Category Archives: Hiking

Hike #5: Laumeier Sculpture Park

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

I know, I know. How can a sculpture park possibly count as a hike?

Well, I can promise that if you’ve never been to Laumeier Sculpture Park, you’ll find yourself in for a bit of a hike when you go. It might not be one of the entirely rugged, natural type, but I found it a unique way to experience art in a natural setting.

Located near the 44 and 270 interchange in Kirkwood, Laumeier Park offers three short trails and participates in St. Louis County Park’s 30/30 Hikes Program. Two of the trails go through woodlands, and the main, paved path stays mostly out in the open and leads walkers past the most prominent art installations in the park, such as Tony Tasset’s Eye and Alexander Liberman’s The Way, both shown below.

On this particular visit, my friend Stephanie and I stayed on the Central Pathway, the main .64-mile trail, because we had decided spur of the moment to attend the Mother’s Day weekend Art Fair. This annual event attracts artists from all over and offers a variety of food vendors. So, even if you’re not feeling up for a long walk, you can still see some of the main attractions, eat some delicious food, and peruse artists’ wares.

After visiting the food vendors (toasted ravs, anyone?), we followed the Central Pathway trail to the back of the park to escape the crowds and stretch our legs a bit. Works of art are everywhere – a tree trunk covered in hammered metal, a chain of steel buoys tucked just into the woods, a pavilion with a roof shaped like flower petals. Visiting in the late afternoon also provided beautiful golden hour light.

If you’re looking for an out-of-the-box hike, I recommend giving Laumeier Park a chance. I’m looking forward to my next visit to complete the Art Hike Trail once real spring arrives.

Know Before You Go

Address: 12580 Rott Rd, St. Louis, MO 63127

Admission: Free, except for special events like the Art Fair.

Trails: Three trails are available, each less than a mile long. Laumeier’s detailed trail map also shows locations of the sculptures and works of art you can expect to see on whichever trail you choose.

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Hike #4: Southern Illinois State Parks

(This is the extremely belated fourth post of my Twelve Hikes, Twelve Months series.)

At the very beginning of last April, I set out on a day trip with my mom and sister to explore some of the lesser visited natural areas in southern Illinois. Many people familiar with the region think of mainstays like Giant City State Park and Garden of the Gods as worthy hiking destinations. However, if you’re interested in places a little off the beaten path, read on for highlights of that spring day extravaganza.

Ferne Clyffe State Park

We began our day at Ferne Clyffe State Park on the Big Rocky Hollow Trail. Located about a mile outside the town of Goreville, this state park is smack dab between interstates 57 and 24, making it easily accessible for day-trippers.

(Fun fact: Goreville sat in the path of totality during the 2017 solar eclipse, and will be close to, if not in, the path of totality during another solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.)

Big Rocky Hollow Trail is a wide, level path that cuts through woods in a small canyon until it arrives at a short waterfall. A different trail branches off early on and follows the rising bluffs to the right. In early spring, bits of vegetation and hardy flowers pop up among boulders and under the tree canopy. Rock faces are covered in springy, bright green moss. Walking among those boulders was an otherworldly experience for us. To lengthen our hike, we followed the path partway up the bluff and then returned to follow the main trail to the waterfall and back.

Dixon Springs State Park

About 25 minutes southeast of Ferne Clyffe is Dixon Springs State Park. While it does have a few hiking trails, we stopped off to use the park’s picnic facilities.

The almost 800-acre site sits on a rock face and was used as a health spa in the 19th century because of the seven mineral springs onsite. The remnants of a small community remain, including at least two old church buildings perched atop a hill.

We ate lunch at a picnic table right next to a beautiful stream, and spent some time exploring the immediate area and soaking in the lovely spring air. We crossed a bridge overlooking one of the springs and walked up to the site of the old settlement. Because we had packed our day with destinations, we then moved on to make the most of it.

Golconda

We couldn’t come so close to the Ohio River, just ten miles from Dixon Springs, and not go take a look at it. So we turned left out of the park onto Illinois Route 146 and drove into Golconda, a historic river town with a population of 2,000.

Main Street was absolutely lined with motorcycles that day. We kept going and parked near the Pope County Historical Society, across from the courthouse, and proceeded up the levee steps to peek at the mighty Ohio River.

The Pope County Historical Society was also well worth a visit. Rooms upon rooms tell the story of Golconda and the surrounding area. You can see varied collections exhibiting Golconda’s history, learn about the Trail of Tears, and spy the high water mark from the 1937 flood.

One other notable stop for us was The Chocolate Factory, a gourmet chocolate shop that opened in 1977 and is located across from Dixon Springs State Park. We made sure to stop in and pick up some homemade fudge as we headed westward once again.

Heron Pond Natural Area

To cap off our day of wandering, we headed to Heron Pond Natural Area to see some natural cypress swamp. A lot of people probably don’t realize that southern Illinois has such a gem – it was definitely my first time hiking through a habitat like that.

Heron Pond is located less than 15 minutes south of Vienna. The parking lot was rather remote, and then it was a good half mile at least before reaching the boardwalk that enters the swamp. We followed a dirt path (the Todd Fink Heron Pond Trail) that bridged a creek and then followed it. Turtles sunning themselves on the opposite bank plunged into the water as we walked by.

If Ferne Clyffe felt surreal, this place was even more so. The ground and cypress roots were completely covered in water, which was in turn carpeted with duckweed. Centuries-old cypress trees rose out of the water and towered upward, competing for sky and sunlight exposure. It was the kind of place someone could get lost in time just experiencing the silence.

This year, we hope to complete another similar day trip, picking out places we haven’t been and enjoying the arrival of spring. I encourage you to get out, wherever you are, and do the same.

Know Before You Go

Ferne Clyffe State Park

90 Goreville Rd, Goreville, IL 62939

Dixon Springs State Park

982 IL-146, Golconda, IL 62938

Pope County Historical Museum

112 N. Columbus, Golconda, IL 62938

The Chocolate Factory

990 IL-146, Golconda, IL 62938

Heron Pond Natural Area

Heron Pond Ln, Belknap, IL 62908

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.