Nestled in the green, rolling hills and fertile prairies of west central Missouri, Warrensburg and Johnson County offer a mixture of urban communities along with placid, open countryside. The landscape of wooded forests and rich bottom land that surround the Blackwater River and its tributaries, combined with designated trails and recreation venues, offers a variety of outdoor experiences for anyone seeking to enjoy outdoor sports or simply relax and take in the bounties of nature.
Warrensburg’s diverse population of just more than 20,000 includes students from the University of Central Missouri, families from nearby Whiteman Air Force Base, and welcoming Warrensburg natives. Farms, some owned by generations of the same family, along with those owned by Amish families, create a friendly rural community that welcomes outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. Whether you’re a hiker, a bicycle looking for a challenging ride, or in a kayaker seeking for a safe, serene spot to paddle, there’s a spot for you.
Bicycling is popular in Warrensburg, not only as a mode of transportation, but also as a form of exercise. You’ll also find residents throughout the community and the county enjoying the benefits of walking.
A primary hiking, biking, and walking trail in the area is the Spirit Trail, a 6-mile, paved path that runs from the south side of Warrensburg eastward beside Highway DD to the west boundary of Knob Noster State Park. The popular route takes you through rolling terrain and scenic croplands, offering an opportunity to interact with residents while also enjoying the rural surroundings. It also will offer a challenge — a switchback in the trail climbs up to Bristle Ridge, a local geographic landmark.
Parks and Recreation Areas
Warrensburg Parks and Recreation also offers a system of trails for hiking or walking, The Todd Hamann Trail at the city’s Lions Lake Park was dedicated by the Hamann family to the memory of their late son. It offers a leisurely stroll around the perimeter of the lake, which is a popular spot for local residents and university students alike.
The city’s Cave Hollow Park also has wooded hiking trails, along with a dog park and inclusive playground for children with disabilities. Marr Park, tucked away in the wooded area on the east side of Warrensburg, offers leisurely hiking for the family. Lions Lake provides a great sunset view, as well as fishing and small watercraft opportunities, and the adjacent Culp Park offers heavily wooded hiking trails.
Pertle Springs, owned by the University of Central Missouri, is a 200-acre recreation area located south of the campus. First developed by a local businessman in the 1880s as a health and recreation resort, the park at one time featured a resort hotel, spa, and chautauqua hall that, during the turn of the century, often drew hundreds from across the Midwest.
Although the decades have seen a change in the area, Pertle Springs continues to offer a variety of outlets for the enjoyment of the outdoors. Kayaks and small boats are welcome on 14-acre Lake Cena, along with fishing from the banks. Picnic areas are available, and the 1.6-mile Pertle Loop is a self-guided hiking trail through the woods that is a favorite for hikers and birdwatchers alike. Those hiking the trail can see the remnants of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp maintained by the US government in the 1930s. The camp offered hundreds of men the opportunity to earn wages by completing public works projects, many of which are still in evidence through Johnson County.
Looking to play a few holes of golf? Pertle Springs also offers the Mules National Golf Course, an 18-hole public course that underwent an extensive renovation in 2015. After playing a round, you can relax in the clubhouse at Traditions restaurant or on the patio with its spectacular view of the small lake surrounding the 18th hole.
Just east of Warrensburg, in proximity to the city of Knob Noster and Whiteman Air Force Base, is Knob Noster State Park, covering 3,900 acres of oak woodlands with patches of prairie. The park boasts seasonal access to Clear Fork Creek and Clear Fork Lake, providing plenty of opportunities for kayaking and fishing. The seven designated hiking and horseback trails offer some true nature time, and individuals and families who wish to extend their stay can reserve a site for tent or RV camping, in season. Contact the park office for details about reservations and park rules.
The Rock Island Trail
For the ultimate trail experience, travel a few miles from Warrensburg to the western or southern portions of Johnson County, where you can find access points for Missouri’s Rock Island Trail. The cycling and hiking trail starts in Raytown and follows the renovated rail bed of the old Rock Island railroad across the county. You can access the trail in Johnson County at trailheads at Medford, Chilhowee, or Leeton and follow it east through the countryside until in intersects with the Katy Trail, which extends all the way east to St. Charles. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources recently announced plans to extend the Rock Island eastward across the state in the future.
In addition to experiencing nature from the trails available in and around Warrensburg, traveling a few miles west on Highway 50 to western Johnson County brings you to Powell Gardens. The 3,900 acres of open prairie and woods is complemented by the carefully and expertly planted and maintained gardens that present a full day of relaxation and fun with a stroll through the grounds.
Plan to experience the best seasonal examples of nature’s beauty as you visit the Butterfly Meadow, the Children’s Garden, or Conifer Garden in season. The Heartland Harvest Garden offers a sampling of nature’s seasonal bounty. Moving indoors, the Visitors Center Nature Conservatory offers a variety of exotic horticulture, along with the fascinating Butterfly Festival in late July and early August. Check online for hours, seasonal availability and admission.
Warrensburg and Johnson County residents are eager to share the variety of opportunities they offer for your outdoor experiences. Warrensburg is accessible via US Highway 50 from the east or west, via Missouri Highway 13 from the north or south, or by Amtrak’s River Runner, although local transportation is limited.
For more details about all aspects of your visit and stay in Warrensburg, along with some friendly conversation, contact the Warrensburg Visitor Center at visitwarrensburg.com.
Author: Mike Greife is a contributor to Terrain Magazine.