Kansas City's Riverfront Heritage Trail marks major milestone - connecting KCMO, KCK, and historic Kaw Point

Kansas City's Riverfront Heritage Trail recently reached a major milestone and completed the vision for that trail that was set out in the late 1990s.

Kansas City's Riverfront Heritage Trail - West Bottoms
Kansas City's Riverfront Heritage Trail - West Bottoms

The trail, which has been under development for two decades now, has finally created a seamless connection between downtown Kansas City, Missouri, downtown Kansas City, Kansas, and historic Kaw Point, where the Kansas and Missouri Rivers converge, and where Lewis and Clark camped in 1804.

The trail bridges two states, three counties, three cities, and two major rivers.

The trail takes pedestrians and cyclists across numerous difficult barriers, including cliffs, many sets of railroad tracks, multiple complex interstate freeway interchanges, local roads, and the Kansas River.  The trail links to Berkeley Riverfront Park and the Bob Watts Memorial Bike/Ped Path on the Heart of America Bridge, which crosses the Missouri River to give North Kansas City a connection to the trail, as well.

The trail includes numerous park areas, works of art, light fixtures, and other amenities designed to improve both the trail and the neighborhoods it passes through.

Kansas City River Trails CEO Darby Trotter has led the project for the past two decades, and sent the following summary of the trail and recently complete projects:

The Riverfront Heritage Trail is a fully accessible fifteen-mile bicycle and pedestrian pathway that begins at the riverfront and winds through the oldest and most historic parts of bi-state Kansas City. It is the first of its kind in Downtown Kansas City. It links communities, parks, and exciting destinations with unique new venues and dramatic public artworks. Most importantly, this trail serves as a hub for all the surrounding mid-town and suburban trail systems that are attempting to link up in the process of creating a metropolitan, by-state trail system. Historic markers along the Trail help to make the trail a journey through the early history of this region. As such, the Trail will enhance bi-state Kansas City’s historic, cultural and recreational treasures. The Trail will help our community gain access to our spectacular rivers, improve the community’s quality of life, enhance transportation, and improve the environment while simultaneously stimulating economic development.

Riverfront Heritage Trail Construction

The Riverfront Heritage Trail basic construction which began in 1998 was completed in 2016. A 15 mile trail was obviously never intended to be an area-wide trail system. Rather, it was designed to be the hub of such a system. In the process of completing this trail major urban and topological challenges had to be conquered such as crossing two rivers, scaling major bluffs, and negotiating multiple highways, railroads, and levees. The ultimate purpose was to help make all future trail construction less expensive and more efficient. Arguably, this award winning Trail is the very heart of the entire metropolitan trail system.

The Riverfront Heritage Trail is testimony to the fact the by-state projects can be successful. Indeed, it is a product of a coalition of public and private stakeholders including the City of Kansas City, Missouri; Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas; Port KC, Missouri; and Kansas City River Trails, Inc. These partners continue to be committed to developing a high quality trail and along the way improving and beautifying the adjacent urban landscape. Along the route of the Trail considerable effort has been expended to improve infrastructure, replace barren land, and clean up or remove blight. The Trail with its interpretive elements improves the value of any adjacent property and is an agent for attracting tourists and new businesses. Thus, in the final analysis, the Trail is a serious commitment to visibly and permanently transforming the bi-state landscape and the livability of the communities near the Trail. Therefore, the Riverfront Heritage Trail is a catalyst for redevelopment of downtown Kansas City, Missouri, the Central Industrial District and downtown Kansas City, Kansas.

Historic West Bottoms Segment

Proceeding east to west along the trail the Historic West Bottoms segment begins at 4th and Beardsley at a small pocket park named River Bluff Park. Here there is a great view.

Kansas City's Riverfront Heritage Trail - River Bluff Park overlooking
Kansas City's Riverfront Heritage Trail - River Bluff Park overlooking the West Bottoms

of West Bottoms and the great bend of the Missouri River. One can also see the confluence of the Kansas River, inspect a section of the first cobblestone roadway in the Town of Kansas and view with fascination the type of boats used by Lewis & Clark, namely dugout canoes. A marker by the canoes describes their journey. To many in the west bottoms this is an entry way to the industrial area which captures the rich history of the area,

Proceeding west along the trail bikers and pedestrians can safely cross the BNSF and UP rails over the Forrester Viaduct on their way to the west bottoms or Kansas. At 8th & Belleview the trail leads to the Riverfront Heritage Trail Head. Here travelers on the trail will find two very special malls: “Freedom Mall” dedicated to the freedom from slavery and “Spirit Mall” dedicated to the early efforts to build a rail crossing over the Missouri River and the start of a the Frontier Railway. Pictures are enclosed later in this report.

Leaving the park on the Trail one will travel along the Freedom Trail which was used by slaves escaping to the Free State of Kansas. Proceeding on the trail one eventually comes to the Woodswether Bridge over the Kaw. Now a pedestrian bridge it was once a roadway to the West Bottoms. Here a collection of art by area artists has been mounted on the bridgework with descriptive signage calling attention to the areas past topological, Indian and slavery heritage.

Leaving the bridge a new pathway carries users to the beautiful and historically significant Kaw Point Park and its tribute to Lewis & Clark.

 Kansas City's Riverfront Heritage Trail - Freedom Mall

Kansas City's Riverfront Heritage Trail - Kaw Point Park

Kansas City's Riverfront Heritage Trail - Spirit Mall

Kansas City's Riverfront Heritage Trail - Woodswether Bridge over the Kaw River 

Working to create the trail and connect various trail sections has been an ongoing challenge for Kansas City River Trails, Inc. since the late 1990s. The trail crosses numerous jurisdictions, including DOT property from two states, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-controlled areas, levees controlled by a number of different levee districts, and streets and viaducts controlled by a bewildering variety of different agencies.

Against all of those difficulties, and working cooperatively with a large number of different government bodies and agencies as well as public and private funders, the Riverfront Heritage Trail has been painstakingly put together section by section, bit by bit, to finally create a nearly seamless connection.

Kudos to the Kansas City River Trails, Inc. and its leadership, and to the many cooperating agencies, organizations, and businesses, who have worked together to make Kansas City's Riverfront Heritage Trail a reality.


Working to encourage, develop, and celebrate a world-class bicycle, pedestrian, and trails transportation system across Missouri is one of four primary goals in MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri. Trails like the Riverfront Heritage Trail are a key part of that system. Our goal is to link trails like these into an ever-growing, seamless network across the state and across state lines.

Your ongoing membership and generous financial support help turn our Vision into reality!