The Best Bike Trials: Prairie Spirit Rail Trail

“Prairie Spirit Rail Trail” by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

“Prairie Spirit Rail Trail” by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy


This 51-mile multi-use trail provides visitors a calm and scenic escape from the busy city life. Each season creates a unique landscape so you can enjoy a different adventure depending on the time of year.


History of the railway


A group of businessmen from Lawrence pushed for the construction of a railroad to the Gulf of Mexico in 1858, forming the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Fort Gibson Railroad Company (LL&G RR Co.) in the same year. It was not until 1867, however, that the project was actually started.


The section that goes to Ottawa was completed on New Year’s Day the following year. After a short break, construction resumed about a year later, finishing the section that goes to Coffeyville in 1871. A total of 143.83 miles of track has been laid out by this time.


By 1875, however, the LL&G RR Co. ended up in receivership and was eventually sold under foreclosure about three years later in 1878. The company was renamed to Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston Railroad Company  the same year, only to be renamed again to Kansas City, Lawrence and Southern just a year later.


In 1880, the rapidly expanding Santa Fe Railroad took control of the company but let it operate under the Kansas City, Lawrence and Southern Railroad Company. By December of the same year, the company was consolidated under the Southern Kansas Railroad Company name together with the Ottawa & Burlington Railroad and the Kansas City & Olanthe Railroad.


Around two years later, the new company was renamed to Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company—a name it would keep until the mid 1970s.


The trail today


Bikers and hikers alike are treated to a relaxing journey through nature. Towering oak, cottonwood, redbud, sycamore, hickory, cedar and hazelnut trees line several sections of the trail. The steep banks are decorated with dewberries and blackberries. The remaining sections feature thick masses of colorful wildflowers such as May apple, Queen Anne’s lace, Dutchman’s breeches, ox-eye daisies, butterfly milkweed and wild Kansas sunflowers.


Of course, there are a lot of animals as well. Cottontail rabbits can be found darting playfully all around the trail. There are also wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, fox squirrels, quail and great horned owls. On top of the trees, various kinds of songbirds provide a soothing soundtrack to make your journey much more tranquil. Finally, you can see ducks playfully splashing around the various lakes and ponds around the area. 

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