Anchored with the mighty Katy Trail (a 240-long rail-to-trail conversion), you’ll find mountain biking, paved trails, and gravel tracks down country creeks. You can also experience Columbia’s unique combination of urban adventures and outdoor explorations. Keep reading to discover the best Columbia Missouri bike trails and some awesome adventures to experience when you hop off your bicycle.
Columbia MO Bike Trail Map
Our Columbia MO bike trail map has all the trails and experiences from this piece in one handy digital location. Whether you’re looking to download this map to your phone when you’re out exploring Como trails, or you’re referencing it as you read this article, it’s worth clicking the refresh button if it doesn’t load the first time 😉
Katy Trail Columbia Missouri
The Katy Trail in Columbia, Missouri, basically runs from McBain Trailhead / Hindman Junction to the enchanting town of Rocheport. This nine-mile route receives most of the local riders. Some people head south from McBain towards Jefferson City, but this guide focuses on the more popular northern leg.
Heading north out of McBain, you quickly reach Perche Creek Bridge and Hindman Junction, where the MKT trail runs towards Columbia before reaching the banks of the Missouri River. You’ll ride riverside almost the entire way to Rocheport, with river views on your left and bluffs on your right. Many people consider this the most scenic stretch of the entire trail. Be sure to peddle a little past Rocheport to ride through the Rocheport Tunnel, the only tunnel on the Katy Trail.
The Katy Trail was conceived and born in Rocheport. It’s the original trail town that welcomes riders with open arms. If you’re looking for wineries near Columbia, you’ll find Les Bourgeois Vineyards sitting on the bluff top overlooking the trail. While the tasting room is a mile away down Highway BB, you can easily reach the A-Frame to grab a picnic lunch or treat your taste buds to delicacies at the Bistro. Both venues offer incredible blufftop views and can be reached directly from a footpath leading up from the Katy Trail. You can also pick up snacks (or bikes!) at the Meriwether Café and Bike Shop in town, located directly off the trail.
One final note, be sure to check out the Burr Oak Tree. This 400-year-old tree is the largest burr oak in Missouri and one of the largest in the country. It would take four grown men to wrap their arms around the 287-inch circumference trunk, and the crown is 90 feet tall with a 130-foot spread. It’s one big tree that you can’t see unless you take a thousand-foot detour off the Katy Trail.
When I was planning my bike getaway to Columbia, I wasn’t excited about the MKT Trail. I thought it was just a connector between the Katy Trail and the city of Columbia. I was wrong; it’s so much more than that. It’s Columbia’s premier multi-use trail and ranked second in the nation for “Best Urban Trail” in the 2016 USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards.
The MKT runs 8.9 miles from Flat Branch Park to Hindman Junction. You’re on a shady, 10′ wide crushed limestone path beside Flat Branch Creek for most of the journey. Along the way, you pass several natural areas, scenic views, and even a pump track.
We met riders along the way who raved about taking a dinner ride down to The Station House at Katfish Katy’s. However, we wanted to explore the District and the Mizzou Campus. We loved lunch at Uprise Bakery, dinner at Sycamore, and tasty treats at Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream. We also just loved soaking in the street art and watching the sunset at the Columns on the University of Missouri campus.
Bike Logistics for Crushed Limestone Trails
Both the Katy and MKT trails have a crushed limestone surface. This worried us a bit because we are used to long-distance riding on pavement with 25mm tires. Jenn switched out to a 35mm tire on her female-specific hybrid, and Ed rode his Top Fuel mountain bike.
The wider road tire was more than sufficient for the crushed limestone surface. It provided plenty of traction and control without severely impacting rolling resistance. We saw several other riders with 35mm tires, but nobody with anything less. That seems like a good compromise between rideability and friction. However, the next couple of entries are mountain bike trails near Columbia, and you can certainly fat tire your entire bike weekend.
Rockbridge State Park Mountain Bike Trails
Rockbridge State Park is about five miles south of Columbia and one of the most beautiful places in the state. It features an impressive namesake Rock Bridge and two caves with side-by-side entrances on the same creek. The downstream cave, Devil’s Icebox, blows a massive amount of cold air but is closed to the public. The upstream cave, Conner’s Cave, is open to the public for exploration. You want to bring a helmet and multiple sources of light, but you can spend an hour or so exploring the stream passage and several side passages.
Rockbridge State Park also features three connected mountain bike loops making it the premier mountain biking in Columbia. Start in the middle on the 2-mile Springbrook Trail. This 2-mile long beginner loop gives you access to deep forests and a smooth, flowing trail with about 200′ of elevation gain. If you want more adventure, challenge yourself with the intermediate Deer Run Loop (3.7 miles, 500′ gain) or Sinkhole Loop (2.5 miles, 300′ gain). Note, our mileage is different from Trailforks’ because we’re mapping a full loop closure. Also, the trail to Devil’s Icebox is closed to bikes because of high traffic, steps, and boardwalks.
