Among the cityscape, there are plenty of opportunities to connect with nature and stay active in St. Louis. From flourishing public parks to exhilarating waterways and exploratory trails to downhill slopes, the region has enchanting options to create your next great outdoor adventure. Let’s dive in!
If you like to hike, bike, paddle, swim, ski and more, these local activities will take you off the beaten path.
Can’t resist the call of the trail? Luckily, the region has hiking trails for all abilities. Forest Park offers excellent opportunities for outdoor adventures in St. Louis, but that’s a given. If you want to explore more of the area’s green spaces, here are our recommendations.
The River Scene Trail, a three-mile loop in Castlewood State Park, traverses a series of limestone bluffs overlooking the Meramec River before descending into the valley below via a long wooden staircase. While you’re at the park, you might want to explore the Grotpeter Trail, as well – and don’t forget to pack a picnic.
For other stimulating loop trails with similar lengths, try the Lime Kiln Trail in Rockwoods Reservation, which will get your heart pumping with a steep incline no matter which direction you hike it, or the White Bison Trail in Lone Elk Park, which combines twists and climbs with frequent wildlife sightings – think white-tailed deer, elk, bison, wild turkey and waterfowl.
Located in a floodplain at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, Columbia Bottom Conservation Area features wetlands, forests and open fields, as well as a level, paved trail that’s part of the Missouri River Greenway.
On the other hand, Shaw Nature Reserve, a 2,400-acre nature reserve operated as an extension of the Missouri Botanical Garden, has myriad hiking trails, as does the World Bird Sanctuary. At the latter, trails range from easy to moderate, snaking through the sanctuary’s 305 acres of hardwood forest. After your hike, check out the on-site aviaries that provide safe havens to approximately 270 animals, including eagles, falcons and owls.
You don’t have to embark on a multi-mile hike to enjoy nature in St. Louis. Parks such as Carondelet Park, Suson Park and Tower Grove Park have grassy meadows, shade trees and picturesque pavilions, perfect for picnicking, doing yoga and simply relaxing. Faust Park, comprised of almost 200 acres in Chesterfield, also features family fun, including the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House and the St. Louis Carousel.
At Laumeier Sculpture Park, art meets the environment, interacting with it and becoming a part of it. Meandering along the walking trail through the 105-acre, open-air museum and sculpture park, you get a close-up view of more than 60 sculptures, including a huge eyeball, a larger-than-life deer and a pile of massive, crumpled cylinders.
A stone’s throw from Laumeier Sculpture Park, Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center introduces people of all ages to the wonders of the natural world. Nestled within 112 acres of oak-hickory forest in a quiet corner of Kirkwood, the park has three paved walking trails, one of which features interpretive signage.
The Missouri Botanical Garden – an obvious choice for outdoorsy fun – has long been a place of beauty, serenity and discovery, as well as an institution of scientific research and education. Every visit represents a new opportunity to learn about plants and how they’re connected to our lives. Throughout the year, you might catch one of the Garden’s annual events, including the Orchid Show, the Whitaker Music Festival, the Japanese Festival and the Best of Missouri Market, on your walk.
If you want to venture farther off the beaten path, head to Bellefontaine Cemetery & Arboretum, which encompasses more than 9,500 trees, representing 560 species, as well as babbling streams, pristine lakes, swarms of bees and butterflies and the occasional red fox or turkey. With more than 170 years of history, Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum is not only a tranquil burial site; it’s also a beloved local landmark and a shining example of environmental stewardship. Throughout the year, it hosts more than 300 events, covering a range of topics from history to horticulture, but you can also roam around the grounds on your own.
Less than 10 miles from downtown St. Louis, there’s another unexpected site for outdoor adventures. At Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, you’ll find the preserved remains of the most sophisticated prehistoric indigenous civilization north of Mexico. With more than five miles of trails, 100-foot-tall mounds and an engaging interpretive center, you’ll leave the site with a greater understanding of this ancient city and exciting stories to share with family and friends.
Skip your spin class and pedal along St. Louis’ best bike trails instead.
Approximately 12 miles from start to finish, Grant’s Trail stretches through St. Louis County, offering a flat, carefree ride past Grant’s Farm, the Clydesdale pastures and more.
Staying in downtown St. Louis? You can easily access the Riverfront Trail via Washington Avenue or Chestnut Avenue through the Gateway Arch National Park. Part of the Mississippi River Greenway, the 15-mile family-friendly trail awards unique views of the industrial landscape along the river.
