The Rock Island Spur of the Katy Trail takes hikers, bikers, and horseback riders on a scenic journey through the heart of west-central Missouri past beautiful farmland, meandering streams, rolling hills, and the occasional reminders of the old railroad. The main (and original) section of the Katy Trail State Park runs 240 miles across central Missouri between Clinton and St. Charles along the former Kansas, Missouri, and Texas Railroad. However, in 2016 a new 47-mile section – the Rock Island Spur – was completed linking Windsor to Pleasant Hill. It runs along a portion of the former Chicago, Rock Island, Pacific Railroad.
Pleasant Hill Trailhead
I have been planning to hike on (at least a section of) the Katy Trail for a few years. I finally got the chance in fall 2020 to go hiking on a portion of the Rock Island Spur. One of the surprisingly good things to happen this year! My hiking trek began at the western end of the Katy Trail State Park at the Pleasant Hill trailhead (southeast of Kansas City). There is a huge parking lot at the trailhead just west of downtown Pleasant Hill next to the Cass County Fairgrounds.
While you are in Pleasant Hill, you should definitely check out their beautiful downtown – especially the historic Missouri-Pacific Train Depot. You can also find some good places to eat and interesting shops to browse.
The Rock Island Spur
Heading east of the trailhead, the Rock Island Spur briefly runs along HWY 58 until you are out of town. Eventually, a bridge will be built that will directly connect the Katy Trail to downtown Pleasant Hill – bypassing the highway.
Once you leave behind the traffic and noise of the highway, you get to quickly start enjoying the scenic beauty of the countryside. The first portion of the hike takes you past partially cleared fields – like in the photo above. The Katy Trail is made of crushed limestone so it’s very easy to walk on. Furthermore, since you are hiking on a former railroad bed, there are no steep hills to climb up or down. Any changes in the grade are subtle and hardly noticeable. That means you can cover a lot of distance on foot. I hiked about 10 miles in just under three hours. However, that included several stops to take pictures and enjoy the scenery.
I met lots of other friendly hikers, joggers, and bikers. In fact, the Katy Trail is most famous for being a great biking excursion. Sometimes you will even meet someone riding a horse on the trail.
Hiking Past Beautiful Farmland
While the Rock Island Spur doesn’t offer the grand views of the Missouri River like much of the Katy Trail does, west-central Missouri still offers hikers plenty of scenic beauty. Being from the Ozarks, I sometimes forget how beautiful farmland and rolling hills can be. I enjoyed seeing lots of crops and old barns along the way.
The trail will occasionally intersect a country road. While there is very little traffic at these intersections, you should still stop and look before crossing. Not necessarily for vehicles – but to take beautiful pictures like this one!
Even though I have been showing off these images of wide-open fields, much of the Rock Island Spur is surrounded by trees – which provide a nice canopy on a sunny day.
Reminders of the Old MKT Railroad
Since the Katy Trail runs along the former corridor of the Missouri, Kansans, and Texas Railroad, you are often treated to some really cool vintage items from when it was a railroad. I call it old railroad memorabilia. For example, there were several places along my hike where I would see a huge pile of old railroad ties or some scrap metal next to the trail.
My favorite piece of ‘railroad memorabilia’ was this vintage railroad switch from back when trains used to run on the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas line. It has probably been standing there for more than 80 years! Who knows how many thousands of trains would have blown past it in the old railroad days. Now, it greets hikers, bikers, and horseback riders.
The Katy Trail: Lots of Outdoor Fun and Railroad History
I love the outdoors – especially hiking and enjoying scenic beauty. I also love history – especially old railroads. If those things sound like fun to you, then you should plan to go hiking on the Katy Trail. No matter what section of the trail that you hike, you will be treated to beautiful scenery with a little interesting history sprinkled in there too.
If this sounds like an interesting hike, you can learn more about hiking the Rock Island Spur.