Trail Nirvana In St. Louis

St. Louis is “The Gateway to the West.” It’s a historic river town rich in history, music, and the arts. It’s also home to prominent pro sport franchises including the Blues, Cards and Rams and their legions of diehard fans. But the outdoors’ lover is not forgotten — just a short drive from the city, set amongst the rugged Ozark Mountains, mountain bikers, hikers, and floaters can all lay claim to trail nirvana.

Mountain Biking

The St. Louis area has some nice places to kayak including the St. Francois River.

For the most challenging ride in St. Louis County, head over to the Chubb Trail. Located between Lone Elk and West Tyson county parks, the 14-mile round trip ride is a combination of killer climbing, technical riding and white-knuckle descents.

Forgo Six Flags amusement park and ride the natural roller coaster at Greensfelder County Park; the DeClue and Dogwood trails provide for a steep 4 miles of downhill fun. A scenic ride in the springtime due to its wildflower display is the 8-mile Lost Valley Trail at Weldon Spring Conservation Area. Castlewood State Park has 17 miles of trails ranging from scenic river rides to killer uphill grinds with towering sandstone bluffs.

But there’s more: If you’re looking for an easy ride with great scenery and the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, head over to the Katy Trail. Located at the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers, the 200-mile trail is the longest rails-to-trails route in the nation. The crushed limestone path runs from just outside St. Louis to Sedalia passing through the Missouri Rhineland, a region rich in German heritage and wineries.

A short 70-minute drive south of St. Louis is Hawn State Park. The 4,953-acre park is known as the crown gem of the Missouri State Park System. Set in the old and scenic St. Francois Mountains, the park is best known for its scenic limestone bluffs and canyons. Hikers can discover Lamotte rock outcropping on the 10-mile Whispering Pine Trail (an additional 4 miles are planned for 2001). Backpackers can pitch a tent in one of the three primitive sites along the route. But that’s not the park’s only distinction: Pickle Creek and River Aux Vases, two of Missouri’s most pristine waterways are found within its boundaries.

But there’s more: No visit to Hawn would be complete without stopping by the adjacent Pickle Spring Natural Area. Operated by the Missouri Department of Conservation, the park has an excellent 2-mile trail known as the “Trail Through Time.” The trail showcases the unique geologic features of the area: bluffs, knobs, hoodoos and a rare double arch.

The Meramec River provide for close up views of cliffs, caves and bluffs and nearly 200-miles of floating.

Located 90 minutes south of St. Louis, Sam A. Baker State Park is a wilderness lover’s dream. Of the park’s 5,164 acres, 4,420 of them have been set-aside as the Mudlick Mountain Wild Area (one of the largest in the state park system). Featuring the 1,313-foot Mudlick Mountain, the area is a combination of oak, hickory and pine forest set amongst patches of glades — the “Show Me” state’s version of desert.

Hikers can explore 18 miles of trails that feature canyons, shut-ins (gorges), and washes. The 12-mile Mudlick Trail (the park’s best) is a great two-day backpack trek.

Day hikers can explore 4.5 miles of old fire roads and the scenic 1.5-mile Shut-Ins Trail.

And if you haven’t had your fill of trails, explore the 37 miles of trails at the adjoining Wappapelo Lake Section (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) of the Ozark Trail.

After The Trails
Since Missouri is synonymous with floating you can enjoy the waters on the Big Creek and the St. Francois River. But no matter what activity you choose, be sure to make a pit stop at the park’s dining lodge for the brisket and catfish.

Close in to town, the Class I waters of the Meramec River provide for close up views of cliffs, caves and bluffs and nearly 200-miles of floating (call the Meramec River Recreation Association for a free map, (314-889-2874). But for Missouri’ wildest ride head over to the St. Francois River. Located by the Silver Mines Recreation Area (Mark Twain National Forest), the Class IV whitewater is for experts only. The site features some of the state’s best shut-ins (gorge-like canyons), as well as great hiking and camping.

But before you visit St. Louis pick up two great books: “Hiking Missouri” by Kevin Lohraff ($19.95, Human Kinetics, 800-747-4457); and “Scenic Driving the Ozarks” by Don Kurz ($14.95, FalconGuide, 800-582-2665).

For more information: Missouri Department of Natural Resources (state parks), P.O. Box 176, Jefferson City, MO 65102; 800-334-6946; E-mail:; St Louis County Parks, 41 S. Central, Clayton, MO 63105; 314-615-4FUN.

Leave a Reply

Commenting Policy - We encourage open expression of your thoughts and ideas. But there are a few rules:

No abusive comments, threats, or personal attacks. Use clean language. No discussion of illegal activity. Racist, sexist, homophobic, and generally hateful comments are not tolerated. Keep comments on topic. Please don't spam.

While we reserve the right to remove or modify comments at our sole discretion, the Sportsman's Guide does not bear any responsibility for user comments. The views expressed within the comment section do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of The Sportsman's Guide.