Truly one of Missouri’s outdoor jewels, the Katy Trail is right in our backyard, beckoning travelers with gorgeous scenery and friendly towns to explore. The 237-mile long, 12-foot-wide state park is the longest rails-to-trail project in the country. It stretches across the state, rolling past majestic river bluffs, forests, valleys, farms, and wetlands.
You can travel through a slice of rural history on the Katy, passing charming communities that grew up along the railroad line. More than half of the trail follows the mighty Missouri River, along which Lewis and Clark made their Corps of Discovery expedition in 1804 to find a practical route west across the Louisiana Territory.
With flat terrain, no car stress, and much to see, the Katy Trail draws visitors from all over the country to ride on the crushed limestone path. If you’re thinking about a multi-day bike trip on the Katy yourself, you can either go it on your own or join one of the many organized rides available. Tour organizers will arrange places to stay and handle the logistics and support, so all you have to do is pedal your bike to the next stop. It’s a great way to make new friends and gain experience with bicycle touring.
Some tours are rolling festivals, with live music and hundreds of cyclists. Others offer a smaller, more personal experience facilitated by guides who share the history of the railroad, the river, and the towns on the trail. Here are some great options to consider:
Pedaler’s Jamboree on May 25-26, Memorial Day weekend, is a family-friendly music festival that kicks off the summer. From the starting point at Flat Branch Park in Columbia, Missouri, you’ll head out on a leisurely, 30-mile ramble to Boonville, with stops in Huntsdale, Rocheport, and New Franklin for live music and food. At Kemper Park in Boonville, the lineup is set for an evening of music on the main stage, along with a beer garden and a bike show. There will be plenty of choices for dinner on your own at the park or in town. The music continues Sunday along the trail back to Columbia.
This is the 11th year for the Jamboree, and the organizers expect it to sell out with 2,500 riders. Tickets are $75 and include admission to the music venues, SAG (support and gear), camping, gear shuttle, and a compilation CD of music from all the artists on the ride. Bring your own tent or rent one from the available tent services. If camping isn’t your thing, book a motel or hotel in Boonville and catch the free hotel shuttle from the park. Showers are available for a fee.
Missouri State Parks’ Katy Trail Ride on June 17-21 is its 19th annual tour and draws repeat travelers every year. You’ll ride east from Clinton, Missouri, to St. Charles in five days, averaging 46 miles each day, with overnight stops in Sedalia, Boonville, Jefferson City, and Marthasville. Local farmers and vendors serve meals at the campsites and park staff offer presentations about local history and points of interest.
The $400 registration fee is a great deal; it includes breakfast and dinner daily, camping, showers, gear shuttle, and SAG. Tent rental is available from Padre’s Cycle Inn. If you’d rather sleep indoors, you can book a discounted room at the event’s preferred hotels and take the hotel shuttle for $20 each day. Add $70 for the shuttle from St. Charles to the ride start in Clinton. More than 300 people were signed up at press time. Registration closes May 1 or whenever it reaches the maximum of 350.
Trailnet’s Rail to Katy Trail Ride on June 29-30 is a multi-modal, two-day tour starting from the Kirkwood Amtrak station. Drop off your bike and bags and board the train for the one-hour ride to historic Hermann, Missouri. Saturday’s ride to Sunflower Hill Farm between Augusta and Matson is 42 miles, with rest stops at wineries and other spots on the trail.
Sunflower Hill Farm is a picturesque, family-owned event venue with a large organic garden, greenhouse, a wonderful produce cafe open for breakfast and lunch, and a chicken coop. Join the party there for live music, cold beer, a pig roast, and options for vegetarians and vegans. You can camp at the farm or book a room at a nearby bed and breakfast. The route back to the train station on Sunday is 32 miles, but if you’d rather not ride on roads, you can pedal the trails to the St. Louis Premium Outlets in Chesterfield and catch a shuttle back to the train station.
Tickets are $90 and include the train ride, dinner, and entertainment on Saturday, breakfast Sunday, full SAG support, gear shuttle, camping in your own tent, showers, and the optional Sunday shuttle from Chesterfield. Add $5 for shuttle service to a local B&B or $30 for tent service provided by Padre’s Cycle Inn.
