words + images by Kristen Kellogg
When I was growing up, one of my favorite things to do with my family and friends from my competitive cheerleading team was taking camping and canoe trip adventures to different areas of Missouri not far from St. Louis. Needless to say, when I find myself returning to this part of the country and spending a day outdoors, I get a little bit nostalgic. The landscapes, the wildlife, and even the fresh smell of the midwest outdoors still ring in as a place I feel ‘home’.
Every time I make a return trip to visit my family, who live just 15 minutes from St. Louis, I make it a point to head out and explore at least one new trail. I pack up for the day and hit the trails with either or both of my sisters or my friend Carrie (who recently joined me on an active adventure in Costa Rica) in search of fresh air and inspiration.
Arizona is not the only place you’ll be amazed by a grand canyon. Just about two and a half hour drive from St. Louis, Little Grand Canyon Trail at Grand Gulf State Park in Pomona, IL looks just like it sounds. The trail top overlooks the Muddy River (and a small campsite area) below while the trail leads hikers through sandstone walls and grottoes of the canyon. At the end of the trail is a natural stone staircase, often slick from water – make sure you’re wearing proper footwear to climb up. Because of natural waterfalls and ledges, the hike is higher on the difficult scale for maneuverability, however in a cardiovascular sense, it’s a moderate two and a half hour hike.
Drive the Great River Road and spend an afternoon hiking at Pere Marquette State Park. Whether you prefer exploring the forests of Pere Marquette of the towering bluffs over the river or a combination of the two, this hike offers a variety of trails, ten in total, with nine scenic overlooks back down to the river below.
Pull out your headlamps! If you’re not afraid of the dark or afraid of getting up before the sun, then this hike is for you. The Lewis and Clark Trail is excellent for catching the sun rise. The 7.4 mile hike lead to some incredible views of the Missouri River Bluffs and is thought to be the most scenic trail in the area. – Recommended by Missouri local Carrie Kotowski
The 6 mile North Loop at Hawn State Park was our hike of choice…though it actually threw us for a little loop itself and wen need up on the South loop as well. We didn’t intend to take the path less traveled, but confusions with marked signs ended up guiding us slightly off of the main trail.
The trail was filled with overgrown golden tones, tall skinny trees, boulder to climb up, a small river, campsite, and expansive views scattered throughout. This particular hike took us about five hours to complete and thankfully found our way back just as the sun set.
Castlewood State Park’s trails are spectacular. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to work too hard to get an Instagram-worthy photo, try the Lone Wolf Trail – a quick hike with a spectacular view. If you are one of those who prefer the journey rather than the destination, the River Scene Trail will keep you in awe all 3 miles with its panoramic views and old ruins. – Recommended by Illinois local Nicole Kellogg
– When hiking, always make sure to leave a note in your car and tell someone where you are (or check in on Facebook). Also, sign in at the trailheads so that if someone comes looking for you, they’ll be able to tell where you’ve been. Safety first!
– Make sure you bring plenty of water and don’t forget to pack snacks/lunch! Not only is it necessary to refuel during day-long adventures, but there is also no better spot for a picnic than with a spectacular view. That being said, if you want to enjoy the natural scenes around you and let others have the same experience, make sure everything you bring leaves with you as well – pack in pack out.
– Bring a backpack or hiking bag that doesn’t put too much strain on your back. Not only is it bad for your posture, but it will leave you sore and uncomfortable during and after the hike.
– Have a flashlight, matches, charged cell phone, and a map of the area in your bag at all times.
– Wear non-slip shoes with ankle support and proper clothing — you have to feel your best to do your best! You’ll want to be comfortable and supported on those 4 hour hikes so that you can focus your attention on your surroundings.
– Take note of what plants and animals to avoid in your hiking area — it’s much more fun to leave with photos and memories than a rash from the Poison Ivy you didn’t avoid.
– Make sure you know what time the sun sets and allow yourself plenty of extra time to get back before that. I know that I’m prone to stopping to photograph all too often, so it usually takes me almost double the predicted time to complete the trails.
Ever hiked in Missouri or Illinois? With a few more trails on my ‘hoping to soon explore soon’ list ( including Garden of The Gods, Johnson Shut-In’s State Park, and Elephant Rocks State Park), I’d love if you’d share some of your favorite so I can keep the list growing! What are some of your own Best Hikes Near St. Louis?