Category Archives: Hiking

Hike #3: LaBarque Creek Conservation Area

(This is the third post of my Twelve Hikes, Twelve Months series.)

March’s edition of the Twelve Hikes, Twelve Months challenge took me to a truly new place. Until a few days before the hike, I had never heard of LaBarque Creek Conservation Area, a 1,200 acre park about an hour southeast of St. Louis.

As per usual, I discovered it while scrolling around Google Maps. This challenge has really put that unusual pastime to good use. I spotted a cluster of parks in northern Jefferson County, including LaBarque Creek, Young Conservation Area, and the Myron and Sonya Glassberg Family Conservation Area. I was curious to visit at least one of them, and LaBarque Creek ended up fitting the bill.

My friends Erica and Josh were game to join me for a nice Saturday morning hike. We met in the gravel parking lot at the foot of LaBarque Creek’s only trail. I say foot of, because this trail is a three-mile adventure in hills. If you conquer the trail clockwise as we did, you will find a nearly continuous gain in elevation on the first half. It made for a challenging and satisfying workout.

The trail travels in a loop through woods, along a scattering of short rock formations atop a ridge, over a stretch of exposed rock (possibly sandstone) leading to a cliff, and finishes by briefly touching the path of LaBarque Creek. It was scenic throughout, showing off a scrubby and rugged landscape. I couldn’t help but pause several times to photograph the surrounding beauty.

20170304_105530

20170304_104554

Although spring had yet to touch the woods, the ground was coming alive with green. The views through the leafless timber, especially along the highest part of the ridge, were arresting.

20170304_104458

20170304_104348

We crossed paths with a few hikers but mostly enjoyed having the trail to ourselves – one of the benefits of an early start. I burned through a water bottle easily from the strain of continuous hill-climbing. After reaching the trail’s highest point around halfway through, it was a delicious feeling to descend back into the valley on the second half of the loop.

The back half contained some of my favorite scenery, including some exposed rock, contrasting light and dark ground cover, and views of LaBarque Creek. Near the end, the trail also skirted someone’s property, so we got to observe horses grazing in a field to the left of the trail. The trail became a well-defined path etched into the hillside as we approached the bridge leading back to the parking lot.

20170304_112351

20170304_111809

I was surprised to learn later, while looking into the history of the park, that it has only recently been designated as a conservation area. The land was dedicated in 2010, due in part to the work of a group known as the Friends of the LaBarque Creek Watershed.

It is wonderful that this glimpse of Missouri’s original landscape has been preserved for generations to enjoy. Go challenge yourself to the loop – and enjoy this example of the beauty and diversity of the Missouri landscape.

20170304_114536(0)

 

Know Before You Go

Address: Valley Dr, Pacific, MO, 63069 (Detailed driving directions are provided on the Missouri Department of Conservation’s website.)

Admission: Free.

Facilities: Good sized parking lot, but no picnic tables or restrooms. The nearest city is Pacific.

Trails: LaBarque Creek has a single, looped trail around 3 miles long.

Advertisements

Hike #2: Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site

(This is the second post of my Twelve Hikes, Twelve Months series.)

February’s hike took me thirty minutes north of Springfield, Illinois, to Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site. This little gem lies two miles immediately south of Petersburg, a community of around 2,300, that hugs the west side of the winding Sangamon River.

Before I go any further, I must add an unfortunate disclaimer that this post is rather rather lacking in photos. My camera died en route to this Springfield adventure, so I’m stuck with a few older photos showcasing a different New Salem trail in its full-fledged-summer-foliage glory.

The main attraction of New Salem is the historic village, a replica of the community that Abraham Lincoln spent time in during some of his formative years in the Springfield area. During warmer months, the village fills up with reenactors and educational events for families and children. The site is especially popular for school field trips – I should know, I’ve been there on one. On this particular day, though, my sisters and I were just looking for a good hike to stretch our legs.

We parked in the large lot up the hill from the main park entrance, in a spot furthest away from the visitor center. With my sister’s canine companion in tow, we started down a couple mile loop through the woods. It starts off downhill, crosses a creek, and begins a loop that varies greatly in elevation. It was a brisk day, but not too cold for a February late morning/early afternoon. The sunlight poured down on us.

