Hikers perch on a limestone bluff overlooking a river at Castlewood State Park.

Our Top Picks for Outdoor Recreation in St. Louis

Monday April 8, 2024

By Rachel Huffman

Among the cityscape, there are plenty of ways to play in St. Louis. Here are some of our top picks for outdoor recreation in the area.

RYZE Adventure Park has an adventure tower with more than 100 obstacles.
RYZE Adventure Park | Photo by Gregg Goldman

Climb Up

Adrenaline level: 5 out of 5

RYZE Adventure Park in Maryland Heights offers more than 100 obstacles, plus a heart-stopping zip line and a death-defying free fall, on its four-story Adventure Tower. Are you up for the challenge? The Adventure Tower isn’t linear, so you can make your own course, picking and choosing the activities that you want to do. If you would rather keep your feet on the ground, check out the 18-hole state-of-the-art miniature golf course, which glows with neon lights at night.

Hit the Slopes

Adrenaline level: 5 out of 5

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 sophisticated 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.

A man zip lines through the woods at Adventure Valley in St. Louis.
Adventure Valley | Photo by Gregg Goldman

Soar Through the Sky

Adrenaline level: 4.5 out of 5

Take flight at Adventure Valley, where 10 zip lines propel you through a beautiful, wooded ridge located 40 minutes from downtown St. Louis. On one zip line, which is more than 1,100 feet long, you can reach speeds up to 50 miles per hour! Back on solid ground, Adventure Valley has a paintball park, which is open on Saturdays and Sundays for those 12 and older.

Go for a Spin

Adrenaline level: 3.5 out of 5

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 speed up to make the ride more exhilarating. Afterward, cool off at Creve Coeur Lake, where the adventure continues with canoe, kayak and paddle board rentals. The park also offers archery, disc golf, playgrounds and a splash pad.

Flowering trees bloom in Gateway Arch National Park, which is one of the best places for outdoor recreation in St. Louis.
Gateway Arch National Park | Photo by Mark Hermes

History with a View

Adrenaline level: 3 out of 5

Add Gateway Arch National Park to your U.S. national parks bucket list! After a $380 million makeover, the manicured grounds around the Gateway Arch and the Museum at the Gateway Arch are postcard-perfect and ready for visitors. The verdant expanse features pretty walkways and two reflection pools, but if you want a bird’s-eye view, take the tram ride to the top of the 630-foot monument – it’s the tallest manmade monument in the country. After you squeeze into a futuristic, five-person pod, it takes four minutes to ascend. At the top, small windows reveal spectacular westward views of the Old Courthouse, downtown St. Louis and beyond, with the Mississippi River and Illinois to the east.

Forward Paddle

Adrenaline level: 3 out of 5

Big Muddy Adventures makes it easy to go with the flow. The world-class St. Louis-based adventure company provides access to the wild wonders of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers with its full fleet of canoes and kayaks. Whether you want to do a microadventure at the base of the Gateway Arch, embark on a full moon float to an uninhabited river island or add a bike ride along the Katy Trail to your aquatic adventure, river trips with Big Muddy Adventures are always memorable.

A family uses a paddle boat to explore the Emerson Grand Basin in Forest Park.
The Boathouse at Forest Park | Photo by Jerry Naunheim Photography

Trail Among the Trees

Adrenaline level: 2.5 out of 5

The Lime Kiln Trail, a three-mile loop in Rockwoods Reservation, will get your heart pumping with a steep incline no matter which direction you hike it. For an easier walk, choose the Trail Among the Trees, a two-mile loop, which is partially paved. Every one of the 13 miles of trails in this 1,880-acre state forest will reward you with abundant shade, pretty vistas and, in the fall, stunning foliage.

Connect with Nature

Adrenaline level: 2 out of 5

You can spend hours, even days, enjoying the cultural institutions in Forest Park, but this local gem also allows visitors to connect with nature and enjoy outdoor recreation in St. Louis. More than 30 miles of walking and biking trails traverse the park, which also boasts more than 190 acres of nature reserves. At The Boathouse at Forest Park, you can rent paddle boats, kayaks and canoes in spring, summer and fall to embark on a miniature expedition of Post-Dispatch Lake. And if you like sports, the urban park has two golf courses, tennis courts, racquetball courts, a skating rink and a cricket field. There are now plans to add basketball courts, as well.

The sun sets over Shaw Nature Reserve, one of the best places for outdoor recreation in St. Louis.
Shaw Nature Reserve | Photo by Gregg Goldman

Walk in the Woods

Adrenaline level: 2 out of 5

In the early 1900s, Castlewood State Park was the site of epic dance parties. Today, the music comes from birds and other wildlife, but visitors can still get their blood pumping on the park’s hiking and biking trails. The River Scene Trail, a three-mile loop, 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.

Serene Scenery

Adrenaline level: 1.5 out of 5

Shaw Nature Reserve, a 2,400-acre nature reserve operated as an extension of the Missouri Botanical Garden, has myriad hiking trails that provide serene scenery. Sitting at the juncture of several major Midwest habitats, the reserve’s diversity in terms of both plants and animals provides an exceptional classroom for those who want to learn more about the natural environment. Plan your visit around a special event such as a prairie hike, daffodil dash, sunset stroll or canopy climb.

Beautifully ornate pavilions dot Tower Grove Park.
Tower Grove Park | Photo by Gregg Goldman

Bird Patrol

Adrenaline level: 1.5 out of 5

A designated location on the Great Missouri Birding Trail, Tower Grove Park serves as a natural refuge for more than 200 species of birds – so don’t forget your binoculars when you visit! This wooded Victorian park features grassy meadows, shade trees and picturesque pavilions, perfect for picnicking, doing yoga and simply relaxing. You can also spend a sunny afternoon playing pickleball, watching the kids on the playground or wandering around the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market, which opens on Saturdays from April to November.

Sunflower Selfies

Adrenaline level: 1 out of 5

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. Each year, the Missouri Department of Conservation plants fields of sunflowers within the 4,300-acre conservation area, and in July and August, people flock from near and far to snap selfies with the sunny flower faces.