Good times roll when the tunes are cranked up, kayaks are strapped to the car’s roof and bikes are fastened tight to a rack in the back.
It all adds up to a fine road trip, especially when the destination is a beautiful river ideal for floating and a scenic bike trail that follows it. Both are within easy reach on the northern edge of the Ozarks in the middle of Missouri. The wide and fast flowing Missouri River bisects the midsection of the Show Me State and is a paradise for canoe and kayak paddlers. Close beside it is the well known Katy Trail for bike riders and folks on foot.
The Katy runs for 240 miles across Missouri, from Clinton in the west to near St. Louis on the east. Katy Trail State Park is its official name. It’s the longest rails-to-trails conversion in the nation while the mighty Missouri River is the nation’s longest river.
Bike riders and people on foot on the Katy Trail now travel the former bed of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, fondly called the MKT, or Katy. The tracks are long gone, replaced by the trail’s crushed gravel tread. The smooth surface makes for easy pedaling or walking through forest and pastoral farm country.
Old railroad bridges are still intact and cross all manner of small streams that flow into the nearby Missouri River that’s sometimes called “Big Muddy” or “Mighty Mo.”
Float trips are a breeze on the wide, wonderful Missouri. Boat ramps and parking are plentiful where the river flows eastward through the heart of Missouri. Nearly every town has a riverfront park with access to the water.
Distances between towns are reasonable so paddlers can arrange trips to suit their preferred distance. Canoes and kayaks ride the river’s peppy 3-4 mph current. Scenic shorelines are mostly wooded, with only occasional signs of civilization. When the river is low, as it usually is during summer and fall, bright, clean sandbars are numerous for lunch stops, relaxing and a cool swim.
Mighty Mo was the destination last year for 20 friends from several states who came to paddle 85 miles down the Missouri River on a five-day float trip. Some brought bikes to ride on the Katy Trail a day or two instead of paddle. Everyone, yours truly included, had such a great time we did the same trip again this year, Aug. 24-28.
Put-in point for both trips was at the little town of Bonnot’s Mill, Mo., east of Jefferson City, Mo., on the Osage River a mile upstream from the Missouri River. Take-out was at Washington, Mo., west of St. Louis. We’re all alumni of the Great River Rumble week-long paddling trip on the upper Mississippi River and have become friends over the years on that trip. See the Aug. 31 NWA Outdoors for a feature on this year’s Great River Rumble.
On the Missouri River, we stayed in a different river town each night, tent camping with permission in their riverfront parks. Car shuttling was done each morning. Every shuttling trip was a scenic drive over the rolling hills of the Missouri wine country. Moving cars down river let us visit rural Missouri towns like Frankenstein, Mo., with its beautiful stone Catholic church, completed in 1923, in the center of town.
One great overnight stop was at Hermann, Mo., a good-sized town known for its German culture. It’s party time in Hermann each fall with Oktoberfest happening every weekend in October.
That could be the perfect time to visit Hermann for a Missouri River and Katy Trail paddling and biking road trip. Hermann makes an ideal base camp for easy driving to different sections of the river and trail.
There’s a nice city park in Hermann with campsites for tents and RVs. There’s lodging galore all around town. Katy Trail is 2 miles north of Hermann across the Missouri River.
Every mile of the Katy is nice, but seasoned bikers will testify the most scenic section is between Jefferson City and Rocheport, Mo., to the north. That’s about 35 miles of trail that runs mostly along the Missouri River hugging lofty, colorful bluffs.
As the weather cools and leaves show fall color, a bike ride on the Katy Trail paired with a float trip on the mighty Missouri makes a fine getaway.
Float, then bike
A unique Missouri River-Katy Trail canoe and bike adventure takes in 10 miles of river and trail near Columbia, Mo.
Head for Cooper’s Landing campground and marina on the Missouri River west of Columbia. Load one or two bicycles into a canoe and launch on the Missouri River. Cooper’s Landing charges a modest launch fee.
Leave your vehicle at Cooper’s Landing and float downstream with your bikes in the boat for about 10 miles to the access at Hartsburg, Mo. Then bike on the Katy Trail back to Cooper’s Landing and retrieve your vehicle. Drive back to Hartsburg and pick up your canoe.
Cooper’s Landing is a festive place in the fall with good food and live music on the weekends.
Source: Staff report