After cresting a steep hill, my sister Becky showed us the Bale cemetery, a small family plot still intact from around the 1800s. The park has nicely preserved the space, fencing it off, keeping the monuments in good repair, and placing a sign that shares some of the history of the family at  rest there. We stopped a moment to read the headstones and admire the view – the cemetery sits atop a hill overlooking woods and the Sangamon River.

A short distance down the trail, we also walked by the remnants of a chimney and foundation of a small building, possibly an old home. It was hard to tell when exactly the building was originally built, but it had certainly languished over the years until all the materials except stone were gone. At any rate, it wasn’t identified by any marker or sign, so we explored it a bit and then moved on.

The trail came close to the park entrance and then began to loop back uphill. It was definitely a more brisk hike than the Shaw Nature Preserve. Although it had less variation in scenery, the cool sites we came across, like the cemetery and old foundation, made it an interesting hike nonetheless. It’s always nice to go for a walk in the woods, and a warmer than average February day is especially ideal, with the lack of bugs that might otherwise populate the trail.

Unfortunately, my younger sister and I had to take off after completing the hike, so there wasn’t time to explore another trail that day. However, there are several other paths to explore – one leads from near the visitor center down to a covered bridge that crosses Rt. 97/123. Another starts on the other side of the highway (closest to the river) and follows an abandoned road all the way to the river. On a visit last year, we saw a few snakes moving through the vegetation at the river’s edge. A network of other trails crisscrosses all throughout the park, making it an interesting place for repeat visits.

Come to learn about the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, and stay for a hike or two – and while you’re at it, maybe even a bit of theater.

 

Know Before You Go

Address: 15588 History Ln, Petersburg, IL 62675

Hours: Hours/days of operation change seasonally – check out the park’s website for more information.

Admission: Free. There is a suggested donation of a few dollars to tour the historic village.

Facilities: The visitor center has restrooms, as well as the campground adjoining the park.

Trails: Several miles of trails crisscross the park – some up by the village, at least one across the road close to the Sangamon River, and others accessible nearby.

General Info: New Salem has a variety of offerings – the historic village, hiking trails, a campground, and a popular outdoor theater. It’s a beautiful place to visit, especially when all these activities are in full swing.

 

Hike #1: Shaw Nature Reserve

(This is the first post of my Twelve Hikes, Twelve Months series.)

My first official hike in 2017 took place on an unusually mild January day at the Shaw Nature Reserve, located just forty minutes from downtown St. Louis.

Though not intentionally planned this way, Shaw Nature Reserve turned out to be the perfect kickoff to my year of seeking new hiking adventures. This place is a quintessential St. Louis experience—a wild extension of the Missouri Botanical Garden that owns and operates it.

Within its 2,400 acres are 14 miles of networking trails that meander through a veritable treasure trove of habitats, including prairies, glades, and woodlands. The Botanical Gardens began acquiring the land in the 1920s, and over the years has transformed the private reserve into a hiking destination and preservation tool for Missouri’s unique landscapes.

Be forewarned that since it’s private, there is a small entrance fee unless you’re already a Garden member. My friend Erica had a pass, so we met up and she checked us in at the visitor center right at the park entrance.

Then we parked further back in the reserve and began our hike outside a stately brick home. I learned later that it is known as the Bascom House.

20170121_115252

Originally built in the late 1800s, it has been restored and maintains regular visiting hours. Had I known that then, I would have tried to detour us through the house before we hit the trails. I find old homes, and architecture in general, quite fascinating. But instead we walked on past it, leaving me curious for another visit.

From the Bascom House, we followed a meandering path that connected to the Brush Creek Trail, a more established trail that leads toward the Meramec River. I was surprised when we came upon a fenced off area in the woods that we could only access by letting ourselves through a gate in the so-called “deer exclusion fence.”

The wooded trail we continued along soon opened into a wide space rippling with golden prairie grasses. It was a beautiful sight.

20170121_112343

At the top of the long, grassy hill stood a few structures reminiscent of the settler days in the 1800s. We passed by a large teepee structure and spotted a miniature sod house. To our surprise, the door to the sod house wasn’t locked, and we peeked our heads in. A rich, earthy scent filled the interior, which was comprised of a single room no more than a hundred square feet.

20170121_101013

After lingering around the sod house, we continued through the open prairie and reached the next tree line, which was also the location of the Maritz Trail House. This large shelter is accessible by a long driveway extending from the Bascom House. The parking lot outside the shelter was empty, so the driveway must not have been open (It turns out it doesn’t open until April).

