When the quarantine started and kept people in, people actually went out.
Not to bars or restaurants or movies or concerts or sporting events, but to parks. In fact, they overwhelmed some St. Louis area parks and authorities had to close or otherwise limit access to several popular outdoor destinations. Castlewood State Park and Cliff Cave County Park are always crowded, and they only got more so once being outdoors was the only entertainment available away from home.
In March and through April, winter was winding down and spring was springing. People needed to do something besides watch TV and browse social media. Without a doubt, at the beginning of the shutdown I saw more people out walking in my neighborhood than I ever have.
I live near Tower Grove Park and I love it. But for a good hike I prefer the woods and the hills away from the city. In an effort to encourage people to continue to avoid indoor gathering as virus cases rise again, here are some of my favorite STL-area trails. These recommendations are mostly loop trails because I kind of dislike going out and back.
I highly encourage you to download the AllTrails app (available for iOS and Android) which will help you keep track of where you are much better than a paper map, especially if you get off trail. It'll also allow you to decide if you'd rather turn around on a long hike.
The reality is that you do have to drive a bit to get to the best trails, or avoid crowds, so that’s why I recommend these. And you must be super careful of ticks! Use a serious bug repellent like Sawyer Picaridin or Deet, as opposed to OFF! which is more of a backyard product. Wear pants instead of shorts. Bring plenty of water or a water filter, snacks, and always let someone know where you are. Cell coverage can be spotty or nonexistent in some remote areas.
Off we go...
Longer hikes (~10 miles)
Wilderness Loop, Meramec State Park, 1:15 from STL | Awesome variety, really beautiful, easy to follow, an absolute favorite. You can make it a ~10 mile loop or shorten it to maybe half that using a cut-over trail. If you go in April the spring wildflowers are intense! Takes a little over an hour to get there from STL. Several other shorter trails in the park, too.
Pike Run Trail, St. Francois State Park, 1:00 from STL | A good getaway and has a nice creek/spring area about halfway through. It’s pretty long (~11 miles) and sometimes monotonous, although you will see cool rocks, walk ridges, and have variety. Can be torn up from horse traffic. The park has two other shorter trails and you can swim in the Big River is several spots (which aren’t on the trails).
Zombie Trail, Sherman Beach Park, 0:30 from STL | Closer than most others listed here. You walk both sides of a large wooded hollow. You sometimes are in sight of a separate paved trail at the bottom, which kills the feeling of isolation, but it’s still a cool trail. It runs about ~9 miles total, but you could shorten it by coming back along the paved trail. It starts out as a wide gravel path along the Meramec River but heads off into the woods after a mile or so. Watch for mountain bikers.
Medium outings (~3-7 miles)
LaBarque Hills Trail, Young Conservation Area, 0:30 from STL | Just past Eureka. Starts out somewhat unimpressively but heads into the woods soon enough. A great stretch of pine trees on the Taconic Loop portion. Water, wildflowers, easy hills, a nice place. You're very close to the Glassberg Family Conservation Area Trail, too, which has small waterfalls and an overlook.
Sandstone Canyon Trail, Don Robinson State Park, 0:45 from STL | Farther past Eureka. Really nice. Don’t be fooled by the start, which is paved. It soon goes off into the woods and by an actual canyon (such as they are, in Missouri). You can explore the canyon too, even though the trail itself doesn’t go into it. There is a second trail in the park, confusingly also named LaBarque Hills Trail.
Rockywood Trail, Washington State Park, 1 hour from STL | Nice variety here. Water, a historic mill, old building foundations, etc. You can see petroglyphs and swim the Black River in the park—but not right on this trail.
Short trails (~3 miles or less)
Devil’s Honeycomb Trail, Hughes Mountain Natural Area, 1:25 from STL | A unique and interesting geological formation (for Missouri) of rocks liquified by volcanic activity, which then cooled and cracked. Super cool, and cool views (for Missouri). It's an out-and-back trail, and, being on Hughes Mountain, requires a good climb.
Pickle Springs Trail Through Time, Pickle Springs Natural Area, 1:15 from STL | This is well-known and popular and short, but the scenery is just great, especially the weathered rock formations. It’s near Hawn State Park which has a really amazing ~12 mile trail, Whispering Pines, that is best for an overnight but can be shortened to ~6 miles.
Eastern Trail, Hickory Canyons Natural Area, 1:10 from STL | Really really short out-and-back, but it has a great waterfall. It's just a very nice spot. The “Western Trail” is across the road and is a bit longer. It’s nice too, but not in the same way.
These are mostly closer to St. Louis, but will give you a lovely outing if they're not crowded.
Hayes Trail via Matson Hill, 8 miles, Matson Hill Park, 0:45 from STL | An out-and-back with a short loop at the far end. While the nature is the draw, you will probably see an abandoned vintage car door or two.
Beulah Trail, 4.4 miles, Greensfelder County Park, 0:30 from STL | Great path that cuts along the sides of hills and through rocky forest. The park has many other trails.
Broemmelsiek Trail, 4 miles, Broemmelsiek Park, 0:40 from STL | Lots of small ups and downs, mix of prairie and forest.
Flint Quarry & Chubb Trail Loop, 3.4 miles, West Tyson County Park, 0:20 from STL | A good introduction to deeper woods trails if you've only ever walked in city or suburban parks.
Victoria Glades Loop, 2.2 miles, Victoria Glades Conservation Area, 0:45 from STL | Many trails have small glades you go in and out of, but this one gives you an extended walk through a big Missouri glade (woods, too). Be sure to cross the road to hit the trail; don't follow the path up and out of the parking lot—it's a dead end. You're also pretty close to the Valley View Glades Trail, a slightly longer trek.
Strawberry Creek Trail, 2.3 miles, Strawberry Creek Conservation Area, 0:30 from STL | Can be overgrown and is confusing when you get near the edge of the park, near the neighborhood, but still a solid Missouri trail.
Finally, one of the closer, less used systems of trails is in the Forest 44 Conservation Area. It's 20 minutes from STL. Multiple paths criss-cross so you can choose your hike length for yourself. While you'll hardly see people once you climb up the hills, you probably will see deer (and, therefore, ticks). It's definitely not the greatest of trails and is close enough to Highway 44 that you hear cars, but still a good private walk in the woods if that’s what you need.
And even if you don't think you need it, you probably do. So this week, instead of doomscrolling spend some time looking up a good trail.
Photos by Bill Keaggy / Tremendousness.