Near Lake of the Ozarks is a scenic ride between Jefferson City and Columbia. A short 0.8 mile Jefferson City spur leads riders to the Missouri River waterfront with excellent views of the capitol.

Rich in recreation, Missouri has hills for hiking, waters for fishing, and woods for hunting. Another option is biking on the Katy Trail.

According to Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources, the Katy is “the longest developed rail-trail in the country.” It brings people from around the world to this gem at the heart of the U.S.

Trains once carried passengers and freight, but now rail is a piece of history. Engines made for heavy loads and affordable cars sidelined trains, but interstates cut off small-town main streets. The Katy Trail has changed the face of those towns and put to good use the rails.

The entire trail is 240 miles long. It carries hikers, bikers, and horsemen between Clinton and Machens. The stretch between Cooper and St. Charles counties is part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, and the entire trail was added to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Hall of Fame in 2008.

Near Lake of the Ozarks is a scenic ride between Jefferson City and Columbia. A short 0.8 mile Jefferson City spur leads riders to the Missouri River waterfront with excellent views of the capitol. Near Columbia, a nine-mile spur known as the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail moves through woods and past wetlands to the heart of Columbia before connecting again to the Katy at mile marker 169.9, west of McBaine.

Both Jefferson City and Columbia enjoy a wide range of lodging, dining, historical sites, and entertainment. Small towns in between offer these, too. Hartsburg is home to B&Bs plus the widely-known Claysville Store with a reputation for outstanding fried chicken. Easley is in the heart of the Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area and near a section of the Mark Twain National Forest.

Currently under consideration is another rail-trail project, the Rock Island Trail. If completed, the Katy and Rock Island will create a 450-mile loop across the state, one of the longest in the world. The loop will claim more of the annual $81 billion spent on outdoor recreational bicycling.

Missouri offers level, scenic stretches for those who enjoy beauty from the vantage point of two wheels. For more intensity, bikers can follow the terrain lifting and falling with the hills along the waterways.

Eldon recognized the potential in rail-trail development, noting a Rails to Trails Conservancy report citing an almost eight-fold increase in trail miles from 2,044 miles in 1990 to 15,964 in 2010. Eldon has become a supporter of the Rock Island and is making plans to restore the depot. Warsaw also saw the value in bike trails and installed routes along Drake Harbor to the surrounding hills.

Forty-seven miles of the Rock Island Trail near Pleasant Hill and Windsor are open. New businesses are opening while older ones thrive. Fundraising efforts for more trail are ongoing.

The Katy Trail follows the Missouri River closely; the Rock Island will bring hikers, bikers, and horsemen closer to the Lake. The whole loop will be another asset for Missouri parks.