Best Hikes

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Weekends in fall mean one thing for me - hiking. Here's a list of my favorites (and some less favorites) in the area. I look for seclusion if possible; I'd like at least a chance of not encountering anybody for a few miles if not more. 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles is a great resource and most of these are probably in there anyway.

Al Foster Trail - a little confusing but this is really a segment of the Meramec Greenway -- and future part of the Ozark Trail -- augmented by an additional loop (Stinging Nettle Loop) plus an optional trail, the Cedar Bluff trail. And all are part of Castlewood SP even though they can't be reached from Castlewood SP. But a relatively peaceful, flat walk from the Sherman Beach Trailhead, along the Meramec River, and skirting some tall bluffs.

Babler State Park - four trails, none more than a couple miles. Favorite is the short (and not as crowded) Hawthorn trail, which circles around a ridge. The different exposures on each side make for completely different flora. Has a great overlook for a picnic lunch.

(Louis A.) Bangert Memorial Wildlife Area - just south of I-70 on the St. Charles side of the Missouri, this "island" (ironically, not accessible when it really IS an island) has some deep, tangled woods and nice views back to the St. Louis side of the river and Harrah's. Very flat and easy trails can be combined into one large loop of about five miles.

Bee Tree County Park - Duck into the woods on the Paw Paw trail for a taste of deep forest, and explore some of the little side trails that branch off of it.

Bell Mountain Wilderness - In the St. Francois Mountains, the trail here is a loop with two spurs. The fastest hike is about 8 miles total, out and back, from either trailhead to the summit of Bell Mountain.

Brommelsieck Park - in a rural corner of St. Charles County, the trails offer a mix of younger woods and pasture. Trails are all mixed-use, so watch your step.

Castlewood State Park - Generally crowded but offers incredible views and an interesting history.

Champ County Park - Small park behind a residential subdivision offers a mile of isolated woods. A short diversion from the trail leads to evidence of the underground natural gas storage in the area.

Cliff Cave County Park - some really nice, deep woodsy-feeling trails (at least until you hit the backyards of vinyl houses)

Clifty Creek Conservation Area - A loop trail takes you to the confluence of two creeks, over which is a beautiful natural arch, making a serene place for a picnic lunch. Your feet will get wet getting from one branch of the loop to the other; you could take either branch to the arch and back if you don't want to get wet.

Columbia Bottom Conservation Area - great for winter hiking due to the exposures. Lots of interpretive areas, and the confluence lookout point rivals the Hartford Tower. You can often see lots of civilization in the distance but can't hear it at all.

Creve Coeur Lake County Park - not among my favorites but still some decent trails.

Cuivre River State Park - near ever-expanding Troy, CRSP's largest trail is mixed-use, but the park has several shorter ones (<1 mile up to 6 miles) that are hiking-only. The woods aren't as old and large as elsewhere, but the place is crawling with deer.

Dee Koestering Park/Meramec Highlands Quarry - Block out the I-270 noise and pretend you're deep in Ozarks woods. The interesting little trail leads into a deep valley with rock walls that was a limestone quarry nearly 100 years ago. Take the short paved trail to an overlook for some historic background before your hike.

Devil's Well/Cave Spring Trail - in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Devil's well is right by the parking area. Descend the stairs to look straight down into the underground lake fed, in part, by the sinkhole that you're standing in. Then hike the Cave Spring Trail to see where the lake exits as a spring into a cave and out toward the Current River. The shortest path to the spring from Devil's Well is 2.0 miles each way (from the trailhead located right next to Devil's Well), or 2.8 miles using the other half of the loop trail (emerging from behind the pond a short distance away).

Elephant Rocks State Park - A paved path with many turn-off opportunities, and a 1/2 mile natural surface loop. If you don't mind crowds, there's scenery (and giant rocks) as beautiful as anywhere else in this part of the state. Or, get there by 8 a.m. and have it to yourself.

Emmenegger Nature Park - across I-270 from Powder Valley - as long as you don't expect to be isolated in the woods, it's very pretty and has dramatic overlooks of Valley Park and the Chrysler Plant. Some nice big flat rocks on the bluffs are perfect for picnicking.

Engelmann Woods Nature Area - an absolute gem located in Wildwood. Lots of wildlife and enormous trees.

Forest 44 Conservation Area - very close, but the I-44 highway noise is always there.

Fults Hill Prairie Nature Preserve - a climb up 200+ steep steps, followed by another steep ascent and then a pleasant walk along a wooded ridge bring you to the hillside prairie and sheer bluffs overlooking the farmland below. Really expansive views and a great place to picnic.

