Before we leave Kansas, Barry wanted to make sure to ride the Prairie Spirit Trail, a 51-mile rail trail running north-south between Ottawa and Iola, Kansas. A newer extension, the Southwind rail trail, was added to extend the trail south to Humboldt in 2013, bringing the total mileage up to 58.6 miles. Naturally Barry wanted to ride that one as well.
We picked a perfect day for this adventure, with blue skies, warm temperatures, and breezes from the southwest, which would give Barry a tailwind for his entire south to north ride. I would drop him off at the southern terminus of the Southwind trail in Humboldt, then drive up to Ottawa, at the northern terminus of the Prairie Spirit trail. From there, I'd ride south to meet up with him, then we'd head north together. I never mind this kind of plan as it means that Barry gets to ride more miles than me, which works for both of us!
After seeing Barry off, I drove north to Ottawa, parked, paid my $3.50 day use trail fee, and started out riding south from the Old Ottawa Depot Museum.
Starting out from the museum, I had to ride on the road (no traffic) a couple of blocks to hook up with the trail. Then just on the outskirts of Ottawa, there's a confusing section where you have to cross a couple of exit ramps and go under the interstate before getting back on the trail. This part could definitely have been better marked -- I kept thinking I missed a turn as there was almost no signage telling cyclists how to proceed here. Other than this part of the trail, the rest was excellent and easy to follow.
We were both so pleased with how nice the trail was. It's pretty close to flat with only slight grades, so very little gear-changing involved. There was green foliage all along the way, providing some shade (would be a lot more later in the spring/summer when trees are fully leafed out), plenty of birds (red-winged blackbirds, cardinals, bluebirds, sparrows, blue jays, thrashers, and doves along the trail, and hawks overhead), creek crossings, and pastoral views of fields in shades of green and gold just beyond the treeline.
We were both surprised by how few other people we encountered on the trail, especially on such a pretty spring day. This was in sharp contrast to the popularity of the well-known Katy Trail in Missouri. The Prairie Spirit trail is well-maintained, packed limestone, and every bit as nice as the Katy. It is a true hidden gem! After leaving the town of Ottawa, I saw only two cyclists and two walkers the entire time until meeting up with Barry after I'd gone a little over twenty miles. Barry saw two other cyclists and three walkers in the 40 miles he'd pedaled before meeting up with me.
Here are some of the sights I saw on my ride south.
And here are some of Barry's photos of his ride north.
From Barry's photos, it appears that the Santa Fe Depot in Garnett wins the award for prettiest trailhead along the way. I didn't get that far south so didn't get to see it other than through photos.
Cellphone coverage was good all along the trail, and Barry and I were able to determine that we'd meet up between mile markers 78 and 79, north of Garnett. He snapped this as I was riding up to meet him.
I rode just a bit farther south with him so I could see this bridge.
We had a nice 20-mile ride back into Ottawa with the wind at our backs (at last, for me!) It was nice to catch up and share the experiences we had while riding alone. This tunnel still had puddles inside from the previous day's rain, but the trail was well-drained so we had no problems with mud or water.
We took a slight detour onto Main Street in Ottawa for a photo of the striking county courthouse. Ottawa has a charming, old-fashioned downtown.
The end now in sight, we crossed this bridge over the Marais des Cygnes River in Ottawa in the late afternoon right before the end of the trail at the Old Ottawa Depot.
And we're done! Barry ended up with 62.43 miles thanks to a bit of extra he did here and there, and I clocked 41 miles. If you're ever traveling in Kansas, we can recommend the Prairie Spirit Trail whole-heartedly!
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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