For even more adventure, tackle Bootlegger’s Run in Creve Coeur Park, where cyclists face multiple ravine crossings, dips and turns. Slow down to soak up the sun or admire the fall foliage, or speed up to make the ride more exhilarating. Afterward, cool off by Creve Coeur Lake and then refuel at Westport Plaza, which boasts sushi from Drunken Fish, tacos from Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and a classic bar and game lounge at Westport Social.
If you’re hoping to go further afield, the Katy Trail is the longest recreational rail trail in the U.S. and a go-to route for walkers, runners, skaters and, of course, bikers in Missouri. You can start the 240-mile-long trail from any number of spots, but we suggest parking at the Saint Charles trailhead near the Lewis & Clark Boat House and Museum. If Missouri wine country is on your bucket list, you can also bike part of the trail from Augusta, which is stunning in every season.
After the trees have lost their leaves and the brush has thinned, you’re more likely to see eagles, hawks and other raptors in St. Louis. Approximately 20 miles north of downtown St. Louis and three miles west of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, Fort Belle Fontaine is a prime bird-watching spot. The former U.S. military base sits on 305 acres of parkland, where you can hike four miles of trails through peaceful upland prairies and beautiful wetlands to look for feathered friends.
For another exciting bird-watching experience, visit the old Chain of Rocks Bridge, which spans the Mighty Mississippi on the north edge of St. Louis. The pedestrian bridge has a dramatic 22-degree bend at the middle of the crossing, making it easier to spot soaring eagles.
You can observe wintering bald eagles and trumpeter swans from the Audubon Center at Riverlands, as well. The center aims to connect people to the beauty and significance of the Mississippi River and the Great Rivers Confluence while inspiring the conservation of the rivers’ rich biodiversity.
Just around the riverbend, Edward “Ted” and Pat Jones-Confluence Point State Park also features sweeping vistas dotted with bald eagles, great blue herons and other birds. The park’s wetlands are part of the Mississippi Flyway, a bird migration route used by 60 percent of all North American bird species, including 40 percent of all waterfowl.
The Mississippi River gets a bad rap, but Big Muddy Adventures proves that it’s not only safe to paddle the river, it’s also a lot of fun. Whether it’s your first time paddling or you’re a bona fide river rat, the world-class adventure company has a trip for you. Highlights include 45-minute micro-adventures through the heart of St. Louis; full moon floats to a beautiful, uninhabited river island in time for the sunset and a gourmet campfire dinner; and a combination biking and paddling trip in the Missouri River Valley.
For an incomparable outdoor adventure in the St. Louis area, join Big Muddy Adventures as they paddle the Missouri River, following the path of Lewis and Clark as they journeyed west. The 17-mile trip will take participants through one of the most pristine and scenic stretches of the waterway. From Blanchette Park in Saint Charles to Sioux Passage Park in Florissant, you’ll pass through a natural back channel of the river where flora and fauna abound, stopping for lunch and a swim on Pelican Island. Remember: No paddling experience or special equipment is required for any of the river trips – Big Muddy Adventures has got you covered!
It’s no secret that Midwesterners love float trips. If you want to partake in that pastime, as well, the closest place to St. Louis is Brookdale Farms in Eureka, where you can rent canoes, kayaks, rafts and tubes to set out on the Meramec River. Floats – four or nine miles – offer beautiful views, clear swimming holes, gravel beaches and fascinating wildlife; plus, you’ll likely have a great story to share with your friends and family afterward.
Tucked into the scenic limestone bluffs along the Great River Road, Raging Rivers Waterpark is a kid’s paradise. Water slides, wave pools and lazy rivers combine to cool you off on scorching summer days. Take toddlers to the Itty Bitty Surf City, sail down the Mississippi Monster with older kids and then relax in a rented cabana with an ice-cold drink.
To say that you can also swim at Hurricane Harbor inside Six Flags St. Louis is an understatement. At the waterpark, you can experience zero gravity on the Typhoon Twister, compete for first place on the Wahoo Racer, set sail on Gulley Washer Creek and so much more.
At RYZE Adventure Park, thrill-seekers can climb to new heights. The state-of-the-art Adventure Tower features 110 different obstacles reaching four stories high. People of all ages, abilities and adrenaline levels can climb, zipline, swing, ride, rappel and trek through the exhilarating jungle gym, but RYZE also provides entertainment on the ground with its 18-hole mini golf course.
