The second part of our Katy Trail cycling trip; a look at lodging and camping, food/water, sights and side trips and a few of my personal thoughts. (Like I said – I need a good editor … forgive me).
LODGING & CAMPING
While I enjoy camping on our bike adventures, I personally felt that the camping options along the Katy Trail were somewhat limited. We decided to stay in small local inns and B&B’s over the course of our trip. I remember passing only two campgrounds along the way, both in the same general area and both very open with not much shade. Some of the website listings for camping along the trail include places like a local fairgrounds, a city park, and possibly a trailside hostel. The only hostel we saw was a bit sketchy-looking, appeared to be closed, and I had read some very mixed reviews about the place. None of these options sounded particularly appealing to us.
Moreover, upon stopping in one or two of the town parks – which may or may not have allowed camping (?) – we discovered there was no available water, and the restrooms were locked.
While park regulations stipulate that camping is not allowed on trail/state park property, we did see at least one couple “stealth” camping off to the side of a trailhead parking lot. Personally, if I were to attempt stealth camping, I would plant myself on the edge of a corn or wheat field … but, whatever.
There are a wide range of accommodations convenient to the trail (i.e., within 1-5 miles, easily accessible). You can stay in anything from an B&B on the historic register, to a renovated train caboose, to a variety of other options in various price ranges. You can plan everything on your own, or you can make arrangements through a tour planner, like the Independent Tourist.
We spent our first night at the Hotel Bothwell, a fascinating and historic hotel in Sedalia (I think its founder, Mr. Sweet, had a thing for coffee). The next three nights we spent at small B&B’s in trailside towns: Yates House B&B in Rocheport, Cliff Manor B&B in Jefferson City, and Captain Wohlt Inn B&B in Hermann. All three provided beautiful and restful rooms, wonderful breakfasts, and they really catered to us as cyclists – providing appreciated extras like offering to wash a load of laundry, rinsing trail dust off of our bikes, to filling and freezing our water bottles for the following day. All three also offered to pack sack lunches for us for the next day’s ride.
FOOD & WATER
Most days we stopped for lunch in towns along the trail. The places we found were small and friendly diner-types or bar-and-grills – good enough for a sandwich, maybe fruit or salad, or just a pizza or burger-and-fries kind of thing. Even though we had a list of possible eateries in various towns, trailside businesses can struggle and change quickly; places were sometimes closed (especially on Mondays and Tuesdays), or we discovered they had gone out of business since our list had been compiled.
We also had lunch on the trail one day, as our hosts at Yates House provided us with a sack lunch. While it saved some time, I think we both preferred taking time to explore places in the trailside towns, riding on some pavement, and taking a break from heat and dust.
Dinner in the evening provided more options, and some very nice ones. Our favorite evening meal was at Les Bourgeois Vinyard’s Blufftop Bistro in Rocheport. We walked part of the Katy Trail from the B&B to a footpath that led up the bluff to the restaurant. The views over the river at dusk from the airy timber-frame and glass restaurant were lovely, and the food – mostly local and organic – was even better. We shared a bottle of their wine, took in the sunset over the river, and thoroughly enjoyed our evening.
Water. You need it, and you need plenty of it in the heat on a dusty trail. Unfortunately, I think it’s somewhat limited availability along the trail is one of the biggest complaints among riders. A number of trailhead stations did not have water (this is marked pretty accurately in the map and signage), and it may be hit-or-miss finding an easy place to buy a bottle of water in a few of the smallest towns. We stopped at one local park, thinking we could fill our bottles from a faucet in a restroom – only to find the doors were locked. So be prepared to carry plenty and top off your bottles at every opportunity.
SIGHTS & SIDE TRIPS
The places, stations and towns along the Katy Trail have a rich and diverse history. Nearly every railway station along the route has nicely detailed signage, offering a brief history of the area and outlining points of interest ahead – in both directions of travel.
Wildlife is also abundant along the trail, and we saw a wide variety – deer, many types of birds (including wild turkeys, cliff-dwelling swallows, waterfowl, and indigo buntings), turtles, lizards, snakes, and a healthy number of acrobatic bats in the evening.
For railroad buffs, there is much to see – railway stations, an “I-lost-count” number of bridges, an amazing old rock tunnel, and several old cabooses and railway cars. Several of the stations have their own museums; the one in Sedalia is even home to a small bike shop.
There are also a few trailside oddities, like “BoatHenge” near Easley.
While I enjoyed the railway-related history, I was most interested in the Lewis & Clark points of interest along with the old agricultural landmarks. All of the Lewis & Clark campsites – from their first weeks along the Missouri River – have markers and usually detailed signs, many containing excerpts and drawings from the mens’ journals and descriptions of their experiences. For me, it is just fascinating stuff. Especially to pull my bike over and imagine what it must have been like for them along the river.
The Katy Land Trust has partnered with the Missouri State Parks; their mission is to “increase awareness of the benefits of preserving agricultural resources and forests along the Katy Trail.” I was drawn to many of the old grain elevators that still sit along the trail – wonderful iconic symbols of the local agricultural heritage.
In Treloar, reproductions of paintings by artist Bryan Haynes are displayed on one of the old grain elevators; a beautiful way to promote the Land Trust and to celebrate the Katy Trail agricultural corridor.
We also enjoyed our side excursions to nearby towns, and wish we could have extended our trip to spend more time in some of them. Most are easy to reach by bicycle, the large bridges had pedestrian/bicycle lanes. We particularly enjoyed Sedalia, Jefferson City, and the old German Society town of Hermann – which is the center of Missouri’s wine region.
There are so many wonderful things about cycling the Katy Trail, and I feel I have barely scratched the surface. I still believe there is no better way to experience a place – every aspect of it – than by bicycle.
As I looked through my photos and read my notes, I realized how drawn I am to wide open spaces of plain, prairie and farmland – and to the endless span of blue skies and wisps of clouds overhead. I think it may be reflected in some of my photos, but I just don’t have a wide enough lens to adequately capture the feeling. I hope you will go and see it for yourself.
Our Katy trip was filled with wonderful cycling, friendly people, and provided a rich history lesson. It is a great place to ride for any cyclist, young or old, fast or slow. You can enjoy it for a day or longer, and it’s an excellent place for anyone who might want to make a first attempt at a multi-day bicycle adventure. Everyone should make their own journey, in their own way … I hope you enjoyed some of the pieces of ours.