20170121_101609

From there, we picked up the Goddard River Trail loop, which circled through woods, glades, and a sandbar along the Meramec River. My favorite part by far were the open glades. I would love to see them again in spring, when they’re teeming with flowers, all different types of plants, and songbirds.

20170121_101832

We also encountered some of our first fellow hikers in the woods, who appeared to be enjoying the morning by bird-watching.

About halfway through the loop, the trail abruptly disappeared by the Meramec River. Fortunately, Erica had hiked this section before and knew to skirt part of the shoreline via the sandbar until the trail picked up again. While we were at it, we wandered to the river’s edge and I took a good look at the solemn currents etching the water’s dark surface. With each step back toward shore, the sandy gravel produced a satisfying crunch, crunch beneath my shoes.

20170121_104830

Upon finding the trail again, it followed close to the river for a while among large, towering trees. It reminded me of Castlewood State Park, where a trail similarly hugs the riverside under a canopy of ancient looking trees. We stopped for a few pictures beside a tree with a particularly impressive girth. When we ran into a park employee cleaning up the trail nearby, I asked him about the age of the tree, and he estimated at least 100 years old, if not older.

We only ran into one other person on the back half of that loop, a trail runner who we ran into a few more times. A series of steep hills led us back up through the woods, and eventually we made it back to the large swath of prairie. The downhill hike from there felt so good after tackling several switchbacks earlier in the trail.

We took a slightly different path to reach the car again, which led to a boardwalk over a small pond with an ethereal looking gazebo situated next to it.

20170121_114546

20170121_114934

Overall, we hiked a solid three or four miles in a few hours out on the trails. It was a great start to the hiking season, if I do say so myself.

Know Before You Go

Address: 307 Pinetum Loop Rd, Gray Summit, MO 63039

Hours: 7 a.m. until sunset. For more information on visitor center hours and Bascom House hours, check out the Botanical Garden’s website.

Admission: $5 general admission, $3 admission for students, seniors, and children, and free for Garden members. The reserve doesn’t permit pets.

Facilities: Bathrooms are available at the visitor center, near the Bascom House, and at the Maritz Trail house shelter.

Trails: Shaw Nature Reserve has about 14 miles of interconnected trails. For trip ideas, view the complete trail map or this list of trail runs (complete with water/bathroom stops) put together by the Botanical Garden staff.

General Info: Some assorted tidbits… The visitor center doubles as a gift shop and bookstore, which I plan to check out next time. Aside from hiking trails, other activities like wagon rides take place at certain times of year. The Botanical Garden also promotes gardening and other educational activities through the reserve. See the website for Shaw Nature Reserve for more information, including activities and upcoming events.

Twelve Hikes, Twelve Months

This year, I’m trying something different. Instead of setting lofty, opaque resolutions that I have little hope of following through with, I have settled on a singular, concrete goal.

Every month, I will hike somewhere new.

Whether a new park, or simply a trail I haven’t explored before, I have challenged myself to extend beyond my familiar favorites – Creve Coeur Lake, Queeny Park, and Castlewood State Park, for instance.

20170211_122233

These St. Louis staples I have walked and hiked numerous times in the past three years. This year, I want to renew my spirit of exploration and push the boundaries of my mental map.

It’s time to explore more thoroughly to the south, west, and north. Although I consider myself a Missourian now, I haven’t seen much of the state outside St. Louis. And while I don’t know how far (literally) I’ll go in pursuing my goal, it will prime the pump for more adventures, road trips, and seeing my adoptive state up close and in person.

I hit the mark in both January and February, and will need to follow up with posts about those outings to Shaw Nature Reserve and New Salem State Park. I’m ticking off March tomorrow, going to explore a conservation area I spotted on a map earlier this week. It will be good fun with good friends, and two very sore legs thereafter.

Whatever you’re focusing on in 2017, I hope it’s a success. Lay out your goal, a plan of action, and just stick with it.

Happy trails.

St. Louis County Parks: Cliff Cave Edition

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.

1646
Rows of grapes grow atop a bluff facing the Mississippi River above Cliff Cave Park.

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.

1647
A sign near the main pavilion shares tidbits about the park’s past for visitors and history-buff-park-lovers alike.

 

1651
A map of the park’s trails and amenities, which include a spring, several overlooks, and access to the Mississippi River.

