Show Me the Way

Cyclists can pedal across
Missouri on the
Katy Trail

By Glenda Winders

Barbara Curtis rides her bicycle just about everywhere she goes: around town, across the United States three times and along many of the nation’s “rails-to-trails” byways. But perhaps her favorite place to ride is the Katy Trail in her home state of Missouri.

“You don’t have to worry about being hit by a car, and it’s a shady, pleasant place to ride a bicycle,” she says. “It makes my heart sing.”

The 240-mile trail, one of the longest such projects in the country, is a linear state park that crosses from one side of the state to the other. Much of it follows the Missouri River, and some of it is a part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and the American Discovery Trail. Formerly the site of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, today it is covered with crushed limestone that makes for good riding, walking, running and, in some areas, horseback riding. Because it was once a railroad, the average grade (incline or decline) is 2 percent, so there won’t be any unexpected terrain.

Curtis is also part of the Warm Showers Community, which offers a place to sleep, a bath and a meal to cyclists passing through. At her home in Warrensburg, Missouri, she has welcomed Katy riders from many states and all over the world, from Scotland to Korea.

“I never go on the trail when I don’t meet someone from out of state or out of the country,” she says.

But these cyclists don’t come all that way just to ride their bikes on a pretty trail. “The Katy” is also the thoroughfare that provides access to some 30 towns — both small and large — along the way that allow visitors to the Show-Me State to experience local culture and learn some of the state’s rich history. These towns cater to their two-wheeled visitors with bicycle storage and repair, hotels, camping facilities, charging poles for electronic devices, shuttle services, escorts across some bridges, and stores where people on the move can stock up. Think you’d like to load up your bike and go? Here is just a sampling of what you’ll find when you do.

Eastern beginnings

Traveling east to west, the trip begins at Machens (Mile 26.9), which doesn’t offer many services. But at Mile 39.5 you’ll come to St. Charles, with a population of more than 60,000 and plenty to do and see. The city was founded by French fur traders in 1769, so make sure to stop at the 16-block historic district, where you’ll find the First Capitol of Missouri, the Frenchtown Heritage Museum, and the Lewis and Clark Nature Center. Then have a hearty breakfast or lunch at Lady Di’s Diner and get back on your bike.

Next stop: Defiance (Mile 59.1) is an unincorporated community that is the gateway to Missouri wine country. Defiance Ridge Vineyards would be one good place to start your tour, but there are many other possibilities, too. You’ll also want to look into the rich history of American Indian, river and railroad lore here as well as make a visit to Daniel Boone’s final home. Want to stick around a little longer? Book a canoe or kayak adventure with Missouri River Excursions.

The midpoint

At Mile 100.8 you can take a three-mile side trip to Hermann, a German settlement that is full of wineries, breweries, restaurants and inns, making it a great place to overnight. They also put on an authentic Oktoberfest each year, and visitors can explore the town’s heritage at the Deutschheim State Historic Site. You’ll have to cross the river to get here, but the bridge has bike lanes and affords great views.

In Jefferson City (Mile 143.2), the state’s capital, the parks and recreation department built and maintains a spur from the Katy so that riders can easily come into town. The river crossing is safe and beautiful, and once there you’ll be able to steep yourself in state history at the Missouri State Capitol and Museum, the Governor’s Mansion, and the Lewis and Clark Monument. You can even tour the state penitentiary, if you are so inclined, and lunch at nearby Prison Brews. Places to stay range from hotels to B&Bs, and eating possibilities abound. For tuning up, whether it’s your body or your bicycle, there are bike shops and a regional hospital.

Hartsburg (Mile 153.6) has a population of just over 100 and not many services, but the Globe Hotel Bed and Breakfast has been hosting Katy riders since the trail began. Owned by Mark and Leaia Clervi since 2015, the inn opened as a hotel for the railroad in 1893. Today the Clervis say cyclists and hikers from all over the world make up about 92 percent of their clientele. Mark, himself a cyclist, traveled through Europe and stayed at hostels as a young man, so he understands the passion that drives the people who come to stay, and he loves the camaraderie that draws them together.

“Now I’m the hostel, and it’s exciting for me,” he says. “I enjoy chatting with the guests about their experiences and new equipment and new bike designs, but the other — more important — component is that the people are intelligent and interesting. The level of the conversations we have here is a gift.”

Since there aren’t many places to eat here, the Clervis offer to provide dinner. If you pass by on a weekend, they’ll recommend the Claysville Store restaurant, and if you come through in October, plan to catch the annual pumpkin festival, when the number of people in town swells to more than 60,000.

Scholarly ride

Columbia is connected to the trail at Mile 169.9 by the 8.9-mile MKT spur, which takes bikers weaving through wooded areas, open spaces and local neighborhoods.

“The ease of access to downtown Columbia, ‘The District,’ makes for the perfect day trip off the Katy Trail,” says Megan McConachie, strategic communications manager for the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There’s plenty of bike parking, and then you’re free to roam through the many shops, galleries and restaurants in the area.”

The home of the University of Missouri, this area also boasts the North Village Arts District and musical venues such as the Blue Note, Rose Music Hall and the Missouri Theatre. If there’s room in the panier to take some mementos home, stop at Bluestem Missouri Crafts, explore the shelves at Yellow Dog Bookstore, shop the collection of one-of-a-kind items at Poppy or create your own signature perfume at Makes Scents. Then dine casually at Flat Branch Pub and Brewing or one of the many other restaurants that feature outdoor dining and seasonal ingredients. Finish off with a treat from Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream – alcohol-infused or a flavorful cone. 

Located high on the bluffs overlooking the river, Boonville (Mile 191.8) is filled with some 450 historic sites and structures that date back to the 1800s, and a self-guided walking tour will get you to 23 of them. Visit mansions and the Mitchell Antique Motorcar Museum, check in with the Friends of Historic Boonville at the Old Cooper County Jail or stop at the restored Katy Depot, which now houses the Chamber of Commerce and a bicycle shop. For more contemporary entertainment, try your luck at the Isle of Capri Casino or make your own pot at the Boonville Clay Co.

Last leg

For a cultural infusion, be sure to make Sedalia (Mile 229) one of your stops. Here you’ll find the extraordinary Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, located on the campus of State Fair Community College. And if you come through at the right time of year, you can actually attend Missouri’s state fair. Need to catch up on email or write the folks back home? The library here offers one-hour-per-day guest-user passes for $1. Try the Brick Front Grill for Mediterranean food, El Espolon for Mexican food or Kehde’s Barbeque. A number of low-cost hotels will come in handy if you decide to spend the night.

The trail ends in Clinton (Mile 264.6), a town of more than 9,000 people where you’ll find bike repair, a hospital and other services. Plan to spend your last night at the Haysler House Bed and Breakfast Inn, right on the trail, and take advantage of their home-cooked breakfast the next morning before heading home. While you’re munching on locally sourced pastries and sipping your coffee, you might want to start planning your next trip. The Rock Island Trail, which follows what was formerly that railroad, will just about double Missouri’s rails-to-trails offerings on a more southerly route. Some parts of it are already open, in case you’re not ready to get off your bike just yet.