People don’t seem to discover Grant’s Trail so much as they inherit it. After all, anyone who has visited Grant’s Farm in South County has seen the asphalt span and the walkers, bikers, joggers, and rollerbladers using it. From there, it’s a short step — literally and figuratively — from seeing to doing. And why not? This mostly flat and non-technical trail is ideal for first-timers, family outings, and low-key workouts.
The most recent numbers from Great Rivers Greenway (GRG), stewards of the trail, indicate that Grant’s Trail attracted more than 750,000 visitors in 2013 alone. That’s a lot of traffic, but everyone seems to coexist in relative peace. It doesn’t hurt that the paved corridor is 12 feet wide, well marked, and well maintained throughout.
Named for former President Ulysses S. Grant, the trail follows Gravois Creek from River Des Peres through portions of St. Louis County into Kirkwood. From south to north, it winds through wooded bottomlands (with off-road trails and BMX dirt jumping at St. Louis Bike Park), residential backyards, grassy open spaces, and large, multi-purpose parks.
Along with Grant’s Farm and its iconic Clydesdales, the trail provides access to historical sites such as White Haven, another of Grant’s former homes; Sappington House, St. Louis County’s oldest brick dwelling, now a museum; the Sappington and Father Dickson cemeteries, established in the early 1800s; and the refurbished train station in downtown Kirkwood (reached via an on-street bike route extension from Holmes Avenue).
GRG has plans to further extend Grant’s Trail to the south, where it will link with the River des Peres Greenway. This trail will continue alongside River Des Peres and eventually connect to Jefferson Barracks Park and, one day, the Mississippi River Greenway. Learn more about GRG and its initiative to create 600 miles of interconnected trails in St. Louis at greatriversgreenway.org.
Grant’s Trail is built on what was once the Kirkwood-Carondelet Branch of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. According to the St. Louis County Parks and Recreation Department, the north-to-south run was created to relieve rail traffic coming into St. Louis from the main line in Kirkwood. Trains could leave the main line, go south on the spur, and hit another line coming into St. Louis from the south. The line was eventually abandoned in the 1980s.
In 1991, the not-for-profit organization Trailnet purchased the 75-acre, 100-foot-wide rail corridor with funds from St. Louis County and the Missouri Department of Transportation. Work on the rails-to-trails project began in 1994. Its construction was a community effort, with most of the work done by volunteers including boy scouts, cyclists, and members of Trailnet and AmeriCorps.
In 2006, GRG opened a two-mile extension of the trail from Pardee Road in Crestwood, where the existing trail originally ended, to the trailhead at Leffingwell and Holmes Avenue.
Grant’s Trail consists of eight miles of off-street, paved trail between Union Avenue and I-55 (south terminus) and Holmes Avenue (north terminus). An additional four-mile, on-street bike route exists between the Holmes Avenue trailhead and Greentree Park in Kirkwood.
You’ll find lots of access points, parking areas, ad restroom facilities, which makes the trail very user-friendly. These include Orlando Gardens, Holmes Avenue Trailhead, Clydesdale Park Lot, Sappington Road Trailhead, and Kirkwood Trailhead. Get more information and directions at greatriversgreenway.org/trails/grants-trail.aspx.
Length: 8.25 miles
Best for: Biking, Walking, Running, Rollerblading
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor of Terrain magazine
Images: Courtesy of Great Rivers Greenway