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.

1663
A view of the Mississippi River facing the Illinois shoreline.

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?

1672
Looking back from the river’s edge, several skinny dirt trails lead from the main path down to the shoreline.

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.

1676
A spiky looking flower growing along the trail at Cliff Cave Park.

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.

1677
A flat, paved trail follows along the Mississippi River.

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.

General Info: Visit the Great Rivers Greenway website for some great information to plan ahead for a visit. The St. Louis Post Dispatch also did a thorough review of the Mississippi River Trail.

 

Phantom Forest and Bittersweet Woods

Every once in awhile, I pull up Google Maps and scroll my way through various areas near St. Louis, watching out for green squares that may indicate the existence of a park. This is how I stumbled across Phantom Forest and Bittersweet Woods.

Both patches of forest are conservation areas, and they’re located one mile south of Manchester Road (also known as Highway 100), the east-west artery that connects West County with St. Louis.

These parks caught my attention awhile ago. When I first spotted them on Google Maps, I had no idea how two small, oddly shaped conservation areas had wound up in the middle of a suburb. They’re just a few miles from my home, and each time I drove past the Barrett Station Road intersection on Manchester, I thought about exploring them.

Recently, I got my chance.

It was the middle of the week, and I came home one evening with the itch to get out and wander; to explore something. It happened to coincide with one of my husband’s evenings off, and although it was hot and muggy outside, he willingly obliged my desire to drive out and explore these two conservation areas.

We parked at the Phantom Forest Conservation Area, which is accessible off Barrett Station Road in Des Peres. The area has its own small lot. There was one other car aside from ours, but we ended up having the trail all to ourselves.

1178
The entrance to Phantom Forest Conservation Area.

The trail going into the woods was covered in wood chips and gradually turned into a skinny dirt path. Although small, the surrounding woods were beautiful, filled with a variety of tree and plant species.

The area had obviously remained untouched for years. As you can see below, trees towered overhead, and sunlight filtered through the dense canopy.

1192
A sunset view from the trail running through Phantom Forest Conservation Area.

Soon the trail split, and we followed the fork to the right up a steep hill. Near the top, we passed a few benches and found a plaque that explained the origins of the park. The stone monument explained, “The Missouri Department of Conservation acknowledges the gift by Claire L. Moore of this thirteen acre natural area, an oasis for all to enjoy. This conservation area has been named for the comic strip hero ‘The Phantom,’ for which Ray Moore was the original cartoonist.”

My husband, an aficionado of many comic book series, immediately got the reference to The Phantom. I myself had to do some reading up to find out more about the park donor.

1199
A monument atop a ridge explains the origins of Phantom Forest.

After enjoying the view and retracing our steps to the main trail, we continued on until the woods abruptly ended. The trail continued on, but we found that it led right behind the fenced backyards of multistory houses.

I spotted a lady who was gardening in one of the enclosed yards and called to her, asking if the path was private or open for walking. She walked right up to the fence and talked with us for several minutes, explaining that the path linked Phantom Forest with Bittersweet Woods. It turns out she was the liaison between the neighborhood and a conservation officer who tends to both patches of woods and maintains the trails. Her two dogs ran around energetically while we talked, and she added that she walks them daily on the trail. Before we headed on, she also let us know about the existence of a small patch of prairie on the other side of the houses.

We briefly left the trail and wandered up into the neighborhood to look at the patch of prairie she had mentioned. I looked up some of the flowers later, and it looks like the prairie was filled with coneflowers and a delicate purple flower called bergamot. (And since I’m not as knowledgeable about flower identification, feel free to comment and correct if I’m wrong here.)

1217
Miniature patch of prairie in Des Peres neighborhood.
1222
Hillside covered in prairie plants and flowers.

After admiring this prairie oasis, we returned to the trail and walked through Bittersweet Woods, which at 10 acres, is slightly smaller than 13-acre Phantom Forest. The trail was a little wider and covered in wood chips, but its elevation varied greatly as we ascended a few big hills. In the distance, we could spot the backyards of many large homes that abutted the woods.

1226
The entrance to Bittersweet Woods Conservation Area, which adjoins Phantom Forest.

Daylight started to fade as we followed the connecting path back into Phantom Forest. We picked up the pace. We followed the trail to the right instead of left (where we came from), and this time it was pretty flat, and we hiked through the lowland section at a good clip.

