Explore the Ozarks the Old Fashioned Way


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biking / walking trails , walking , walking trails , backpacking trail , equestrian trails , Katy Trail , Trails , outdoors
Hiking and Biking Trails Are Abundant
Author: Scott McCullough

Outdoor enthusiasts know, the best adventures are those experienced using foot-power; walking, hiking and (yes, it is foot-power) biking. Wonder and beauty are found in every nook and cranny of Missouri. Regardless of your experience level and available time, you’ll find a hike and bike-ride certain to delight – it sure beats that ho-hum treadmill gathering dust in your basement.

The title “Best Trails State” is bestowed every two years by American Trails, a national, not-for-profit organization working on behalf of the nation’s hiking, biking and riding trails. In 2013, the award was presented to Missouri for the state’s tremendous contributions to promoting and improving its trails. Read all about it here: Best Trails State. To commemorate this prestigious award, Governor Nixon launched the 100 Missouri Miles Challenge. The program challenges everyone to complete “100 Missouri Miles” of physical activity, within the borders of Missouri, by the end of the year. Whether you run, walk, bike, paddle, or roll, everyone can participate; you don’t have to be a Missouri citizen to take part. This initiative is a great opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, improve your health and – best of all – have fun with family and friends.

Families introducing their children to the fun of hiking/biking find many spots on multi-use trails at Missouri’s state parks. Here are just a few examples.

  • Spend a day at Ha Ha Tonka State Park, 10 minutes outside of Camdenton, at the Lake of the Ozarks. More than 15 miles of winding trails take you past a spring, a natural bridge, caves and the crumbling walls of a massive 1905 stone castle that is sure to spark the imagination. Panoramic views from the bluffs make a camera a necessary hiking accessory.
  • Expansive views of the Missouri River are highlights of several trails (some paved) within Weston Bend State Park, five minutes southeast of Weston. Located along the forested Missouri River corridor, the park is an excellent site for bird watching.
  • Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park holds several hiking and backpacking trails of various lengths and terrain, one of which is open for equestrian use. The park, nine miles north of Lesterville, sits beside the Black River. Read the VisitMO Blog post for details about hiking the Scour Trail.
  • South of Ballwin, 35 minutes west of downtown St. Louis, Castlewood State Park is a peaceful getaway with trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding along the lush valley of the Meramec River; the views are simply stellar. The park is considered one of Missouri’s best mountain biking locations.
  • Lush and beautiful, Big Oak Tree State Park covers more than 1,000 acres. Admire the soaring trees (some more than 120 feet high) from the three-quarter mile elevated boardwalk that traverses wet woodlands and bottomland forest, ending at an observation deck overlooking a marsh & shrub swamp. A 1.5 mile trail loops through wetlands and passes beneath some of Missouri’s tallest trees.

Lakes and rivers throughout the Show-Me State give you the opportunity to combine a refreshing hike with great fishing, boating and other water activities.

  • Lake Wappapello State Park, in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, 19 miles north of Poplar Bluff, is a showcase of Missouri’s natural beauty. Hiking trails of .7, 2.5 and 2.75 miles in length wind through the area. Hikers, bikers, backpackers and equestrians find challenges and inspiration as they traverse the varied and rugged terrain on a 12.75 mile trail.
  • Eleven miles north of Columbia, a reclaimed strip-mining area is home to seven strip-pits which have been flooded for swimming, canoeing and fishing. Finger Lakes State Park is the site of the challenging 2.75-mile trail for mountain bikers and hikers, as well as a 4.5-mile water trail.
  • Thousand Hills State Park, seven miles west of Kirksville, features Forrest Lake, with 17 miles of shoreline and full facilities. Hiking, mountain biking and backpacking trails afford abundant opportunities to observe wildlife. The park features American Indian rock carvings (petroglyphs) more than 1,500 years old.
  • With 15 miles of Current River frontage, the Roger Pryor Pioneer Backcountry contains nearly 30 miles of trails. The 60,000-acre tract, in a remote corner of the Ozarks, 15 miles north of Eminence, is the Missouri park system’s largest undeveloped area.
  • Hike through shady upland woodlands and grassy glades while passing near numerous rock ledges in the rugged landscape of Big Sugar Creek State Park, six miles northeast of Pineville. Hikers encounter numerous water/stream crossings (without bridges). Big Sugar Creek is a prime floating destination.
  • At Watkins Mill State Park, five miles southwest of Lawson, a 100-acre lake offers plenty of water activities. The 4-mile equestrian trail system travels through an area of woodland with stream crossings. Circling the lake, a 3.75-mile, paved walking/bicycling path includes six wooden bridges and one metal truss bridge. The park is adjacent to the 19th century , a National Historic Landmark.
We'd be remiss if we didn’t mention the granddaddy of them all, The Katy Trail. The flat, 237.7-mile trail (most of which runs along the Missouri River) is the longest rails-to-trails conversion in the U.S. The Katy is open for hiking, running, walking and bicycling through Missouri countryside. Horseback riding is permitted on the 34.7-mile section between Calhoun and the Sedalia; also on the 15.3-mile stretch between Tebbetts and Portland.

So, pick a spot – these are just a few of the 1000s available. The key is to spend some quality time enjoying the great outdoors and get some exercise in the “Best Trails State.” And, if you’re of a mind, take part in the 100 Missouri Miles Challenge.

Find the perfect angle, snap a photo and share your favorite trail by posting it on VisitMO 's Facebook page.

  Ha Ha Tonka State Park
The remains of a huge, circa 1905 European-style stone castle add an air of mystery to this park. Situated ...

  Weston Bend State Park
Scattered picnic sites, picnic shelters and camping are features of this park. Hiking trails and a paved ...

  Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park
Carved into the rock by the flow if the Black River, the shut-ins are a great place for swimming and ...

  Castlewood State Park
This park, straddling the lush valley of the Meramec River, is an excellent location for canoeing and ...

  Big Oak Tree State Park
Driving along the rural highways in southeast Missouri, travelers may notice an abundance of farmland. ...

  Lake Wappapello State Park
Scenic lakeside coves offer irresistible fishing and picnicking spots at this park, bordering ...

  Finger Lakes State Park
This reclaimed strip-mine area, 20 minutes north of Columbia off Route 63, is one of two state parks ...

  Thousand Hills State Park
Thousand Hills State Park includes American Indian rock carvings (petroglyphs) more than 1,500 years ...

  Roger Pryor Pioneer Backcountry
This area, in a remote area of the Ozarks, provides hikers and backpackers access to the solitude of ...

  Big Sugar Creek State Park
Outstanding oak and oak-pine woodlands are features of this 2,082-acre park in the rugged Elk Hills ...

  Watkins Mill State Park
Watkins Mill State Park offers opportunities for camping, hiking, picnicking, fishing and swimming. ...

  Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site
Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site is part of Watkins Mill State Park. Tours of the 19th century ...