Greensfelder County Park - probably one of the most wild areas in StL County, but all trails allow horses (including the section of the Green Rock Trail that passes through) so you're dodging horse doo and ruined trails much of the time.

Hawn State Park - the gold standard of hikes in Eastern MO. The northern loop of Whispering Pines Trail has Pickle Creek and the shut-in formations, but the southern loop is less crowded (because you either have to take the N loop or the connector trail to get there) and is my favorite. The S loop spur trail at the halfway point, leading to the dripping, weeping, moss-covered bluff is my favorite part of the trail.

Hickory Canyons Nature Area - I don't even like putting this one on here because it's so untrafficked. But the short trail's box canyon is one of the most serene places I've ever been. I could sit there for hours.

Howell Island Conservation Area - in the middle of the MO river - you have to cross Centaur Chute only when the river is low enough. Update: the causeway was completely washed out during the high water, but has since been replaced, so Howell Island is open again.

Hughes Mountain Natural Area - A short, rocky hike takes you to the summit of Hughes Mountain, where igneous rock is exposed to create a strange moonscape with patches of beautiful wildflowers and Missouri's only native cactus. Do some DIY exploration at the top before heading back down on the marked trail.

Johnson Shut-Ins State Park (Scour Trail) - Walk through the woods and emerge near the base of the upper reservoir that breached its banks and scoured the earth down to bedrock. The walk along the resulting creek bed is very rocky but interesting.

Klondike Park - one of a string of parks, trails, and conservation areas along Hwy 94, Klondike has several trails. The most rugged are the series of biking/hiking trails in the back of the park, some with expansive valley views.

Labarque Creek Conservation Area - Near the metro area, the trail here offers ridge top hiking, glades, waterfalls, creeks, and rock formations.

Lane Spring Recreation Area - In Mark Twain National Forest, Lane Spring is a unique spring feeding Little Piney Creek. It's just a short walk from the parking lot, but the area also offers two trails. They're in pretty rough shape but give a good view of the flora of the deep valley.

Lewis and Clark Trails (Weldon Spring Conservation Area) - incredibly, something right near I-64 in St. Charles County can be wild and isolated. Once you get past the folks walking to and from the first overlook, you have miles of trail and wildlife to yourself. Stunning overlooks and some nice picnic sites.

Little Grand Canyon - deep, steep climbing (but only for a short distance) gets you into the canyon, and you climb out at another point. Really unique place in what is otherwise gently rolling farmland.

Lone Elk County Park - you never really get away from civilization but it's still a nice walk and you're almost guaranteed to see elk and usually deer and often turkey. Also, a trailhead for the flatter portion of the Chubb trail is just past the bird sanctuary on the park's entrance road.

Lost Valley Trail - primarily a biking trail, Lost Valley has a few stretches of old gravel road interspersed with some enjoyable singletrack trail. A fairly fast and not too hilly 10.5-mile hike.

Mastodon State Historic Site - again not among my favorites, but a quick getaway not far from South County.

McCully Heritage Project - a small working farm surrounded by almost 1000 acres of forest and hills in Calhoun County, IL. Trails are wide dirt and gravel. The best feature is the wetland trail with the wooden walkway.

Meramec Conservation Area - adjacent to Meramec State Park; very deep Ozark-y woods. Quite a bit of wildlife depending on which trail you hike.

Meramec State Park - A mixture of short and long trails. The Wilderness Trail is excellent, especially the serene, gurgling Copper Hollow Spring at the halfway point.

Olin Nature Preserve - Behind the bluffs of the Great River Road, the preserve offers several miles of hiking on interconnected trails. Nice forest and some pretty waterfalls. There is one lookout where you can view the river and beyond from the top of the bluff.

Onondaga Cave State Park - Two nice trails at around three miles each showcase dense forest and skirt wildflower-covered glades. Cool off on a cave tour afterward (Spring through Fall).

Pere Marquette State Park- some pretty wild trails and dramatic views as always on this part of the river.

Phantom Forest Conservation Area and Bittersweet Woods (Goodson) Conservation Area - the trails in these two areas adjoin with a short trail along some Des Peres homes' backyards. Just barely long enough to be a hike (at less than a mile total), these areas duck into deep woods, at times just a hundred feet from homes.

Pickle Springs Conservation Area - caves, waterfalls, glades, overlooks, rock much in just a couple miles. It's not a secret, so go early, early morning, or during the week if you can. Or wait until Winter.

