“An unexpected gem in the center of the country featuring 25 miles of singletrack for all levels.”
— Leslie Kehmeier
This is the only Epic trail between the steamy Ozarks and the majestic Rockies, the frigid North Dakota Badlands and the blistering desert of Big Bend on the Rio Grande. Switchgrass is smack dab in the middle of Kansas, on the shores of the States most beautiful lake!
With almost 25 miles in well-groomed stacked loops and lots of options for shorter rides, there is something for every level of rider.
Although the trail has a wild and remote feel, youre never far from a bailout back to the trailhead. At various points throughout the trail system, you can shorten the Epic route by taking one of the 12 'cutoffs'. Plan on 2-5 hrs depending on your skills and how much sightseeing you might want to do.
This route has some technically difficult sections within all the main loops (except EZ). Most of this trail is moderate to easy, but there are several short rocky sections, deep sand, arduous climbs, exposed high cliffs and ledges, and sharp drops. Most technical sections are short. Dismount and walk through any section thats beyond your skill level.
Need to Know
Access to the trail from I-70, is easy from either the Wilson (#206) or Dorrance (#199) exit. Then head for Wilson State Park - Hell Creek user area, which is south and west of the Hell Creek Bridge on South Shore Drive. Youll need to display a Kansas State Park vehicle permit ~$5/day available 24/7 at the park entrance.
Trail access is 24/7/365. Park vehicles at the Switchgrass lot. Trailhead kiosk/register is there with trail info. Current trail conditions, maps, etc. are at facebook.com/switchgrasstrail
There is no drinking water or restroom on the trail, except at the Trailhead. Trailhead restrooms have potable water and showers, but are closed mid-October to March. A primitive toilet is open year-around at the north boat ramp, about 1/2 mile from the trailhead. Sylvan Park, located 6 mi from the trailhead is open year around with heated showers and restrooms. Camping is free there in the low season.
The Switchgrass Epic is a stacked system of 3 trail loops, each about 6-8 miles. They have to be ridden in succession - only the Golden Belt Loop
provides access to Marina (the second loop), which in turn is the only access to Hell Creek Loop
(the third loop).
The route follows a clockwise direction in its entirety. There are 12 individual forks throughout the system and are labeled and clearly posted consecutively A through L. To ride the entire Epic route as one continuous loop, stay left
at all forks. If you want to ride less, choose to go right
(aka, cutoff) at one or more fork locations.
The ride starts with 3-4 techy sections in the first 4 miles of Golden Belt Loop
. Dakota Sandstone outcrops are frequent and fun challenges Lil Moab, the Causeway, the Rock Garden, Stegosaurus Drop, Cedar Surprise and others yet to be named. Tower Hill is a spectacular view of the lake and Saline Valley wildlands beyond the park.
After transitioning to the Marina Loop
, you'll encounter a wonderful section named IMBA
built by the Trail Care Crew team of Nat and Rachael Lopes. Keep pedaling and you'll go over Brokebike Mountain - too much fun to put into words with rips, drops, and rolls. At mile 10.5 the route passes under the Hell Creek Bridge and starts Hell Creek Loop
By now, you'll have become accustomed to 30 exposures. This kind of terrain continues throughout this primo loop. As the furthest out in the trail system, Hell Creek has a remote feel with continues climbing and descending on sandstone bluffs. This is the part of Switchgrass that you might want to do it again if the legs allow.
Hell Creek connects back to Marina Loop
at the bridge. From there you'll be on your way back to the start via Golden Belt Loop
- just keep following the signs and enjoying the surprisingly good mountain bike terrain at Switchgrass.
History & Background
If you want to observe nature and the beautiful Dakota Sandstone formations, this trail is the place. The park was created from former ranch land and youll see many limestone fence posts along the trail. Furthermore, privately-owned range land adjacent to the park is still in active use for cattle ranching. Southshore Drive takes motorists through scenic wildlands and is a favorite cruise of local motorcyclists.
Please watch for wildlife in the summer, particularly herptiles on the trail the ornate box turtle, horned lizard, racerunner, skink, legless lizard, collared lizard, and several species of snakes including massasauga are all common during warm weather. It is unlawful to harass, kill, or injure wildlife in the park. Please take care not to run over any critters on the trail.