Big BAM on the Katy on October 6-11 offers live music every night starting with the welcome party on Sunday in St. Charles. The tour travels west over five days to Sedalia, then continues on the Rock Island Spur of the Katy to Pleasant Hill, 37 miles southeast of Kansas City. With the Rock Island segment, this is the longest of the trips listed here at 262 miles, so you’ll cover an average of 52 miles a day. Big BAM on the Katy was recently listed by Outside magazine as one of the best organized rides in the country. The organizers at Missouri Life expect to hit the maximum of 500 riders.
Registration is $320 and includes music, SAG support, camping, showers, gear transport, and water and snack stations on the route. Vendors will offer breakfast and dinner at the campsites each day, along with Missouri craft beer and wine. Bring your own tent or add on tent service at $350 for two people. Another option is to rent one of the air-conditioned motel rooms on trailers at the campgrounds. The shuttle back to St. Charles will run you $129. Big BAM also offer three-day and one-day options to join the tour.
Adventure Cycling’s Inn-to-Inn Tour on the Katy on September 14-21 offers a small group experience with just 13 riders led by a seasoned guide. You’ll stay in historic hotels and travel self-contained, carrying your own clothes and personal gear for the week. There’s no SAG wagon, but the pace is easier, averaging 40 miles a day over seven days from Clinton to St. Charles.
The $2,049 cost per person includes double-occupancy hotel rooms for seven nights and three meals a day. Add $450 if you prefer a single room. You’ll need to be a member of the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA). It’s worth it; ACA has been empowering bicycle travelers and leading tours all over North America for more than 40 years. A $45 annual membership includes a subscription to Adventure Cyclist magazine, discounts on detailed bike maps and other benefits.
Road Scholar’s Cycling Journey on the Katy Trail dives into the history of the MKT Railroad, the river, and the Lewis and Clark journey on an educational tour for lifelong learners, typically age 50+. Four week-long sessions for up to 36 people are available in June, September, and October. It’s another easier-paced ride, averaging 39 miles a day over five days from Sedalia to St. Charles.
Presentations by experts on local history are built into the agenda. After a meet and greet on Sunday in St. Charles, the bus heads to Sedalia on Monday, stopping at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, where Winston Churchill delivered his “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946. Other guided field trips during the week include the Historic Sedalia Katy Depot, the State Capitol in Jefferson City, and the Stone Hill Winery in Hermann.
The $1,279 cost includes seven double occupancy hotel nights, five days of riding, most meals, history lectures, and field trips. Add $350 for a single room. You can bring your own bike or ride a Road Scholar bike for $120.
You can’t go wrong with any of these tours and there are many more that offer a variety of services and experiences. Here are a few more tips for planning your journey:
BikeKatyTrail.com is a helpful website whether you plan to ride on your own or join an organized ride. It provides mileage charts, an interactive map, and a trip planner that shows options for food, lodging, camping, bike shops, wineries, transport, tour operators, and other services.
Flooding is always possible on the river, especially in the spring. Missouri State Parks staff monitor the river levels daily and post detour directions if they have to close a section of the trail. Updates on trail closures are posted on the park’s Active Advisories page, and the Potential Flood Locations page describes areas prone to flooding and links to gauges showing current river levels. Once the water has receded, they’ll move in as soon it’s safe to clear debris, repair the damage, and reopen the trail.
You’ll enjoy the ride more on a bike with tires that are wide enough to avoid skidding or sinking in soft spots on the crushed limestone surface. Hybrid, touring, or gravel bikes with 32mm or larger tires work well. Some road bikes and recumbents can also accommodate larger tire sizes. Look for tires with puncture protection and no fine grooves on the edges; they can trap small shards of limestone that eventually cause a flat.
Be sure to put in some saddle time before your trip to get your backside used to riding every day and build your endurance. With a little training you’ll be ready to enjoy this beautiful pathway through Missouri.
Janice Branham is a contributing writer for Terrain Magazine.