Five2Ride: 5 of the Best Mountain Bike Trails in Kansas

photo: Jason Liske

I have had the good fortune of needing to travel across Kansas from time to time.  I say “good fortune” because I always travel with my bike and incorporate rides into my travels, and contrary to popular belief, there’s quite a bit of quality singletrack here in America’s breadbasket.  What’s more, it’s not just rolling prairie, but also woodlands and yes, plenty of rocks if you know where to look.  In fact, The Sunflower State has enough geographic diversity to entertain most any rider.  Here are five must-rides for anybody looking to turn cranks in the United States’ geographic center:

Clinton State Park (Lawrence)

(photo: Dan Cox)

Sitting on the southwest corner of Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas, and within riding distance for the Jayhawks, is Clinton State Park. This venue hosts a collection of rugged trails weaving through the gnarly woods on the edge of Clinton Lake. Even good riders are likely to dismount a time or two on their first visit, and repeated visits will improve a new or intermediate rider considerably. It’s hard to beat these trails for their combination of accessibility and progressive challenge.

“These trails are some of the best I’ve ever ridden and that’s in comparison to riding all over Colorado and the Pacific Northwest. It’s a gem – although you should be prepared to get lost the first time you ride it. Trails are not well marked at all.” – ericag

Fancy Creek State Park (Manhattan)

Kansas’s other big school, Kansas State (home of the Wildcats), also sits in close proximity to some excellent mountain biking. While not actually within riding distance, a short jaunt by car into the nearby Flint Hills will land riders at Fancy Creek State Park. While the mileage isn’t high, the technical challenge is, with oodles of pointy rocks and some serious hills. The area is also blanketed by an unusually dense mixed forest, providing a respite from the prairie heat.

“Went to Manhattan for a football game, we brought the bikes just for the heck of it. I wont lie, I was blown away by the quality of this trail. I was expecting a joke and this one is moderately technical. I ride the Colorado Trail between BV and Mt. Princeton Hot Springs nearly daily after work and was kind of joking on the way to the trailhead… this has to be one of the best trails in Midwest.” – mtphs

Perry Lake (Meriden)

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Perry Lake has the greatest available mileage of any ride in this list. But it’s not just quantity, there is plenty of quality singletrack here as well. The frequent rough rocks aren’t to everyone’s liking, but they do add to the variety this mileage has to offer. While there’s nothing truly dangerous here, the trails do challenge with bumpy surface, tight turns, and occasional steep pitches that must be hit with momentum and balance to complete.

“Before Switchgrass this was THE trail for Kansas mountain bikers. Technical, long, and a little off the beaten path.” – tlongpine

Shawnee Mission (Kansas City)

(photo: breed007)
While the Missouri side of Kansas City has gained a reputation for challenging singletrack, don’t let that make you think the Kansas side has been shortchanged. Tucked into the western suburbs is Shawnee Mission, a collection of stacked loops with rocks galore, super tight singletrack through the local woods, and enough mileage to tax the legs of most riders.

“Shawnee Mission Park Trails was a blast. Great combo of technical roots and rocks with some fast dirt singletrack. Well maintained and smooth flow. Great layout and use of the area. After riding through a challenging section you get to relax and let off some steam cruising some downhill or burning through the dirt before meeting your next challenge.” – Schmo

Switchgrass (Wilson)

(photo: inchmile)

Switchgrass is the undisputed king of Kansas singletrack. Immediately upon its opening, this trail system in Wilson State Park vaulted to the top of any and every ranking of Kansas trails, where it has remained ever since. With over 20 miles of high quality singletrack threading the hills above Lake Wilson, ranging from blindingly-fast to wonderfully-rocky, there’s enough here to entertain most riders, and to keep them coming back. With plenty of camping near the trails, this is also a good weekend destination for those who don’t have the time to go all the way either east or west; there’s great riding right here in the middle.

“Great trails no doubt about it. If you’re thinking about doing some bikepacking or just like camping stay for a night or two. Getting through all 22.5 miles is not for the faint of heart, this trail will challenge everything you know about yourself as a rider, mechanic, and internal toughness. This place will awe you with its beauty and make you earn every mile of it. ” – DCLamp

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