“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.” -Robert Frost
The long trail holds an allure unlike any other. The good ones are the stuff of legend; the well-worn Appalachian Trail, rugged Continental Divide Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail are universally revered. But the truly great long trails once cut through the endless expanse of prairie that we now call Kansas. The names themselves are legendary; Oregon Trail, Santa Fe Trail, Chisholm Trail. But all of these legends slowly died with the advent of the railroad.
There’s more than a bit of irony in the fact that well over a century later, the modern decline of the once wide-spread railroad has driven the establishment of the new long trails spanning the plains. One of the best known trails in the Midwest is the acclaimed Katy Trail, which runs 225 east/west from St. Charles to Clinton, Missouri.
Kansas boasts multiple long rail-trails, including the Prairie Spirit Trail, Landon Nature Trail, Blue River Trail, and Meadowlark Trail. However, the most ambitious rail-trails project is the Flint Hills Nature Trail. When completed, this section of rail-trail will be the seventh longest in the nation and will stretch 117 miles from Osawatomie to Herington. Currently, the trail is not fully open but there are many sections that are ready to ride.
Here’s a summary of our favorite sections that are open to explore:
Osawatomie to Ottawa (18.9 miles): The easternmost section of the Flint Hills Nature Trail is well-maintained and easily accessible as it runs along the bluffs of the Marais De Cygne river east through Rantoul and on to the historic Old Depot Museum at Ottawa. The depot also serves as the northern terminus for the Prairie Spirit Trail and is open for tours from March – December.
Vassar to Osage City (11.1 miles): To the west of Ottawa, the trail is intermittent with 1.2 miles open between the Old Depot Museum in Ottawa west to the Marais De Cygne River and a 2 mile finished stretch east of Pomona. However, the longest continuous section along this part of the trail currently stretches from Vassar to Osage City. Check out the unique assortment of merchandise at the Vassar Mercantile and enjoy the gradual downhill as you cross US-75 and continue on the trail west to Osage City.
Osage City to Council Grove (39.7 miles): From Osage City the trail runs west through Admire and Allen and enters the heart of the Flint Hills. There are a few rough stretches but this entire section is certainly passable on foot or bike. The section between Bushong and Council Grove is one of the most scenic and remote sections of the trail as it cuts through the rugged and vast Flint Hills landscape.
Before Council Grove a short side trip will take you to the Allegawaho Memorial Park just to the north of the trail. This park is located on land that formerly served as the Kaw Indian Reservation. The end of the trail is currently at Council Grove, once the last outpost of civilization for travelers heading west along the Santa Fe Trail. While in Council Grove visit the Kaw Mission Historic Site and dine at the Hays House which has served fine food to weary travelers since 1857.
These sections of trail are some of our favorite, but we look forward to the completion of the trail which could occur as early as 2015.