Considered among the mountain bike "meccas" in North America—Moab, British Columbia, Fruita—the Kansas City area probably doesn't trigger a second thought. At least it didn't for me when I relocated here six years ago. Mistakenly thinking that Kansas City was full of flat cornfields and cows (which to some degree it is), I actually contemplated selling my mountain bike a few weeks before my move.
Once I arrived, I was blown away with what I found. The topography of the area was the most striking; it was packed with technical climbs full of jagged rock slabs. I later learned that most of these elevated technical areas are the remnants of the Ozark Mountain range—an ancient range stretching from Kansas and Missouri through Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee—that dominated the area 300 million years ago. These ideal geographic conditions have fostered a thriving mountain bike culture in the Kansas City area.
Interstate 70 runs right through the area, giving any road-tripping mountain biker on his or her way to Fruita or Moab access to more than ten high-quality trails.
More: If You Can Ride in Mud, You Can Ride in Snow
Landahl Mountain Bike Trail is unquestionably the crown jewel of the Kansas-Missouri corridor. Part of the Landahl Park Reserve run by the state of Missouri, the trails in this system are serious enough that the boys over at Granny Gear have staged a 24-hour race there two years running. Kansas City has apparently arrived.
Offering something for everyone, Landahl consists of a 9.5-mile perimeter loop; another ten or so additional miles of trails are interspersed within that perimeter. Fast, flowing singletrack, like Will's Wanderer or Tasty Goodness, are big ring sort of trails. But riders also hit gnarly, technical, rock-root covered climbs and drops at Landahl, and there are even some big drops and insane downhill sections—Rim Job and Root Canal—for those who dare.
Landahl is a good 30 to 45 minutes east of K.C. in the town of Blue Springs, Missouri, and other trails closer to the metro do abound, so it's really the kind of place best reserved for day-long epics.
Last year my Kansas Crew (plus one distinguished Missourian) held our first impromptu Labor Day epic. We packed lunches and coolers full of beverages. This ended up being one of those timeless days on the trail in which you are totally in the here and now, the kind in which you promise your wife you will be home by 4 and then call at 6:30 to tell her you're still riding. We rode that day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.—stopping only occasionally for some food and hair of the dog (a practice that drew some greasy looks from our "more serious" Lycra-clad brethren). Sipping Boulevards (a tasty, local beer) in the trailhead parking lot, we all swore an oath: From that day on, Labor Day would be sacred, devoted to Landahl epics. If you're in the area this year, feel free to join us.
If Landahl is this area's crown jewel, then the BuRP (Blue River Parkway) trail is K.C. mountain biking's bread and butter. This trail is located right in the heart of Kansas City, Missouri, just 15 minutes from downtown and easily reachable from the surrounding suburbs. Most area mountain bikers cut their teeth on BuRP. More than twelve miles of trails makes it a perfect spot for a Sunday afternoon semi-epic or for a few hours of stress relief after work (followed by some beers at the Sandtrap Bar near the trailhead).
In terms of terrain, this trail has everything Landahl has, just on a smaller scale. There are nice fast and flowing sections (the Bo Ho Ca, Ridge Line and Basement Trails) and some pretty hairy technical stuff that is just as hard as Landahl (the Highline, Little Moab and Wagon Trails).
Everything at BuRP is well-marked and maintained, thanks to the people at Earth Riders (a K.C. area mountain bike club), but it can be easy to get lost. A couple major roads intersect various trails, which makes the trail system feel somewhat fragmented. I myself have ridden here at least 60 times, and I still get lost. But since this is the most popular trail in the area because of its proximity to K.C., I inevitably run into other riders who point me in the right direction. Bottom line: If you are on business in the K.C. area and have a few hours to kill, ride BuRP.
The Quebeçois have a saying this fifth-generation, ten-percent French Canadian-American likes to loosely paraphrase: "Your neighbor's wife might be more beautiful, but there is a certain something in your own wife's eyes that compels you." That's how I feel about the Kill Creek mountain bike trails in De Soto, Kansas, just a short, 15-mile jaunt off I-70 on Highway K10.
There are only five or six miles of trails in this county park, so a day-long epic could become a bit repetitive. It's also the sort of trail that might frustrate beginners; 60 percent of it is brutally technical. Though my crew and I are by no means pros, most of us have at least five years of riding under our belts, yet there are still a few sections of Kill Creek that compel us to dismount and walk. Still, I've had some of my most memorable rides here.
The trail system begins at the parking lot near Shelter #1 and starts with a fun and flowing, three-quarter-mile descent to the creek. From there, the trail turns into a three- to four-mile loop of technical, rocky climbs, tricky rooted sections and log obstacles—all of which culminate in a 100-yard-long rock garden that is probably an old dried up creek bed. Riding this finale gives the kind of sheer childhood joy that only the swing set could provide.
There is nothing like hitting this trail after work to unload all the day's frustrations, though—since it is a bit of a hike from K.C. and more advanced—I'd only hit it if you're confident in your technical skills and if you have the time to enjoy it. (Or if you're a masochist who enjoys endo-ing face-plant style into a pillow of rocks.)
More information on Landahl, BuRP, and Kill Creek is available at earthriders.com. This site gives directions, trail maps and condition reports for each of these as well as several other local trails. Of course, if you want a more personal tour, feel free to give me and the Kansas Crew a shout out. We're always looking for new riding buds. —Mick Swanson
More: Mountain Biking, Chicago Style