Hikers and Bikers Find Happy Trails in St. Louis
St. Louis tourism officials are telling visitors to take a hike – on one of the regions many beautiful walking paths and biking trails. Travelers seeking an active getaway will find plenty of picturesque spots to explore on foot or by pedal pushing during a trip to St. Louis.
Within the national park surrounding the 630-foot-high Gateway Arch, walking and jogging enthusiasts can amble along a 1-mile, 1.5-mile or 1.7-mile tree-lined, paved path. The eastern boundary of the longest route is along the mighty Mississippi River; the western edge borders the skyline of St. Louis’ downtown business district. The walkways pass through green space and along reflecting ponds and provide a close-up look at the Arch, a celebration in stainless steel that honors the explorers and pathfinders who played a part in the nation’s westward expansion. Maps showing the location and distance of each course are available at the Arch information center and at concierge desks at many downtown hotels.
Hikers and cyclists can travel along the Riverfront Trail, a paved recreational greenway that parallels the Mississippi River. It begins north of Downtown St. Louis at Merchant’s Bridge and ends 10 miles north at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. Open daily to pedestrians and cyclists, the Chain of Rocks Bridge roadway was the portion of historic Route 66 that linked Illinois to Missouri.
The bridge offers breathtaking views of the Mississippi River and is a perfect place to spot bald eagles during late winter/early spring when it is open during special events. Plans are underway to extend the Riverfront Trail southward to the Arch grounds. Visitors can access information about this and other St. Louis area hiking/biking opportunities by clicking onto St. Louis-based Trailnet, Inc.
Beautiful Forest Park is home to many of St. Louis’ favorite and most famous attractions. The Saint Louis Zoo, Art Museum, History Museum and Science Center are just a few of the pleasures visitors can enjoy for free in the 1,300-acre urban oasis. Bicyclists have the right-of-way along the park’s 7.5-mile bike path that also is used by walkers, joggers, in-line skaters and the occasional equestrian. Bikers and walkers who want to get acquainted with the wide variety of trees found in Forest Park can obtain a complimentary copy of the East Tree Walk map from the Parks Department office or by calling 314-367-7275. The map locates and describes more than 25 varieties of trees growing along a 2.5-mile paved course through the park. Maps of a route which meanders around 18 significant statues and monuments scattered throughout Forest Park are also available. Works include depictions of saints and Civil War heroes, war memorials and contemporary art, a wooden Indian sculpture and fountains.
Another fine place to walk in the city is Tower Grove Park adjacent to the Missouri Botanical Garden. Tower Grove, established by Garden founder Henry Shaw, is considered the finest example of a Victorian walking park left in the United States today. Visitors can stroll on tree-lined paths which gently curve past statues, fountains, an octagonal bandstand with a curving cupola roof and the whimsical gazebos that dot the park.
Bird-lovers will delight in the number of feathered friends who frequent city parks in the St. Louis area parks. Each spring, neotropical migrant birds such as hummingbirds, warblers, thrushes and tanagers, fly north from their winter homes in Mexico, Central and South America to their breeding grounds in the Midwest, and the nearby wetland areas make the St. Louis region an exciting destination for birds and birdwatchers alike.
Hikers and tree-lovers can take a walk in the woods and learn about the life cycle of trees at Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center. Located only 20-minutes from downtown St. Louis off fabled Route 66, Powder Valley is operated free of charge by the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Powder Valley’s 112-forested acres are thick with oak and hickory forests and wildflowers. Three trails of differing lengths and topography provide a perfect path for trailblazers. Hickory Ridge Trail offers one-mile and half-mile loops through valleys and up hills. A favorite of wildflower spotters, Tanglevine Trail is a level one-third mile paved path that is toddler and wheelchair accessible. Broken Ridge Trail runs two-thirds of a mile over Powder Valley’s steepest terrain, offering a more challenging route. Paths are shared with wild turkeys, chipmunks, raccoons and the whitetail deer that call the forest home. Bird watchers: bring your binoculars and Peterson Field Guides. These woods host hundreds of migrating species throughout the seasons.
Birders will go wild at the World Bird Sanctuary, located in 130-acres of beautiful Missouri forest that’s just 25-minutes southwest of the Gateway Arch. Hike the trail to the bird feeding stations for a view of native song birds and other creatures. Visitors also can get an up-close look at the widest variety of live native and exotic birds of prey in North America at the Sanctuary’s World Environmental Education Center. The mission of the free attraction is to preserve the earth’s biological diversity and to secure the future of threatened bird species. Before your visit, check their web site, for dates of special educational programs and outings for individuals and groups of all ages.