You can also ride the 2-mile, 200′ gain Grasslands Loop or combine two or more of these loops into a longer, epic ride. There are even connector trails from the parking lots to these loops. You can count on great mountain biking (as long as it’s dry), but you can’t count on decent cell coverage. Download our map onto your phone before heading out so you can find your way.
Finger Lakes State Park
Finger Lakes State Park is known for its off road vehicle trails. You can bring your ATV or UTV here and ride almost everywhere in the park on a network of trails. Some are relatively easy; others will test your mettle. However, even if you don’t own a rig, you can still enjoy a natural escape in Finger Lakes State Park.
There are rental kayaks and two interconnected paddle trails that are perfect for aquatic exploration. There are also 2.5 miles of beginner/intermediate riding on the Kelly Branch Bike Trail. It’s fabulous that the bike trails are 100% separated from the ORV trails, but they tend to stay muddy longer than other area trails. There are also many sharp curves and “whoop style up and downs” impacting your flow, which took it down a notch or two in my book.
It’s mandatory to ride the loop counter-clockwise, and there’s a stream crossing in the first 1/2 mile that you’ll probably get your feet wet on. However, this can be avoided by taking the South Loop Connector, which starts just below the skills (pump-track) course. I don’t know if I would make a dedicated trip to ride Kelly Branch, but I would definitely come for the paddling/biking combo.
Cosmopolitan Park / Rhett’s Run
Cosmopolitan Park is the diametric opposite of Finger Lakes. There’s little draw for tourists to visit the park other than Rhett’s Run, a fabulous mountain biking loop.
Rhett’s Run (4.8 miles / 473′ gain) is the most popular mountain biking in Columbia. It has a network of tight and twisty turns, rocky sections, and narrow gaps between the trees that make the most of the terrain. It was designed by riders for riders with many reported trail technical features that include: A-Frame, Berm, Bridge, Drop, Jump, Gap Jump, Ladder Bridge, Log Ride, Pump Track, Rock Face, Rock Garden, Roller Coaster, Skinny, Teeter Totter, and Wallride.
I didn’t find all of these on my Rhett’s Run ride, but you can tell by my track on the Columbia bike map that I got a little turned around. The trails get tight and close together in spots, so it wasn’t hard to do. It also didn’t matter in the end. I rode 4.8 miles and enjoyed every twist and turn. I think Rock Bridge might be objectively prettier, but Rhett’s Run was the area’s best ‘pure ride.’
Stinson Creek Trail
Fulton Missouri, is a surprisingly interesting small town about 20-miles east of Columbia. We came for America’s National Churchill Museum, which is basically a presidential library built for an English Prime Minister, but found so much more. Did you know the Cold War started in Fulton with Churchill’s Sinews of Peace Speech? This is where the famous line “an ‘iron curtain’ has descended across the continent” originated. Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the final president of the Soviet Union, symbolically ended the Cold War in Fulton. His speech described the event as “a shattering of the vicious circle into which we had driven ourselves” and “a victory for common sense, reason, democracy, and common human values.” There’s also the largest section of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany, a hip and cool downtown strip, and the Stinson Creek Trail, a short but beautiful paved rail-trail.
The City of Fulton claims the trail is 4.77 miles, with an extension that runs along Wood Street on the far east side, but I would focus on the first 3.07 miles from Fulton Dog Park to Wood Street. You ride streamside most of the way and cross over a historic railroad bridge and a historic covered bridge. It’s a beautiful 6-mile out-and-back ride on a fully paved trail. Combine this with a stroll down Market Street (the downtown “Brick District”) and a visit to the Churchill Museum, and it makes a fun half-day excursion from Columbia.
How to Turn Columbia Bike Trails Into a Weekend Getaway
For any weekend getaway, you need a home base. We happened to choose the Drury Inn and rediscovered how much we love their amenities. Not only do they serve a hot breakfast every day, but their happy hour hors d’oeuvres could have been a meal in themselves. Only, we loved eating in the District so much that we had to restrain ourselves.
We divided these rides into three days:
- Day 1: MKT Trail and Katy Trail
- Day 2: Finger Lakes and Rhett’s Run
- Day 3: Rockbridge and Stinson Creek
This worked because we arranged a car shuttle from Rocheport back to Columbia through a private party, but a strong rider could still make that a day trip with a self-supported out-and-back if they wanted. Another good three-day itinerary for riders, especially if they don’t want to mountain bike would be:
- Day 1: Ride MKT Trail out-and-back from Flat Branch early. Finger Lakes in the afternoon and explore The District in the evening.
- Day 2: Ride Katy Trail out-and-back from Rocheport in the morning and visit Les Bourgeois Winery in the afternoon.
- Day 3: Ride Stinson Creek Trail in the morning. Explore the Brick District / Churchill Museum midday. Visit Rockbridge State Park in the afternoon.
These days are interchangeable, so you can swap them around, trade them out, or even anchor three separate weekend trips if you want. You could even combine riding Columbia with Adventuring in Lake of the Ozarks for a week long vacation. There’s so much good riding in Columbia, Missouri, you might not get it all done in a single visit.
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