There’s a growing trend happening in the Midwest and across the country. With the support of local and regional governments, long distance bike routes are being converted from abandoned rail corridors in an attempt to connect a nationwide network of trails most commonly referred to as rails-to-trails. These trails are generally flat or follow a gentle grade, perfect for beginning or casual riders, yet, with the option for traveling long distances, can also challenge the more advanced cyclist. Rail trails travel through many towns which stimulates the local economy and raises cycling awareness. Of course the best part of these trails is- NO CARS ALLOWED, providing a safe and annoyance-free alternative to commuting and long-distance cycling.
The Rails to Trails Conservancy is a non-profit organization dedicated to the continuing development and preservation of this bike route infrastructure and is the best resource to learn more about individual trails. The Midwest offers some of the longest rail trails with a variety of picturesque landscapes and the proverbial quaint towns to explore. Following are a sampling of a few of the more popular and award-winning rail trails found in the Midwest.
Katy Trail- Missouri
Running along the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT or “katy”) route, the Katy Trail is the nation’s longest rails-to-trails project with 237 miles of crushed limestone. Following the Missouri River, the Katy trail offers some beautiful scenery from rolling farm fields and prairie lands to river bluffs. History lovers will enjoy visiting the preserved railroad cars and restored train depots along the route. The section from St. Louis to Boonville is part of the Lewis & Clark Bicycle Trail which extends all the way to Clarkston, Washington, so riders can follow in the footsteps of the historic journey of the famous explorers.
Despite the diverse landscape across Missouri, the Katy Trail rides reasonably flat and is well-maintained. This, along with the abundance of amenities, from restaurants and grocery stores to shuttle services and bike support, makes the Katy Trail an excellent choice for beginning touring cyclists. Wine enthusiasts can visit one of the many wineries along the route. You can then rest up for your next day of riding at one of the myriad of Bed and Breakfasts. Plans are underway to make a link from Clinton to Kansas City using the old Rock Island rail line. The Katy Trail has a fantastic website for you to thoroughly plan your visit.
Cowboy Trail- Nebraska
Set to rival the Katy Trail is the Cowboy Trail in Nebraska which, when completed, will stretch for 321 miles. Currently, 195 miles of the trail are completed with some paved sections and the rest in crushed stone. The route uses an old rail line from the Chicago & Northwestern railroad who called this section of track the Cowboy Line.
Meandering through a variety of scenic landscapes, the trail crosses over 200 bridges including a 148 foot high railroad bridge. Communities along the way have embraced the development of the Cowboy Trail with amenities including camping, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, and bike shops. For more on the Cowboy Trail see bikecowboytrail.com.