Prairie Spirit Trail State Park, Kansas

Photo: BikePrairieSpirit.com
Photo: BikePrairieSpirit.com

How are you spending the last few days of summer? Definitely with your family. Probably outside enjoying the gorgeous weather. Hopefully doing something fun and relaxing. Bonus points if you’re getting a workout at the same time.

All of these things can be accomplished in Kansas’ Prairie Spirit Trail State Park. The park was built on the former Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston Railroad that was established in the 1860s. The 52-mile trail, between Ottawa and Iola, opened in 1996 after limestone (along the rural sections) and asphalt (in the cities) was packed onto the tracks. The eight-foot-wide path now winds through little towns, along slow-moving streams, and by lots of wildflowers.

The trail begins at the Old Depot Museum in Ottawa near the Marais des Cygnes River. It winds south through Princeton and Richmond, Garnett and Welda, Colony and Carlyle before reaching Iola. But you aren’t focused on the villages, despite their apparent charm. You’re paying more attention to everything in between.

As you ride your bike out of Ottawa, you cross Kanza Park and ride under I-35. Shady trees keep you cool as you pedal uphill. The city soon gives way to tallgrass prairies. Colorful flowers, including huge sunflowers, pop up in the otherwise green fields. As you cross a bridge, a circular house is to the right, while a large grain elevator and a small church, St. Boniface, are in the distance.

Approaching Garnett, two more bridges cross Pottawatomie Creek, which was the site of a bloody pre-Civil War battle. The water is peaceful now with a few ducks floating downstream and a fisherman casting for largemouth bass. After the creek, lazy hills, low scrub, and picture-perfect farms line the trail the rest of the way to Iola. Just like summer, you’re not quite ready for the trail to end.

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