Piney Creek Ravine Nature Preserve - spectacular sandstone canyons, creek beds, and bluffs on a terrific two-mile hike. You park next to a farmer's field and walk along it to get to this incredible place. One large wall abounds with Native American rock art (and graffiti).

Powder Valley Conservation Area - not so much for the hikes, but because of all the information they have about the other areas.

Queeny Park - although it barely qualifies as a "hike," the park is nevertheless an escape very close to the metro area. Several trails interconnect so you can customize one from less than a mile to over four miles.

Rockwoods Range - Although a wild place in the far corner of St. Louis County, the trails in Rockwoods Range have been destroyed by equestrian use, as they have in Greensfelder Park next door. For a sample of this area that hasn't been taken over (yet) by horses, hike the Green Rock Trail to the Round House Memorial and back.

Rockwoods Reservation - some pretty hikes. Can be crowded, and a fair amount of noise from the surrounding suburbs.

Route 66 State Park - trails are nothing spectacular, but it teems with deer and other wildlife. The museum and visitor center on the other side of the river is pretty cool.

Royal Gorge Natural Area - Near a shut-ins formation along MO Route 21, the hike offers a pleasant ascent and lookout over the natural area before turning into a fairly nondescript trail for the second half of the loop.

St. Francois State Park - some nice trails relatively close to St. Louis. The Mooner's Hollow Trail passes numerous waterfalls and shut-ins formations, while the Pike Run trail is a long and secluded, although it is a popular equestrian trail.

Salt Lick Point Trail - an interesting trail with interpretive stops near Valmeyer IL. Emerge near the Rock Park office complex, a former limestone quarry turned into massive warehouse and office space, government archives, and former Cold War bunker.

Shaw Nature Reserve - crowded but a number of decent trails

Shepherd Mountain Trail - Near Ft. Davidson State Historic Site. This mountain was used by Confederate forces to launch a cannon assault on nearby Ft. Davidson. It was later used as for skiing, and remnants of the ski lift equipment remain. The view into Ironton and the Arcadia Valley is spectacular, and some of the cannon emplacements are marked. The 3+ mile trail starts by going straight up the side of the mountain, followed by a gentle descent around and down. There is a less steep option going up as well.

Silver Lake Trail - in Highland IL, this is a very easy trail along Silver Lake. Close to highway noise at its northern end.

Silver Mines Recreation Area and Millstream Gardens Conservation Area - These adjoining areas share the stunning St. Francis River as it rushes over igneous rock to form the only whitewater rafting area in Missouri. Giant pines frame the river and a single trail (with differently-named sections) take you from one area to another. The opening of an abandoned silver mine pours out 50-degree air year round.

Stemler Cave Woods Nature Preserve - Starting near a corn field near Columbia IL, the trail leads you through both forest and some open prairie sections full of wildlife.

Valley View Glades Nature Area - this is a great cool weather hike because of frequent exposed areas in glades surrounding a relatively shallow valley. Lots of places to sit down and sun on the rocks.

Victoria Glades Conservation Area - Although there is some forest, the best feature is the expansive glades full of wildflowers and other life. This is a good cool- or cold-weather hike due to the frequent exposure.

Washington State Park - another one where you don't usually get away from civilization (unless you take the lesser-used loop of the Rockywood Trail) but some interesting Civilian Conservation Corps structures on the 1,000 steps trail.

West Tyson County Park - for its trailhead on the Chubb Trail.
Very cool!

Can you recommend some good campgrounds within a 3 hour drive? Some place where it feels secluded and you don have other campers right on top of you. (tent camping) It could be wilderness camping as well.
At Hawn, you can camp anywhere farther than 100 feet from the trail and 1/4 mile from the trailhead. There are also a series of tent sites scattered around the trail for hiking to - you wouldn't be near anyone. Just keep in mind you have to use a stove to cook; no campfires.
Cuivre River State Park is one of my favorite quick get-aways. The Lakeside Trail is beautiful in Fall, and most people don't venture far from the dam or campground areas.

