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Trail running in Kansas City: escape the urban buzz on soft surface trails

Kansas City skyline at night
Kansas City is home to more than 100 miles of soft, natural surface trails (Image credit: Edwin Remsberg)

With a population of nearly half a million, Kansas City easily inhabits the position of urban metropolis, and is better known for its delicious barbecue, rich jazz heritage and plentiful fountains than it is for recreating outdoors. But did you know that Kansas City is also home to more than 100 miles of soft, natural surface trails? In this article, we take a look at the thriving world of trail running in Kansas City and make the case for you to give it a go.

Trail running in Kansas City actually has a pretty impressive history. In fact, the Kansas City running  group Trail Nerds was founded over 20 years ago and its Facebook group currently has almost 6,000 members, while the midwestern city was named a Top Trail Town by Trail Runner magazine in 2015.

What makes trail running in Kansas City so great? 

A bridge and rec path in Kansas City

Straddling Missouri and Kansas in the middle of the country, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Kansas City is flat and featureless, topographically speaking, but the city itself actually boasts gently rolling hills and clay-based soil (Image credit: Michael Robinson)

Straddling Missouri and Kansas in the middle of the country, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Kansas City is flat and featureless, topographically speaking, but the city itself actually boasts gently rolling hills and clay-based soil that make for some pretty satisfying trails. Ruth Kunakhovich has been running in Kansas City for 20 years and says the city’s topography is actually its main selling point.

“I would have to say that the variety and the accessibility of the trails is great, especially being in a major metro area. They are well-kept and challenging. The hills in KC make the trails challenging,” says Kunakhovich.

Though you don’t have to drive too far from Kansas City to escape its urban feel, according to Kunakhovich you can have a pretty bucolic experience without leaving city limits.

“The Rozarks is in the middle of the city but you would never know it when you are running, there is so much foliage and tree coverage, aside from the hum of the highway.”

In fact, Kansas City Parks and Recreation maintains over 12,000 acres of parkland to support a healthy and active urban lifestyle. Trail running in Kansas City takes you through urban woodlands, along tranquil lakes and up on high bluffs overlooking the mighty Missouri River.

Why should you try trail running in Kansas City? 

prevent shin splints

There are lots of advantages to trail running, not least because it gets you out in nature, which has been shown to decrease stress levels (Image credit: Getty Images)

There are lots of advantages to trail running, not least because it gets you out in nature, which has been shown to decrease stress levels. Trail running is easier on your joints than running on hard surfaces, gets you away from crowds and traffic, and the more challenging and technical terrain is good for your coordination and problem solving abilities. Learn more in our article on road running vs trail running

What do you need to get started in trail running? 

running through a muddy puddle

The main thing you need, of course, is a decent pair of trail running shoes which will hold up against uneven terrain (Image credit: Getty)

The main thing you need, of course, is a decent pair of trail running shoes which will hold up against uneven terrain. This being the midwest, you’ll definitely want to consider carrying a hydration pack in the hot summer months and let’s face it, bug spray is a non-negotiable. You can learn more in our article on what to take trail running, but since the trails below are all within city limits, you won’t have to pack too much. 

Best trail running routes in Kansas City 

Aerial view showing Kansas CIty's green spaces

Kansas City is home to a lot of green space and each park is home to multiple trails for you to explore (Image credit: Davel5957)

Kansas City is home to a lot of green space and each park is home to multiple trails for you to explore. Here, we’ve selected some of the most popular ones as a starting point, but if you see something on your travels that looks interesting, take the road less traveled! 

Blue River Parkway and Minor Park Trail 

Distance: Blue River Parkway
Where: 5.6 miles

Blue River Parkway in south KC is one of the city’s oldest trail systems while the Minor Park trail follows the route of early settlers west from Independence. You can access this loop from East Red Bridge Road as shown, or from Blue Ridge Blvd, and enjoy a nice dose of nature and history.

South Shore East Loop 

Distance: 3 miles
Where: Shawnee Mission Park

Shawnee Mission Park is a 1,600 acre park featuring a large swimming lake and ample urban woodland trails west of Overland Park. This trail starts off John Barkley Drive and takes you along the south shore of the lake before heading inwards to the welcome shade of the trees.

Woodlands in the sunlight

Trail running is easier on your joints than running on hard surfaces and gets you away from crowds and traffic (Image credit: getty)

White Tail Loop trail 

Distance: 4.2 miles
Where: Wyandotte County Lake Park

Wyandotte County Lake Park is in the northwest of Kansas City, and this trail takes you on a steeper climb through oak-hickory woodlands, along a ravine and down a forestry track. Start out on the old Katie Trail off West 12th street then join the White Tail trail. 

The Rozarks 

Distance: 4.5 miles
Where: Rosedale

The Rozarks are a system of pleasant wooded miles of trails in the quiet, leafy Rosedale area that borders Shawnee Heights. Access the trails from Mount Marty Park and make up your own adventure.

The best trail running shorts should be lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking

Kansas City Parks and Recreation maintains over 12,000 acres of parkland to support a healthy and active urban lifestyle (Image credit: Gertty)

Hidden Valley Natural Area Loop 

Distance: 3.1 miles
Where: East KC

This trail has a remote feel, taking you through a natural planting program that Parks and Rec has implemented, then through woodlands to a lookout on a high ravine overlooking the Missouri River below. 

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Adventure.com. She is an author, mountain enthusiast and yoga teacher who loves heading uphill on foot, ski, bike and belay. She recently returned to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland after 20 years living in the USA, 11 of which were spent in the rocky mountains of Vail, Colorado where she owned a boutique yoga studio and explored the west's famous peaks and rivers. She is a champion for enjoying the outdoors sustainably as well as maintaining balance through rest and meditation, which she explores in her book Restorative Yoga for Beginners, a beginner's path to healing with deep relaxation. She enjoys writing about the outdoors, yoga, wellness and travel. In her previous lives, she has also been a radio presenter, music promoter, university teacher and winemaker.