Hike St. Louis: the best destinations for your next outdoor excursion


Zaven Nalbandian

Hikers enjoy multiple lookout points throughout the trails in Castlewood State Park. Castlewood is one of over 30 parks in the St. Louis County parks system.

With nine inches of snow on the ground, getting out into nature can seem impossible and it can be hard to see that spring is just a short time away. If you’re looking to fulfill your New Years Resolution of trying something new or staying healthy, going hiking can be a great way to do both. I took my first real hike in 2010 in Millenium Park in Creve Coeur, and since then I’ve hiked more than 250 miles just on trails throughout the area. Here are my top five hiking destinations throughout the St. Louis area.

5. The Green Rock Trail

Located in Eureka, the Green Rock Trail is easily accessible from Highway 44. While it is not the most rugged place to hike, the natural scenery is hard to match. The rolling hills provide a brilliant view of St. Louis County looking east and Franklin County looking west. I was even able to catch a glimpse of the Gateway Arch from the top of one hill. There are more than 13 miles of total trail length, but the shortest loop is a quick and simple 3.6 miles. This route is located just a short distance away from the World Bird Sanctuary and Six Flags St. Louis; your serene sounds of nature may or may not be interrupted with the familiar sounds of roller coasters and rides from the park. As a part of the Rockwoods Reservation in the St. Louis County Parks system, all trails are well-kept and easily navigable with few major obstacles. On my hike of this trail, I also encountered a non-venomous black rat snake, which was amazing to see since they tend to hide away during the daytime.

4. The Rock Quarry Trail

Another trail from the Rockwoods Reservation area in Eureka is the 2.2-mile Rock Quarry route features a stop along the source of the Hamilton Creek, which feeds into the Meramec River. The scenery is more rugged than the Green Rock Trail, but the bridges and staircases along the route make some of the steep hills a bit more manageable. I frequently used this trail when preparing for my mountain climbing treks, because the switchbacks and rocky terrain provided a nice preview of a real mountain. I also saw several eagle nests with their owners flying close by, which was a nice addition.

3. Weldon Spring Lewis and Clark Trail

History nuts get ready, because this is the trail for you. Located off of Highway 94 in Weldon Spring, this is the place that Lewis and Clark famously made their first stop after departing from St. Louis City on their expedition in 1803. While this trail is not as rough as the ones previously mentioned, the scenery on the trail is still one of the best in the area, with one of the feature spots being an overlook of the Missouri River. For fishing extraordinaires, this trail features several creeks and rivers with lots of trout and bass, and the Missouri River has several great spots close by. The two most popular routes here are five-mile loops and eight-mile loops, but don’t let the distance deter you, because these trails are some of the most well-managed and softest in St. Louis so walking on them is a breeze. On my hike, I finished the loop almost two hours ahead of schedule, setting out at nine in the morning and finishing by two in the afternoon, so I decided to hike the five-mile option that same day as well.

2. Castlewood State Park

A favorite spot for high school kids and adults alike, Castlewood has easily accessible views and a great selection of wildlife to see. The park is located just off of Big Bend Road in Ellisville. The reason these trails are so popular is because of their versatility, with most trails being friendly to not only hikers but also runners, bikers, people on horseback and ATVs. The feature trail in this park is the Castlewood Loop Trail, which is 5.6 miles in length and is extremely well kept with extraordinary views of the Meramec River. The trail also has stop-offs for fishers on the banks of the river. On my hike, we reached the banks of the Meramec by 10:30 a.m. (we had set out at 9 a.m.) and we stopped and fished for about two hours, which we weren’t planning on doing, but was a fun addition to an already beautiful hike.

1. The Katy Trail

If you’re a native St. Louisan or have lived in the area for a few years, you probably already know the Katy Trail. Although it is known mainly as a bike trail, it is frequented by hikers as well. The bike trail is 240 miles in total length, running from Orchard Farm to Clinton (the county seat of Henry County, MO). The hiking trails are a bit more rugged than the ones closer to home, so definitely don’t plan on going with younger relatives, but since there are so many trails to choose from, the range of difficulty you can take on is very wide. The Swimming Deer Trail in St. Francois State Park is one of my favorites: a relatively short, straightforward loop that goes around the perimeter of St. Francois State Park. This trail is not officially on the Katy Trail but is part of the state park and is easily accessible from the trail.


Honorable Mentions

Queeny Park Trails

They were fun trails to hike for sure, but when I was finished with them, I didn’t really feel the accomplishment that I felt on the other trails—they are just too urban. Plus, the scenery on these trails is bland, with no special things to see. That said, it’s hard to beat the accessibility of the trails, the familiarity of the area is definitely a source of safety. It’s a great spot to go on a walk with a date or even just with your parents, but just not the pristine hiking spot that the other trails are.

Cahokia Mounds

For anyone attempting to learn more about the history of the neighboring areas, the Cahokia Mounds are perfect. But for anyone looking to get out and enjoy nature, these are not the trails for you. Personally, I didn’t find these all that exciting, it was basically just a walk in a field with a few hills and a visitor education center, which, while informative, didn’t add much to the actual hiking experience.