It wouldn’t be an adventure without a good obstacle, though, would it? When we were almost back to the parking lot, we spotted two male deer sporting antlers who were blocking our path. One casually walked into the woods and continued to graze, while the other just stood there, occasionally looking over his shoulder at us. We weren’t going to walk right into it and possible provoke it, so we stood there. After a few minutes, we almost turned around and retraced our steps, but at last both deer crossed the trail and continued foraging elsewhere.

1232
A deer standing on the trail in Phantom Forest.

Overall, Phantom Forest and Bittersweet Woods are two little gems of wilderness in an otherwise tamed and developed area. They gave me a glimpse of what this part of Missouri looked like when it was blanketed in woods.

Know Before You Go

Address: 2660 Barrett Station Road, St. Louis, MO 63021

Hours: Sunrise to sunset.

Facilities: None. Use the bathroom if you need to before you hike here.

Trails: If you hike through both Phantom Forest and Bittersweet Woods, it’s under 2 miles. For more detail, take a look at this map from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

General Info: Also visit the Missouri Department of Conservation’s website for an overview of the park’s history and general information.

Castlewood State Park: A Photo Tour of Lone Wolf and River Scene Trails

Recently my husband and I went exploring at a local state park near where we live. Castlewood State Park, which sits nestled in a bend of the Meramec River, is a mere 15 minutes from our front step. I had been to the north section of the park once before, this spring, but at the time it had been far too muddy to hit any unpaved trails. This time was different.

The weather was set to be beautiful. Mid 70s, a little breeze, sunny, and most importantly, dry. I made sure to do my research before we left, because on my previous trip I had glimpsed how popular Castlewood is, and how crowded the parking lots can be. I wanted to make sure we knew exactly where we were going and which of the many trails we would  explore.

Our choice for this trip was Lone Wolf Trail.We didn’t know much about the trail, except it was a manageable couple of hours and had some pretty great views of the Meramec. When we found the right parking lot and made our way to the trail head, it looked pretty nondescript. However, as we stepped onto the trail and looked ahead, our necks craned, following the path upward.

The 1.5 loop began with a straight uphill climb on a gravel path.

Start of Lone Wolf Trail

Since we had already made up our minds to do the trail, there was nowhere to go but onward and upward. From that section alone, we can both heartily recommend wearing good tennis shoes or hiking shoes. Thankfully, we both were, otherwise some of the loose bits of gravel could have been problematic.

We couldn’t see what lay beyond the fortress-like hill until we nearly crested it. However, the view on the other side was entirely worth the climb.

Meramec River Bluff View

Our eyes were treated to the sight of the Meramec River, lazily flowing around a bend and into the trees. The sky was crisp, clear blue that crowned the forested bluffs and valley below. What a beautiful view. The photo above shows one of the first rocky outcrops we came across with such a view; it was just one of many along this section of trail.

Meramec River Bluff View

After the initial cardiac climb, the trail almost completely leveled out, simply tracing a path through the trees and hugging the bluffs. We imagined it might be a little crowded, but on that part of the trail, we were almost always within sight of people. Many others had apparently also thought it was a nice day for a hike.We came across other couples, both young and old, groups of friends, parents with small children. Nearly everyone was out to enjoy the day.

The River Valley from the Bluffs

When the sweeping vistas weren’t capturing my attention, I kept noticing other interesting, smaller scale sights along the trail. For instance, the neat ground cover pictured below. It seemed to love the shade provided by the towering trees. I wish I knew the name of it. At any rate, I couldn’t help but stoop and take a few closeups for future reference.

Ground Cover along Lone Wolf Trail

Along the trail, I also noticed a variety of wildflowers. I’m not sure my husband would have appreciated me stopping and photographing every one, but I did get one nonblurry shot of a pretty purple flower that popped up occasionally along the path.

Wildflowers along Lone Wolf Trail

Nathan Standing on Bluff

We hadn’t been hiking long when we noticed something funny about the view below us. If you peered over the edge, you could clearly see train tracks, running right through the state park. It’s not something I had seen before in other parks I’ve visited.

The Bluff, The Railroad, and the River

One time when we looked down, we saw a band of hikers following the tracks. Perhaps they were lost? We weren’t quite sure.

Nathan Standing on a Bluff

But, as you can see, I could not get enough of the views. Lone Wolf Trail solidly delivered on that point.

