Fall is the perfect time to explore Missouri on foot. At autumn's peak, colorful foliage adds another layer of beauty to the state's diverse landscape. Late in the season, trails crunchy with fallen leaves provide views often hidden in the summer by a canopy of trees. The Show-Me State offers a variety of hiking adventures – from short walks on well-established paths to rugged treks through the wilderness.
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 will take you from the parking area to the mountaintop and a breathtaking view. The Hughes Mountain Natural Area, managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation, 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 wheelchair-accessible trail ends at the top of Taum Sauk Mountain, 1,772 feet above sea level. Beyond this point, a rocky three-mile path passes along the top 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 view of 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 several points along the path. The park offers several other trails as well as a handicapped-accessible scenic overlook featuring one of the state's most expansive views of the "Big Muddy."
Near Missouri's bootheel, you can immerse yourself in a swamp experience with 500-year-old bald cypress trees at the Allred Lake Natural Area, managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation. 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 where you can spot wood ducks, green herons and barred owls.
The rugged Colosseum Trail at Ha Ha Tonka State Park, located near the Lake of the Ozarks, winds seven-tenths of a mile under a natural bridge and through a collapsed sink hole. The natural bridge 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.
The 7.5 mile Natural Tunnel Trail at Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon will take you through a natural tunnel nearly 300 feet long. On the way to the tunnel, the moderate-rated trail passes through many different habitats including bottomland and upland forests, tall bluffs, sunny glades, streams, and old farm fields. 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 the prairie is preserved at Prairie State Park in the southwestern part of the state. On the 1.5 mile Grayfeather Trail you can discover the view early settlers had as they headed west and see American bison grazing on the prairie.
You won't find living, breathing elephants at Elephant Rocks State Park, located near Pilot Knob, but you will discover a group of billion-year-old pachyderm-sized red granite boulders standing end to end like a train of circus elephants. The area can easily be viewed from the mile-long Braille Trail, 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.
Written by Liz Coleman