Fall is the perfect time to explore Missouri on foot. At autumn’s peak, brilliant foliage adds another layer of beauty to the state’s diverse landscape. Late in the season, trails crunchy with leaves offer views often hidden in the summer by a canopy of trees. From short walks on well-groomed paths to rugged treks through the wilderness, colorful adventures await throughout the Show-Me State.
Hughes Mountain is home to one of Missouri’s geologic wonders, an unusual formation of ancient volcanic rock known locally as Devil’s Honeycomb. The 1.5-billion-year-old rock is among the oldest exposed rock in the U.S. A three-quarter mile hike (one way) will guide you to the mountaintop and a breathtaking view. The Hughes Mountain Natural Area is located near Potosi, about 70 miles southwest of St. Louis.
A series of scenic trails running throughout Taum Sauk Mountain State Park provide expansive views of Missouri’s Arcadia Valley. The Mina Sauk Falls Trail leads to the highest spot and tallest waterfall in the state. A short accessible trail ends at the top of Taum Sauk Mountain – 1,772 feet above sea level. Beyond this point, a rocky 3-mile path (one way) passes along the brink of Mina Sauk Falls. The wet-weather waterfall, best viewed after a rain, cascades 132 feet over a series of rock ledges into Taum Sauk Creek.
The Missouri River Trail at Weston Bend State Park near Kansas City provides an up-close look at the longest river in the United States. The three-tenths of a mile trail (one-way) is an easy hike, although there are drop-offs at a few points along the path. The park offers several other trails as well as a scenic overlook – accessible to people with disabilities – that features one of the state’s most expansive views of the “Big Muddy.”
Near Missouri’s bootheel, you can explore a swamp filled with a variety of trees, including bald cypress more than 500 years old, at the Allred Lake Natural Area. The trail is an easy quarter-mile hike (one way) where you can see the cypress trees’ bald knees emerging from the water. The trail ends at a boardwalk – a good spot to look for wood ducks, green herons and barred owls.
At Ha Ha Tonka State Park, located at the Lake of the Ozarks, the rugged Colosseum Trail winds six-tenths of a mile (one way) under a natural bridge and through a collapsed sink hole. The natural bridge formation is a massive 100-foot high stone arch left behind when the cave system around it collapsed. Other trails throughout the park provide views of a variety of geologic features including sheer rock bluffs, glades and Missouri’s 12th largest spring as well as the remains of a 1905 European-style “castle.”
The 7.4 mile Natural Tunnel Trail (loop) at Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon will guide you through a natural rock tunnel nearly 300 feet long. On the way to the tunnel, the moderate-rated trail traverses many different habitats including bottomland and upland forests, tall bluffs, sunny glades, and streams. The park is home to several other trails and the fourth largest spring in the state.
Where the Buffalo and “Elephants” Roam
Tallgrass prairies once covered more than a third of Missouri, but today, less than one percent remains. Much of that prairie is preserved at Prairie State Park in the southwestern part of the state near Mindenmines. On the 1.5 mile Grayfeather Trail (loop) you can discover the view early settlers had as they headed west and see American bison grazing on the grass.
You won’t find living, breathing elephants at Elephant Rocks State Park, located near Pilot Knob, but you will find a group of billion-year-old pachyderm-sized pink granite boulders standing end to end like a train of circus elephants. The area can easily be viewed from the mile-long Braille Trail (loop), designed especially for people with visual or physical disabilities. A short spur off the trail takes you to the top of the granite outcrop where you can explore a maze of giant rocks.