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Autumnal adventures on the Katy Trail

Looking for a fall adventure that is family-friendly, rich with heritage and safe, even in a pandemic? Try hitting the trail. The Katy Trail, that is.

This spring, while area residents followed local guidance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Katy Trail celebrated its 30th anniversary as the longest developed rail-to-trail project in the nation.

The recreational trail runs from Machens, an extinct town near the Mississippi River in St. Charles County, to Clinton, about 66 miles southeast of Kansas City. In total, it spans about 240 miles along the vacated right-of-way of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MK&T, nicknamed Katy) Railroad. From 1870 to 1988, the MK&T railroad used the rails through St. Charles. 

Katy Trail
(Source: mcstateparks.com)

Today, the Katy Trail is a Missouri State Park made possible through a $2.2 million donation from the late Edward D. “Ted” Jones Jr. and his wife, Pat. That donation and an amendment to the National Trails System Act helped the state secure the railroad right-of-way. Construction of the trail began in 1987, with the St. Charles to Machens section completed in 2011. 

Tens of thousands of people of all ages and varying backgrounds have used the trail for hiking and bicycling adventures for time periods ranging from an hour or two to several days.

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The trail passes through a variety of urban, suburban, semi-rural and very rural, even remote areas – offering something for everyone. It has a variety of surfaces, including asphalt and concrete pavement, crushed rock and dirt. It uses a variety of bridges across rivers, streams, roads, railroad tracks and ravines. 

According to Missouri State Parks, the trail traverses some of the most scenic areas of the state. The majority of the trail closely follows the route of the Missouri River, so trail users often find themselves with the river on one side and towering bluffs on the other. 

It travels through many types of landscapes including dense forests, wetlands, deep valleys, remnant prairies, open pastureland and gently rolling farm fields. In the spring, the trail is brightened with flowering dogwood and redbud, while the fall is colored with rich reds and oranges of sugar maple, sumac and bittersweet. 

Depending on which segment someone decides to use, hiking or bicycling can be easy or difficult.

Some important things to know before you go:

• Katy Trail State Park is open sunrise to sunset. As a result of COVID-19 precautions, capacity along the trail and at trailheads is being monitored to prevent overcrowding. If nearing capacity, parking lots may close temporarily. Additionally, Missouri State Parks has implemented a number of measures designed to maintain required social distancing and protect visitors, volunteers and staff. Visitors can learn more on the trail page at mostateparks.com.

• Only pedestrians, bicyclists and equestrians (only in designated areas) are permitted on the Katy Trail. 

• The majority of the trail is accessible to persons with disabilities.

• Electrically assisted pedal-powered bicycles and tricycles (maximum speed of 20 mph) are allowed. Also allowed are electrically powered mobility devices for persons with disabilities, such as Segways and electric golf carts. 

• Water and restrooms are not available at every trailhead. While the trail is open year-round, water is turned off and restrooms are closed from Nov. 1 to April 1. 

• Missouri State Parks does not provide camping along Katy Trail State Park.  

• Cutting implements such as saws and hatchets are not allowed on the trail. 

• All pets must be leashed for their protection and that of other visitors and wildlife. 

• All other rules and regulations pertaining to park use are applicable to trail users.

The park’s web page on mostateparks.com offers a wealth of information for trail users including a story map, links to area attractions, a video tour of the trail, current trail conditions and even a bird checklist.  

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to hit the trail.

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