to St. Charles. From there, they arrange a shuttle to St. Louis and take the Amtrak train (bikes allowed) back to Sedalia.
The Katy Trail is the United State’s longest “rails-to-trails” project. It follows the route of the MKT rail line, which means it never exceeds a 3% grade. It is a very well-maintained crushed limestone trail that is suitable for mountain bikes, touring bikes, cross bikes, and even road bikes (wider tires preferable).
The website bikekatytrail.com gives a list of services offered in towns along the route. Camping is available in many towns, and even where it it not, you might ask a local if you can pitch a tent in their lawn. Unfortunately, Missouri State Park law does not allow you to camp along the trail.
Spring can be rainy, and riders may expect more debris on the trail. Summer is hot and humid, and autumn is generally the best time to ride. But Be sure to check the weather in advance, and be prepared for the worst.
There are 27 official “trailheads” along the Katy Trail; they provide a variety of services ranging from food/lodging, water, camping, and parking.