Those who refer to Kansas as a “flyover state” have obviously never mountain biked in this beautiful region; a place that is home to some of the most popular and revered trails in the entire country. Located in the very heart of the Midwestern United States, Kansas’ geography is dominated by undulating plains, wheat farms, hills of various sizes and deciduous forests, as well as a number of nationally-protected parks and natural geographic wonders.
Bordered by Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma and Colorado, the landlocked state plays host to a variety of exciting outdoor cycling courses, including tracks designed for every level of rider. To illustrate this, in the following article we will profile five of the state’s most popular mountain biking trails, and describe some of the characteristics that make each one of them so attractive to both local and out-of-state riders.
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Located in the city of Wilson, Kansas, the Switchgrass Trail is a genuine backcountry mountain biking course, one the showcases the region’s natural beauty while simultaneously challenging riders with its unique obstacles The course is gorgeously complemented by scenic lake views, unique sandstone formations, and a trailhead that has all of the amenities that are typically desired by riders.
To ensure the continued popularity of Switchgrass Trail, since 1995 the leaders of the Kansas Trails Council (KTC) have recruited volunteers, received generous donations and spearheaded a winning grant proposal offered by the Department of Transportation-Recreational Trails Program (RTP). The end result of their efforts is now a well-manicured, sustainable, 20-mile gem of a single track course that is used for both recreational and competitive riding.
A great ride in an unexpected location, the Switchgrass Trail features some splendid natural scenery, but with drops ranging from 10 to 40 feet, the course truly demands the full attention of those who traverse it. The track features a variety of turns: fast, slow, banked, flat, off-camber, tight, loose and flowing. Technically speaking, there are armored sections, narrow passages, climbing turns, rock drops and rock gardens. There are a few repetitive features, although riders will seldom feel as if they’ve ridden the same section twice. Most of the mileage on the course is rated (and marked) for beginners and intermediate (green and blue), while the technical portions (black) are rather short by comparison and can be walked through in a minute or two should riders not feel they are up to the challenge.
Lawrence Riverfront Trails
Looking for a more novice track, perhaps for a family ride? If so, the Lawrence Riverfront Trails may be right up your alley. Located in the city of Lawrence, Kansas, this 8-mile beginner course makes for a great scenic getaway, one that highlights the region’s vivid flora as riders meander along a wide double track that has but a sprinkling of the obstacles that are normally found on more advanced and technical courses.
The Lawrence Riverfront Park Trails is a system of recreational bike paths situated atop the levees that guard the river. The trail system is known—and loved—for its easy, non-technical riding, making it perfect for casual and family groups. Adjacent to the east end of this system is a series of trails on the river floodplain with more challenging single-track riding through the wooded lowlands. This approximately four-mile out-and-back course (8 miles total) is mostly laid upon hard-packed packed dirt (great for those who want to pick up the speed) with only a few sandy spots and a limited number of obstacles.
Clinton State Park
Located some 5 miles west of the city of Lawrence, in Douglas County, Clinton State Park is home to approximately 12 to 15 miles of splendid mountain biking trails, making it one of the best technical mountain biking areas in all of Kansas. The system of courses here features two interconnected, marked single-track trails carved through the hardwood-forested bluffs that stretch out over the length of the state park and offer a number of loop and out-and-back ride possibilities. Short, steep climbs, drops, tight corners, roots, rocks, and more rocks will greet riders as they attempt to maneuver through the course and navigate its many obstacles. Much of the system is rated moderate to difficult, and the technical challenges will keep most riders busy for the better part of a day or an enjoyable weekend.
In a city where outdoor recreation is very popular, the courses at Lawrence’s Clinton State Park are fraught with a variety of daring obstacles, including various-sized moguls, twisting switchbacks, protruding roots and a series of rock drop-offs. The track consists mostly of hard-packed single-track, with brief sections of loose gravel and compacted sand. The hills, while manageable for most experienced riders, will definitely raise the heart rate, as will the thrilling descents that definitely make the uphill grind well worth the effort. Anyone looking to master their bike handling skills on a fast and technical course will be sure to love the Clinton State Park trail system, and with many campgrounds available throughout the year, many riders may opt to make a whole weekend out of the experience.
Shawnee Mission Park
The multi-purpose trails at Shawnee Mission Park, located in the town of Lenexa, Kansas, offer something for every level of mountain bike rider, from beginner to advanced. On each of these well-maintained trails, there are sections that feature good flow, as well as sections that will test the technical skill of riders. From hard-packed single track to grueling climbs to challenging rock gardens, the Shawnee Mission Park trails literally have it all.
The first trail riders will come upon in this system—the Orange Trail—is a fast and flowing beginner loop with very little in the way of obstacles and impediments. Through the years, the rocks and roots on this trail have gradually made their way to the surface, presenting a bit of a challenge and affording riders an opportunity to practice new skills on uneven terrain.
The Orange Trail leads to a very short and steep portion of the system, known as the Violet Trail, before heading north and branching onto the Red Trail. The Red Trail offers a great mixture of flow, technical challenges and climbing, and while its difficulty level is far from high, it will test riders’ physical fitness and stamina.
Finally, as riders loop back down to the south, the Red Trail will hook back up with a section of the Violet Trail—a section not yet ridden. This last loop is both rocky and technical by design, a rugged portion of the trail that will challenge even the most experienced riders.
Fancy Creek Trail
Situated in the city of Manhattan, Kansas, the five-mile Fancy Creek Trail is one of the few advanced to expert courses in the state. The trail was built, and continues to be maintained, by the Manhattan Midwest Mountain Bike Patrol.
Featuring leg-straining climbs and a series of hair-raising descents, the Fancy Creek Trail is a paradise for experienced riders looking to test the limits of their bike and skill. The outdoor cycling oasis comes complete with all the usual challenges seasoned riders have come to appreciate, including tight switchbacks, hard-packed terrain, and a host of unique and tricky natural obstacles, such as jutting rocks and roots, side-hill berms, drops, creek crossings and more.
The Fancy Creek Trail system is set against a backdrop of gorgeous natural vistas, dominated by a rushing creek, tall hardwood trees, hilly landscapes and an abundance of organic flora and fauna. The topography and the plant life of this area are very unique to Kansas, and the trail is framed on both sides by beautiful cedar trees. Those who have ridden the trails of Colorado will find this trail very familiar, as it shares many of the same characteristics one might mind in the majestic Rocky Mountains.