Did you know that the St. Louis County park system has at least forty parks? You’d have to visit one just about every weekend for an entire year to experience them all.
While I’m not quite up to challenging myself to that (at least not in 2016, with the year being two-thirds over already), I’ve consciously been trying to explore more parks and build a better internal map of the recreation opportunities this area has to offer.
One that I ventured to this summer is Cliff Cave Park. Situated in the southernmost part of the St. Louis metro region, it hugs the curves of the mighty Mississippi River. As its name suggests, the park boasts towering bluffs, and somewhere in it, a cave that I haven’t laid eyes on yet.
My husband Nathan and I drove there on a whim one Saturday afternoon, and not being the best dressed for prolonged outdoor activities, decided to stroll along the loop north of the main parking lot and pavilion (see the map above), rather than venturing on a several mile long loop in another part of the park.
From the parking lot, we could see the park’s namesake cliffs extending to the south. Atop the cliff right overhead, the roof of a residence was slightly visible, as well as several rows of well tended grape vines. With an abundance of sunshine and being situated on a rocky, mineral rich cliff, I could imagine the conditions creating an excellent terroir for the grapes.
Little did I know, those grapes would have greater significance the more I learned about the park. By the pavilion and restrooms, a covered sign shared information about the park’s history, trails, and ecosystem. Before opening to the public in 1977, the site of Cliff Cave Park passed through several owners, and its uses included a failed winery venture, a spring fed pool, and a marina. The railroad also went through the area, which to me helped explain the long, flat stretch of ground in an otherwise rocky and cliff-covered environment.
After perusing the park’s background, we started off on the freshly blacktopped path toward the river. From the path, several skinny dirt trails crisscrossed down the embankment to the river’s edge. The sight was too much for me. I veered straight off and followed one to the river and soaked in the view. I hadn’t been so up close and personal with the Big Muddy since an adventure to the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers nearly a year and a half ago.
While I didn’t know it then, as I was standing right by the river, there’s a chance I may have been in Illinois. If you take another look at the map of Cliff Cave Park at the top of this post, you’ll see that the Illinois state line technically doesn’t end at the Mississippi—in some stretches, it crosses over and eats up bits of land we’d typically imagine as being Missouri. Interesting fact of the day, huh?
We both enjoyed the view and eventually trudged back uphill to rejoin the path. For about a mile or so if you follow it north of the parking lot, it offers additional views of the Mississippi (further upstream, we caught sight of a barge making its way down the river) before looping back through a wooded area that almost resembles a swamp.
Overall, it made for a nice walk on a humid summer afternoon. And at a mere 25 minutes from Busch Stadium and the rest of downtown, it’s an easy escape to get back in touch with nature.
I’m really hoping to return again soon, this time with hiking gear, so I can explore the southern loop trail that leads to several overlooks. With the flat terrain and nicely finished path, it’s also ideal for runners and bikers looking for a change of scenery.
See you there soon!
Know Before You Go
Address: 806 Cliff Cave Rd, St. Louis, MO 63129
Hours: 8 a.m. to a half hour past official sunset.
Facilities: Bathrooms available, as well as a picnic shelter that can be reserved.
Trails: The main trail, known as the Mississippi River Trail, is an approximately 5 mile paved loop, in the flatlands right next to the Mississippi. For more information, including videos that highlight each of the park’s trails, head on over to the St. Louis County Parks and Recreation website.