I also love St. Francois State Park and Silver Mines Recreation Area.
I have not been to Cuivre River in a long time. Maybe it's time to go back. I didn't think of Silver Mines as a hiking area; I see there are trails so will have to check it out.
These are a little further away than what has been listed, but both the Mudlick trail at Sam Baker State park, and the Bell Mountain Wilderness are two favorites of mine. It's been years since I hiked either, but I did both hikes in the middle of the snow.
Also, the St. Louis Area Boy scout council has a list of hikes that are probably online somewhere. My favorite is the Schoolcraft trail...based on orienteering coordinates instead of a bonafide trail.
And I'll third the Whispering Pine trail at Hawn. My favorite part is the huge cedar grove on the south loop, as well as the old homestead.
Thanks! People are always telling me to take a hike, but I could never get them to give me any serious suggestions (most of them can't be repeated on a public forum. People are so silly!). And as much as I've searched, I haven't been able to find Offashortpier Park (I think that's how it's spelled). It's supposed to have some longer trails. Is it around here?

Added Bangert, Little Grand Canyon, Piney Creek, and Queeny.
I hiked the four mile loop at Lone Elk today. It's a surprisingly pretty trail, although you're hardly ever out of site of cars. It's less than a half hour from my apartment in St. Louis Hills, so it's great for a quick impulsive escape.
Added some more from the archives :)

Fults Hill Prairie
Silver Lake
Salt Lick Point Trail
Updated with St. Francois SP, Klondike Park, and the Al Foster Trail.
The last few weekends have been great hiking weather. Just watch out for hunters this time of year.
LOVE the thread bprop. I hope you keep updating. Thx!
Are you referring to the Little Grand Canyon in S Illinois? It's great. A couple weekends back, I hiked the northern loop of the Whispering Pines at Hawn with my 10 y/o. We wanted to do all 10 miles to include the southern loop but smartly decided we should not overdo it on our first hike of the season.
lukethedrifter wrote:
Are you referring to the Little Grand Canyon in S Illinois? It's great. A couple weekends back, I hiked the northern loop of the Whispering Pines at Hawn with my 10 y/o. We wanted to do all 10 miles to include the southern loop but smartly decided we should not overdo it on our first hike of the season.

Yep, that's the one. If you're going down that way again, I'd recommend stopping at Piney Creek Ravine too. They're relatively close to each other along Rt 3.

I may have to hit Hawn next weekend if the temperature's tolerable. Or maybe wait until a good freeze.
Moorlander wrote:
LOVE the thread bprop. I hope you keep updating. Thx!

Thanks! As long as I keep walking I'll update it :)

I added URLs to all the hikes.
Great list! I'd also add the 5 mile loop at Taum Sauk State Park. You get to see the highest point in the state of MO as well as a 132 foot waterfall (however when the weather is dry like when we hiked two weeks ago it is merely a trickle).

If you like to backpack you can continue past the Devil's Tollgate on the Ozark Trail to Johnson's Shut Ins--about 15 miles.
southsidepride wrote:
Great list! I'd also add the 5 mile loop at Taum Sauk State Park. You get to see the highest point in the state of MO as well as a 132 foot waterfall (however when the weather is dry like when we hiked two weeks ago it is merely a trickle).

If you like to backpack you can continue past the Devil's Tollgate on the Ozark Trail to Johnson's Shut Ins--about 15 miles.

Are you referring to Mina Sauk Falls? Wow, I never even knew that was there. How far of a hike is it to get to that?

^from the parking lot it's only 3 miles or so. I make that hike at least once a year. Usually it's just a small trickle but if you don't mind getting muddy boots go right after a rainstorm and you won't be disappointed!
Don't forget beautiful days like today for getting out to hike! No bugs, no people, and things you would be hard pressed to see in the fall :)

Winter is also a great time for canoeing. With no leaves on the trees, you can see landscape features that are usually hidden, and the bluffs are covered with massive icicles. You'll also see wildlife like never before. I once drifted slowly up on a herd of more than a dozen deer drinking from the river. Try that on a typical Summer weekend!
The creek is rushing at Hawn SP. There is quite a bit of stagnant water on the trail, but not many mosquitoes...yet.



Added Hughes Mountain Natural Area and Silver Mines Recreation Area/Millstream Gardens Conservation Area to the OP. Thanks framer for pointing out the other trails at Silver Mines.


Added Onondaga Cave State Park
^ I was there this weekend for a float trip. Beautiful area. Thanks for posting.
go spend the extra $30 needed for tackle, a pole, and a license and plan to fish the next time you're in any of these areas. MDC has worked very hard to make our Ozark CAs, and river/creeks some of the best trout and smallmouth bass fisheries in the United States. A rather under the radar fact about MO.

Big/Little Piney, Upper Meramec, Eleven Point, Gasconade, etc. are awesome fishing/camping/hiking destinations. Please remember to practice catch and release and proper hiking/camping etiquette.