My Introduction to the “Katy Trail”
For the duration of my time in St. Louis, I have been continually intrigued by a certain “Katy Trail.” It started with driving down highway 364 turned 94 to head to wine country near the small towns of Defiance and Augusta. What begins as a 10-lane divided highway with a 60 mph speed limit eventually whittles down to a 2-lane, often 45 mph or below speed limit due to constant twists and turns through the hilly Missouri countryside.
Leaving the suburbs through this route is like traveling along a literal backwards passage of time. You have to keep transitioning one lane to the left as the miles wear on, because civilization gradually dedensifies and almost falls away entirely.
Starting out around Maryland Heights (approximately a third-ring St. Louis suburb), the scenery looks almost nothing like the “wild yonder” 20 minutes to the west past the bridge over Interstate 64. Here, the rings of suburbs surrounding the core of St. Louis cease, and the road narrows from four lanes to two, and the trees close in on both sides as you continue your trek out into the country.
Although Defiance and a plethora of wineries stand only 15 minutes away by this point, the drive seems much longer than that. Once you slow to the country-town speed limit and wind your way through the steep left-rights of some of Defiance’s streets, you’ll notice several gravel lots that seemingly adjoin the junction of biker bars in the middle of Defiance.
Looking closer, you’ll realize that not only are the lots mostly full, but the majority of the vehicles packed in those lots are equipped with bike racks. And the individuals teeming out of those lots will almost certainly be heading straight into the treeline.
As you pass by, you’ll notice that, no, these individuals aren’t headed to some strange wilderness camp, but they’re all going on a half-size looking gravel road. This is an unmistakeable sight. One quarter of said individuals will be outfitted with sweats of various kinds, and the other three quarters will likely be donning all shades of neon that have thus far been discovered (I must be one of the aforementioned people… see the picture above).
Finding the Right Access Point
That was my first exposure to the Katy Trail. Since then, I’ve done a lot of reading up on it (see links at the bottom of this post). Most of the park (if not the entirety of it) is an old railroad bed transformed into useable trails for walkers, hikers, and bicyclists. The park spans more than 200 miles, with countless access points scattered through much of Missouri.
With so many options for where to start, where exactly does one start? For me, the answer was right out my back door. Well, almost.
Several of my friends use the Katy Trail access point in Defiance, but for me that can be a long drive. Driving across the Missouri River on 364, though, I began to notice a good-size parking lot on the west side of the river by the highway. Once I even exited at the nearest ramp and drove around until I found the parking lot. But it wasn’t until this summer that my fiance and I finally returned to that spot and made that our entry point into the world that is the Katy Trail.
I highly, highly recommend it.
The Katy Trail Experience
It was a balmy, late summer afternoon when we started out on our walk. The parking lot is elevated high above the actual trail, so those wanting to access it have to take a series of switchbacks right by the base of the bridge crossing the Missouri. It was fun going down, but I think you can guess how I would later feel about going back up.
With the choice of either turning right toward St. Peters or left toward St. Charles, we turned right and headed for the area that looked like it offered more shade. That’s something to watch out for–although much of the trail is shaded, it would be unpleasant to be caught in a wide open section on a blistering hot and sunny day.
Our walk lasted about four miles. We kept going all the way until the trail crossed a section of road, and we decided the shade of the trail we had already covered was more inviting than what lay ahead. Wise decision. And what a neat section of trail! It’s very flat and accommodating to different skill levels, whether you’re an endurance runner or just want to ride a bike for leisure.
The section we chose to cover had sweeping vistas of the river at times, butted up against nice houses (for HGTV lovers such as myself), and cut through interesting tracts of different types of nature. If one hour is all you have, it’s a nice, immersive experience without straying too far from the parking lot.
For general information about the Katy Trail, the links below can be a good starting point. I wish you the best of luck on discovering your own Katy Trail adventure!
This year, St. Louis is celebrating its 250th year of existence! To mark the momentous occasion, artists all over the city have erected fully decorated cakes in parks, near public monuments, in important buildings, and in other areas to highlight the diversity of all this city has to offer. Guess what we found right in the parking lot? Take a look!