Go Ape offers dangling obstacles and thrilling ziplines, too. Guaranteed to deliver smiles, laughter and a sense of accomplishment, the Treetop Adventure features tree-to-tree crossings high above the forest floor, an extensive network of ziplines and heart-stopping Tarzan swings. Equally exciting, the Treetop Journey introduces participants to aerial adventure, taking you through the trees as you navigate suspended bridges, interesting obstacles and more ziplines.
For another unforgettable outdoor adventure, consider one of Vertical Voyages’ rock- and tree-climbing workshops. Aiming to connect people and positive, intimate experiences with nature, the St. Louis-based company accommodates everyone from novices to experts. Full-day climbing sessions for beginners – led by AMGA-certified Single Pitch Instructors – take place in various locations, such as Robinson Bluff and Pere Marquette State Park.
For an activity that not many people have done, however, we suggest a tree climbing course. Tree climbing is an emerging adventure sport that uses specialized equipment to scale trees. The trees are tall and mature with broad canopies, and the experience allows climbers to see the forest from an extremely rare perspective.
Giddy up! You can experience one of the most unique outdoor adventures right here in St. Louis.
Horseback riding improves your coordination, boosts your cardiovascular system, increases your sense of well-being and takes most people out of their comfort zones, among other benefits. Plus, it’s a wonderful way to see more of our parks and green spaces.
Pere Marquette Stables, located approximately two miles north of Grafton, Illinois, on the Great River Road, provides strong yet sweet horses for trail rides from May through October. Riders must be eight or older.
Believe it or not, St. Louis has a thriving ski scene. Located in Wildwood, approximately 30 miles west of downtown St. Louis, Hidden Valley is a winter playground for adventure-seekers from near and far. The resort has two peaks and 16 trails as well as state-of-the-art snowmaking machines to create the perfect base when Mother Nature has warmer plans. Ski and snowboard rentals are available, and Hidden Valley also boasts the largest snow-tubing hill in Missouri. The Polar Plunge Tubing Park offers guests an opportunity to soar down the snowy hill without a care in the world.
In St. Louis, you can skate year-round. Parks with paved trails – think Jefferson Barracks Park, George Winter Park, Shaw Park and Tower Grove Park – are great for sunny days, and in winter, the fun doesn’t stop.
Both shaky skaters and seasoned professionals enjoy taking laps around the ice rinks in St. Louis. Nestled in the sprawling acres of Forest Park, Steinberg Skating Rink is the largest outdoor skating rink in the Midwest. Starting in mid-November, you can glide around the festively lit venue and then snuggle up with hot chocolate by a fire pit.
For a more rustic experience, head to Brookdale Farms, where you can enjoy the natural setting while practicing your spins. While you’re there, refuel at the Sugar Shack, which offers hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, hot cocoa bombs, jelly donuts, boozy shakes and more.
Sledding on Art Hill in Forest Park is a rite of passage for St. Louisans and a must-do winter activity for visitors – if you’re here at the right time. After it snows, people of all ages haul their sleds to the hill in front of the Saint Louis Art Museum, get in position and let gravity do its thing. At the top, take a moment to enjoy the panoramic view of the park, and don’t forget to bail before you reach the Grand Basin at the bottom. If you’re in the mood to explore after sledding, stroll along one of the park’s picturesque walking trails.
Uncover Missouri’s buried treasure beneath the rolling hills of the Meramec Valley. Meramec Caverns, the largest commercial cave in the state and one of the most awe-inspiring caves on the planet, boasts astounding formations, including glistening stalactites, towering stalagmites, an ancient “wine table” and a seven-story “mansion,” which were formed from the erosion of large limestone deposits over millions of years.
Trained rangers guide captivating tours along well-lit walkways to some of the rarest and largest cave formations in the world – they’ll also show you where an episode of Lassie was filmed in 1966. The underground oasis is a cool 60 degrees year-round, and you can supplement the spectacular experience with other family-friendly activities, such as panning for gold, ziplining or taking a scenic excursion on the Meramec River aboard a canopy-topped riverboat.
At Onondaga Cave State Park, located approximately 80 miles from downtown St. Louis, you can descend into another world of wonder with an abundance of stalactites, stalagmites and active flowstones. On the surface, visitors are treated to panoramic views of the Meramec River atop the park’s Vilander Bluff Natural Area. There’s also easy access to the river where you can swim, canoe and fish.
Countless connections await you in St. Louis. Where will you start your next great outdoor adventure?
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