Visitors can relive the heyday of legendary Route 66, once called the Main Street of the nation, at the museum in the visitors center of Route 66 State Park. Then they can enjoy the multi-purpose paths that honeycomb through seven miles of the park giving visitors views of the Meramec River. The trails traverse the river’s flat flood plain making their use ideal for the wheel-chair bound and families with young children.
Farther out Route 66, visitors can take a walk on the wild side at the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center. Better known as the Wolf Sanctuary, the breeding farm for rare and endangered wolves was founded by noted naturalist Dr. Marlin Perkins. Reservations are required for tours that include a film, a discussion about this animal’s role in the environment and a walk through the woods to view the wolves in a natural, enclosed setting. Popular evening programs are held throughout the year that feature campfire storytelling powwows filled with positive wolf tales and, of course, a howling at the moon session. Wolf lovers can learn more about the programs through the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center’s web site or by calling 314-939-5900.
Not far from the Canid Research Center is Rockwoods Reservation, 1,898 acres of rugged, mostly hardwood forests interspersed with springs and streams. The pure stands of white oak which covered the hills years ago were clear-cut in the mid-1800’s, and later mining further left the area a barren, rocky landscape. Today the Reservation is covered with luxuriant forests and is protected by the Missouri Department of Conservation.
The reservation is open to the public seven days a week except holidays. Seven trails, including one which is self-guided and wheel chair accessible, cover more than 10 miles and take hikers past a cave, a pond and evidence of old mining operations. An education center on the reservation grounds offers exhibits and interpretive programs.
Grant’s Trail in south St. Louis County is a very popular six-mile trail that connects parks, residential area and schools. The trail goes past Grant’s Farm and White Haven Historical Site, the former home of President Ulysses S. Grant after whom the trail is named, and along wetlands, a pond and an ecological facility.
Visitors who want to stay near the trail in accommodations that harken back to an earlier time will find Orlando’s Lodge at Grant’s Trail the perfect choice. The lodge offers a rustic log cabin motif in a luxury setting. Themed rooms commemorate, among other things, “Old Man River,” frontier days when St. Louis was an outpost on the edge of the wilderness and Rockbridge, a nearby Missouri fishing destination. Bicycle rentals, a golf driving range and a miniature golf course are just a short walk away.
At Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, a United Nations World Heritage Site, in Collinsville, Illinois just minutes from downtown St. Louis, visitors have a choice of several trails including one that takes them up Monk’s Mound, the largest prehistoric earthen construction in the New World.
Other trails take visitors through the Plaza which was the core of this ancient Indian city and around Woodhenge, a replica of a sun calendar used by members of this prehistoric culture.
A booklet detailing a 6.2-mile nature/culture hike is available for sale in the Museum Shop. This hike takes visitors through more remote areas of the site and explains the culture of the Mound-builders, archaeology and the environment.
Just north of St. Louis is the start of the 185-mile Katy Trail, the nation’s longest rails-to-trails project. Named for the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad line — nicknamed Katy — the flat, crushed limestone gravel path is perfect for bikers or hikers of all ages and ability levels as the grade never exceeds 5 percent. Bicycle rental services are located at trailheads of the 8-foot-wide, wheelchair accessible trail.
The final homestead of legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone stands only a mile off the Katy Trail near the tiny Missouri town of Defiance. The Georgian-style home, furnished as it was when Boone died there in 1820, and a cluster of historic houses and public buildings from the era are open for tours daily, March through December. Back on the trail, it’s a 7.5-mile trip from Defiance through vineyard-studded hills to the winery town of Augusta. Trail travelers are welcome to take a break at one of many picturesque wineries located here. Mount Pleasant Winery, famous for its award-winning ports, offers a pretty outdoor picnic area nestled into a sloping, grape-filled hillside. The winery’s cheese shop avails a variety of fruits, cheese, meats and crispy homemade breads to tide over hungry trekkers. Montelle Winery at Osage Ridge is also located just off the Katy Trail. The steep uphill climb to the woodsy wine shop is worthwhile. Those who reach the top are rewarded with a great view of the Missouri River valley and delicious samples of Missouri varietal wines.
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