Switchgrass Trail System

A mostly beginner-friendly serpent of singletrack dug into the Kansas prairie that will even keep more advanced riders smiling wide and digging deep.

Mountain Biking Moderate

Distance
34 km
Ascent
519 m
Descent
519 m
Duration
2-3 hrs
Low Point
460 m
High Point
501 m
Gradient
Switchgrass Trail System Map

Literally everyone is shocked by the Switchgrass Mountain Bike Trail. In fact, you might find yourself channeling Dorothy as you exclaim, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Description

But you are, in fact, in Kansas. And this little singletrack surprise is just a few miles off I-70 near the town of Sylvan Grove, Kansas, which is reasonably close to smack-dab in the middle of the state.

The Switchgrass Mountain Bike trails are roughly 22 miles cut into the hillsides and rocky outcroppings that surround beautiful Lake Wilson. That means you’ll enjoy views of the lake before it disappears and you climb up and over the next rolling hill. Expert tip: Kansas is not flat, especially here.

Though those climbs aren’t at altitude -- highest point: just over 1,600 feet -- you’ll go up and down multiple times, arcing through big sweepers and tight switchbacks as you go. As stated, this can be a beginner friendly trail with enough fun to keep even expert riders satisfied. However, the punchy climbs will come at you over and over, eventually taking away your mojo. If you do all of it you’ll climb over 1,800 feet in short bursts. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it’ll wear on you after a while, which is especially true in the summer when temps will easily hit 100. Or higher. And since it’s in the middle of Kansas, you’ll struggle to find any reliable shade.

But don’t shy away from this trail because of any of that. It’s a twisting, diving, rising, and ridiculously fun stacked loop with plenty of spots to stop and enjoy the scenery. One minute you’re on top of a windswept prairie roller with views of waving switchgrass for hundreds of miles (and that pretty lake we talked about). The next you’re bombing down into a corner that dumps you into a valley that feels like it’s a million miles from anywhere. Then you punch upward with some hard digs and you’re on top again.

The trail is Kansas hardpack, and for this part of the state, that means sand. In some spots -- not many -- that sand gets pretty deep and can even challenge your forward momentum. Mostly though it is firm and fast; fast being the operative word. Some rocky sections, like those near the lake, will push you close enough to the edge that a small mistake will result in a fall (and a bath).

You can get to Wilson Lake and the Switchgrass Trail from two exits: 206 or 199 (preferred because it puts on the side of the Switchgrass parking lot, which is where the trailhead is and that includes water and bathrooms). There’s a $5 fee for using the park but anyone who has been here will tell you it’s totally worth it.

Jokes about Kansas aside -- and those of us from here have heard ‘em all -- you’re missing out if you don’t hoot and holler your way around the Switchgrass mountain bike trail. It’s just a few miles off I-70 and will bring a smile to your face the entire time. Just come prepared as there are few if any services (re: beer) or food available.

There are cabins, RV hook-ups and places to pitch your tent. For quite a lot of the year it can be very isolated and quiet. If you’re going near a holiday book ahead.

Difficulty

Moderate

Mostly stable trail tread with some variability, with unavoidable obstacles 8in/20cm tall or less. Other obstacles such as rock gullies and steep sections may exist. Ideal for lower intermediate riders.

Extreme Exposure

4 out of 4

Some trail sections are extremely exposed where falling will almost certainly result in serious injury or death.

Remoteness

2 out of 4

Away from help but easily accessed.

Best time to visit

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December

Features

  • Flow
  • Technical
  • Rock Slabs

Equipment required