The Katy Trail’s inclusion in the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame is totally deserved. While we only had time to ride a small stretch of the 240-mile trail that bisects the state, if the rest of trail is anything like what we experienced midway, it’s not to be missed.
As of 2021, it’s also the longest continuous rail-trail, built upon the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (MKT) or the Katy, for short. One astonishing fact we learned about this railroad track involved a poorly executed publicity stunt in 1896 that drew 40,000 people to witness a staged train collision, called the Crash at Crush.
We chose to put in close to Rt. 70 near the northern most point of the trail in the tiny but picturesque town of Rocheport, population 244. The trail is clearly the main attraction in Rocheport; signage was clear, there was a nice parking lot, a cute depot with restrooms, and a great little café called Meriweather just steps away from the trail. (Don’t miss their homemade biscuits!)
Outside the depot was a colorful, well-drawn map of the trail that we ultimately realized was bizarrely upside down. Even Jim, aka “Magellan,” was confused when we set out to where we thought was east. (In his defense, it was noon, so he couldn’t rely on the sun to orient himself.) We rode three pleasantly shady miles, through a short tunnel and along a narrow creek, to an abrupt end where a bridge had been closed. So, we turned around and, upon realizing that north and south were flipped on the map, we again headed east, but correctly this time.
Now on our right was the broad and beautiful Missouri River (The stanza, “I’m bound away, ‘cross the wide Missour-uh” became an earworm in Kellie’s head until she remembered what song it came from. And now, readers, it’s your earworm until you figure it out!) Every mile or so, we passed inviting benches that faced the yawning expanse.
The trail itself was wide and the packed gravel and dirt made of easy pedaling. Towering above us, and sometimes obscured by the trees, were dramatic sandstone, limestone and granite bluffs, at times reaching up nearly 75 feet. Caves could be seen embedded in the stone and occasional signs warned us not to stop for the next quarter mile where falling rocks were a threat. As if the river and bluffs weren’t beautiful enough, yellow wildflowers grew in clumps on both sides of the trail.
There appeared to be three levels of terrain along this portion of the trail – the water level, the trail level, then the top of the bluffs level. Kellie pushed her bike 1/3 of a mile up a steep, windy trail to the top of one bluff where Le Bourgeouis Winery and Restaurant offered a magnificent view up- and down-river.
We passed only a few others – including what appeared to be a 6-7 year-old girl who rode her tiny little bike about five miles and an elderly German man who regularly rode a 46-mile roundtrip stretch. Both were impressive!
At one point, we lost site of the river as a large swath of wetlands divided us. Here was where a sign marked a Lewis and Clark campsite.
We would not have expected one of our all-time favorite rides to have been in the center of Missouri in the middle of August (no offense to Missourians or people who like to sweat a lot), but there you go. We definitely want to explore the eastern and western ends one day.
We were told that Logboat Brewing Company in Columbia was the most popular local brewery, but alas, it was not open the day we rode the Katy Trail. But we were able to try two of their brews at Meriweather: Jim had Snapper American IPA, which was lighter and less hoppy than many other West Coast-style, hazy IPAs, and Kellie had the Shiphead American Wheat, which had a unique ginger taste.