Nathan Standing on a Bluff

In the photo below, you can kind of see what appears to be a shallow cave in the side of the cliff. It’s the kind of scene that sparks my imagination.

View Down Meramec River Valley

After awhile of hiking along the bluff, we came upon a boardwalk that began a slight descent. Again, there were several places where hikers could pause and stare out at the valley, pondering the beauty and nature around them. It reminded me of some state parks in northern Illinois (namely, Starved Rock State Park and Castle Rock State Park state parks) that have similar boardwalk and bluff views.

The Boardwalk Begins

The wooden stairs also acted as a funnel. Hikers that had previously been (rather purposefully) walking a ways a part to give each group some privacy now had no choice but to enter the fray together. Soon, hikers going downward as we were all but disappeared. Instead, we kept coming across groups of hikers coming up. As you can see below, there wasn’t much room for two to walk abreast down the stairs. But they were solidly built.

Descending To the Floodplain

The Stairs Toward River Scene Trail

About halfway down, I was looking to my right and saw a few overgrown sets of concrete steps. Who knows when those were constructed, or when they ceased being used. A lot of history surrounds Castlewood as far as its prior use as a summer retreat and party haven (there’s even a website dedicated to sharing stories from that era of the park’s history).

Old Stone Stairs

As the stairs continued a sharp descent, it was clear that we were soon going to be on the floodplain, right next to the Meramec.

Heading Down into the Forest

However, we didn’t know we would go through a tunnel under the railroad tracks. Since the trail passes right through there, it’s probably how other hikers we’d seen from the bluffs had made their way to walking along the tracks themselves.The railroad is actively used, however, so I wouldn’t recommend following in their steps. We heard or saw at least two trains go through as we were hiking ourselves.

Tunnel Under the Railroad

Crossing under to the other side of the tracks was like entering a lost world. Here, the trees and their spread canopies dwarfed the trees growing on the rocky cliffs now a hundred feet above us. Some had trunks so thick, one could only imagine they might be a hundred or more years old.

The River Scene Trail
Trees and the Trail

Old Tree Trunk

The trail here was composed of fine-grain dirt. There wasn’t a single trail, but rather a constantly undulating network of wider and narrower paths. As soon as a few bicyclists passed by us, it was clear the multiple paths probably formed from both hikers and bicyclists trying to navigate around each other.

Also at this point, we started wondering if we were still on Lone Wolf Trail. Luckily, my phone had fairly good signal, so I quickly searched for an answer. We had, in fact, deviated from our original plan somehow and gone off onto River Scene Trail, an aptly named path that thankfully headed in the general direction of our parked car. Getting ourselves back to Lone Wolf Trail would have required ascending the dizzying flight of stairs, so we just kept going.

View of the Meramec from the Trail

As Lone Wolf had hugged the bluffs, so did River Scene hug tightly to the Meramec. We could often see clearly through the undergrowth and catch glimpses of various sandbars, embankments, and other curiosities at the river’s edge. I’m not sure how the river is for fishing, but a few years ago I went on a float trip down a section of it on a large raft (courtesy of Riverview Rafting). Although Castlewood is no longer used as a resort area, recreational use of the river lives on.

Crossing Under the Railroad Again

After around an hour and a half of hiking, we emerged from the woods along the floodplain. The trail didn’t quite end at our car, so we continued hiking along the road, back under the railroad (albeit at a less tunnel-like pass). The path before us was very clearly etched in the dirt. It reminded me of a rather unceremonious Yellow Brick Road.

Path Back to the Car

But lead us right back to our car it did, and so concluded our first major Castlewood hike. According to the park’s website and several area maps, it’s clear we’ve only scratched the surface of what the park has to offer. There are all kinds of trails, through woods, up steep slopes, overlooking the valley, and venturing into the valley itself.

We will definitely be back soon.

Tired and Happy Hikers

Know Before You Go

Address: 1401 Kiefer Creek Rd, Ballwin, MO 63021

Hours: 7 a.m. to one-half hour after sunset, year-round (park gates open and close at these times).

Facilities: Several shelters, uncovered picnic areas, and restrooms are available.

Trails: For a list of hiking trails and trail descriptions, the Missouri State Park’s website is a good source.

History: Also visit the Missouri State Park’s website for an overview of the park’s history and general information.