One of the best Rail-to-Trail projects in the country, the 200-mile Katy Trail hugs the north edge of the Missouri River floodplain, from St. Louis to Boonville; there, it crosses the River and angles to the southwest, leading through the rolling farmlands of west-central Missouri. This wide, graveled path runs atop the old bed of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, which ceased operations in 1986. Managed as a State Park, the Katy Trail and its immediate surroundings attract hikers, trail bikers, joggers, fishermen and naturalists throughout the year; however, trail use diminishes significantly throughout the colder months and those who enjoy solitude will find this route an appealing destination for winter nature hikes.
On its route along the floodplain, the Katy Trail winds through swamp forest, crosses wooded meadows and fords numerous streams and wetlands. Birders should see an excellent variety of bottomland residents, including wood ducks, belted kingfishers, red-headed woodpeckers, barred owls, red-shouldered hawks, winter wrens, song sparrows and American tree sparrows. Turkey vultures often soar above the limestone cliffs while bald eagles, ring-billed gulls and a variety of waterfowl are common along the river. Floodplain mam-mals include white-tailed deer, beaver, muskrat, mink, raccoons, opossum, skunk, red fox and coyotes.
The historic town of Rocheport, Missouri, reached via Exit 115 from I-70, is one of the more appealing access points along the Katy Trail. Ample parking is provided and the hike southward is especially scenic, characterized by towering cliffs, river views and floodplain wetlands.