Kansas City straddles the border of two states, so if you are from the area, starting in one state and finishing in another is no big deal. I’m not sure how the Tail of the Newt got its name, except that it’s Highway N, and compared to the Tail of the Dragon it is a newt or small salamander of a road. Highway N in Missouri leads to a curvy road in Kansas, and both newts and curves are rare in Kansas City.
The Tail begins where Interstate 435 intersects State Route 152, just north of the Kansas Speedway; here Highway N heads off into the countryside. This ride runs up the north side of the Missouri River, and then crosses it into Leavenworth, Kansas, with a return trip on the south side of river. The start of the Newt has some sweepers, good for fourth gear roll-ons that make my Buell’s V-twin engine sound so good. There’s an odd mix of countryside, with new housing developments cropping up seemingly out of place. Be sure to slow down and check out the Prairie Creek Greenway, which is a 3.8-mile asphalt trail that meanders through 120 acres. This trail leads through native forest, past creeks, limestone outcroppings, a rock waterfall and an historic farm operation. Pack your walking shoes, as Prairie Creek is a hidden gem of Platte County.
Continue on Highway N until a roundabout appears and go due east on Humphreys Road. It’s the only roundabout, so there’s no need to use a GPS to find it. This will lead to State Route 45, and if you go north, to the river town of Weston, Missouri, known for its orchards, antique stores, distillery, brewery and winery. Weston is a popular motorcycle destination, with traffic peaking in the fall. Today the bike wants more curves, so I ride south to connect with State Route 92 west and cross the mighty Missouri River into Leavenworth, Kansas. Just over the river, head south on State Route 7 and into old Leavenworth. The High Noon Saloon and Brewery is a great stop, since it’s housed in a 19th century cast-iron stove factory. The saloon closes early on Sundays, so plan accordingly.
Continue on Route 7 south through town until State Route 5 appears along with a sign that designates it as the Frontier Military Scenic Byway. Heading south, this byway runs along old military trails the Army used to transport troops and supplies between forts during the frontier days. It also leads to Leavenworth National Cemetery. All Americans should visit a national cemetery to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. It’s an overwhelming, beautiful, serene and sad experience. One other person is here today and he’s on a Harley. The maximum speed is 15 mph, which is respectful and feels right. I stop for a bit to read a few names off the tombstones and listen to the wind blow. Looking at all of the names makes the experience hard to put into words, but it would be a shame not to stop at this beautiful place.
As I leave the cemetery, the next sights are the jails and prison yards that are parts of the Leavenworth prison system. After the National Cemetery, the contrast between the best this country has to offer and the worst is striking, and it’s all within a few miles. Once past the shiny, razor-sharp concertina wire that still looks scary to me, the fun kicks in. I don’t know what those military boys were thinking back in the day, but I sure wish they made more routes like this one in Kansas. Route 5 is a blast, with tight turns and curve warning signs that we see so little of in Kansas City. This highway has less development than Highway N, but also has more gravel roads that spill rocks onto it. Watch out for the gravel, as well as for 25-mph curve warnings—many look tame only to have a harsh blind section that is truly 25 mph. Besides, the local police know this route is popular with the speed hungry, and there are plenty of bicyclists, so ride aware. Enjoy the curves, give it a little gas when appropriate and slow down for the scenery.
Route 5 meets up with I-435 where—depending upon which side of the state you reside in—you can head north for Missouri or south for Kansas. I head north, back over the Mighty Mo, for my second river crossing of the day. The Tail of the Newt and curves in Kansas are code words for a great ride that Kansas City riders enjoy.
(This article The Tail of the Newt was published as a Favorite Ride in the December 2014 issue of Rider magazine.)