Fall in Kansas happens to be one of the best times to hit the trails ... with your bike! The temperatures are beginning to drop, the bugs are subsiding and the colorful scenes are unbeatable across our varied landscape. [[endteaser]]
A handful of trails have not only been made for the purpose of cycling, but are situated among some of Kansas' most scenic landscapes-the Flint Hills, northeastern hills, and historic regions. So grab your maps (more on that later) and begin to plan your weekend escape with just you, your bike and the land.
The Flint Hills Nature Trail
The Flint Hills Nature Trail is on my list this fall. Announced in 2011, most of the trail was opened in 2012. Running from Osawatomie to Herington, this trail covers roughly 117 miles. Various trailheads along the route offer services and pit stops in Kansas' small, centrally-located communities. The scenes however, are unbeatable. Imagine blue sky high above and native grasses sprinkling the trail. Get a glimpse at nearby ranches and encounter some wildlife (maybe even a box turtle!). This ride is especially scenic due to the region. The Flint Hills are known to be one of the last Tallgrass Prairies in the nation, that paired with scenes of agriculture and family farming against the waving grasses... it's safe to say no other trail like this exists in the nation.
The Kansas River Trail
This is one of the first trails I rode when I moved to Kansas and I go back often. Running along side the Kansas River and through the heart of Lawrence, this trail is perfect for any time of the year, at any time of the day. Measuring about 9.3 miles long from one end to the other, the "Levee Trail" as locals call it, weaves in and out of cottonwoods, neighborhoods, native grasses, river scenes and more. A river access point at around mile 2 (to the west) is an ideal place for a picnic, photo op or a little disc golf (yes, there is an 18-hole disc golf course hidden in the trees). What's especially nice about this trail is The Gaslight Gardens pub situated at the center of the trail (North Second and Elm). The Gaslight offers bike rentals by the hour and the day; cruise the trails and return for a beer on their patio (talk about scenic!). Or catch a local bike group on Wednesdays!
The Prairie Spirit Trail
Without a doubt the Prairie Spirit Trail remains a fan "family" favorite. This rail bed turned scenic bike trail runs from Ottawa to Iola and measures about 51 miles. Passing through various southeastern communities, the easy trail makes for a fun day, or weekend excursion. Imagining you're a train rushing through the wooded landscape, crossing old-fashioned train bridges makes for an interesting bike experience. However, I enjoyed passing the many other travelers while taking in the sights of the land. Take your time and make sure to allow yourself to stop in one of the 10 communities along the way (Might I recommend Iola, home of Buster Keaton and Garnett, the halfway point).
The Cross Timbers Trails
A trip with my mountain bike to Cross Timbers State Park is also on my trail list for the fall. This hilly, lush state park is known to be a descendant of ancient forests. Peaking up near Toronto Lake, the trails are suggested for experienced mountain bikers (and hikers). The 11-mile loop Chautauqua Hills Trail offers views of the prairie while the Overlook Trail will take you to overlooks of the lake below. Make note, some of the trails offer primitive camping if you're also in search of a scenic experience under the moon and stars.
Get Tour Map!
The Kansas Department of Transportation offers extensive information on biking in Kansas, and bike trails. Request an official bike trail map from the department by contacting BikePed@ksdot.org. For more information online, visit http://www.ksdot.org/bureaus/burRail/bike/default.asp
Katy Ibsen is a writer and editor living in Lawrence. When she's not blogging, writing or serving her community, she's embarking on the outdoor life among Kansas' picturesque landscape.