St. Louis is a lively city known for its loyal sports fans, thriving blues music scene, frontier-town roots, and just generally being a very pleasant place to live.
That classic Midwest modesty is very prominent in St. Louis, with a real sense of community spirit brought on by good-natured people who like to enjoy themselves.
It may not be the first place you think of when it comes to hiking, but head out of the city center just a little and you’re somewhat spoilt for choice.
Termed the “Gateway to the West” because of its ties to the historic Lewis & Clark expedition of 1803, St. Louis has a tonne of great trails that tailor to all hiking levels.
From short kid-friendly forest hikes to technical overnighters that summit Taum Sauk and lead you past Mina Sauk falls, all bases are covered around St. Louis.
This part of Missouri is teeming with forests, mountains, waterfalls, lakes, wildflower meadows, and iconic river systems like the Meramec River Valley.
Considering all of this wilderness is less than a two-hour drive from St. Louis, there really is something uniquely scenic to tickle the fancy of anyone who’s got a penchant for the great outdoors and is ready to explore.
Easy Hikes Near St. Louis
Location: Creve Coeur County Park
Trail Distance: 3.8 miles
Circumnavigating the most crystal blue lake in all of Missouri, the Lakeview Loop offers a good deal of scenery for your efforts.
Located in the Creve Coeur country park, this is an urban trail that’s easily accessible and, for that reason, frequented by all types of hikers, bikers, walkers, and dog walkers.
It is perfect for families who fancy an easy day hike that’s pleasantly close by to St. Louis.
An easy one to get some fresh air in the gills and check out the beautiful Creve Couer lake.
With not a hill in sight, the 3.8-mile loop can be confidently walked by most adults and children.
If you’re concerned about the trail’s length for your kids then you could always bring their scooter along and let them zoom ahead a little.
This will allow you to keep up your hiking pace, while, hopefully, keeping them in your line of sight.
Elephant Rocks Trail
Location: Elephant Rocks State Park
Trail Distance: 1 mile
Trails don’t come much shorter than the famed trail of Elephant Rocks State Park. Super easy and pleasant for the whole family, in just one short mile you will be treated to some very diverse scenery.
Walking through the forest section of the trail, you’ll hike past some stone house ruins that are sure to have the kids inquisitive and interested.
There are also a few vantage points to view the surrounding forest and take it all in on a snack break.
The best part about this hike though isn’t the views, it is the huge boulders (hence the trail name) that stand proudly over a cute little pond.
Along with these boulders, there are other rock formations to adventure through and climb on if you so wish.
A very interactive and fun day out for the whole family, with an emphasis on rock climbing if your family is capable and up for it.
Just be mindful of the large numbers that visit Elephants Rocks each peak season, and maybe aim for an early morning start if you can rustle up the troops in time.
Mississippi River Trail
Location: Cliff Cave Park
Trail Distance: 5.1 miles
Don’t you love it when a trail is right on your doorstep? The Mississippi River Trail on the outskirts of St. Louis is a fairly long trail that takes you past the famed Cliff Cave.
Steeped in folklore, over the years, Cliff Cave has been a revered riverside tavern, a horse thieves hideout, and a secret meeting spot for Confederate sympathizers (not all at the same time of course).
These days it’s a cordoned-off sanctuary for Indiana bats, which, depending on the day, you may be able to spot a few flying in and flying out as they please.
This trail has it all, with woodland, flat grassland, rocky hillsides, and a thriving frog pond.
It finishes up near the Riverside Shelter which is a fantastic spot for an after-hike picnic while taking in the tugboats and barges cruising down the Mississippi.
Hawk Ridge Trail
Location: Queeny County Park
Trail Distance: 4.1 mile
Hawk Ridge Trail is a charming hike that encompasses all that Edgar M Queeny Park has to offer. Situated in west St. Louis, this park is accessible via public transport, or, if you have a car, it’s just a short 20-minute drive from the city center.
At 4.1 miles it’s not the shortest hike, but being completely flat makes it an easy one to accomplish for beginner hikers.
The entire trail is paved and weaves through centuries-old forests that will have even the most seasoned hikers looking up in wonderment.
On the 4.1 mile loop, you’ll be taken past lakes and meadows that are positively brimming with wildflowers in the spring and summertime.
This is another idealistic trail close by to St. Louis that will have the whole family wondering when the next hiking day will be.
Lewis & Clark And Hogsback Trails
Location: Klondike Park
Trail Length: 1.7 miles
While the famous Klondike Gold Rush took some 1000,000 prospectors to the Yukon region of Northwest Canada, luckily for you, this hike won’t require quite the same commitment.
Part of the 250-acre Klondike Park that’s about a 45-minute drive out of the city, this easy trail incorporates the 1 mile Hogsback Trail into the paved Lewis & Clark trail that wraps around the lake.
It is an unpaved scenic route that is a little more challenging than the 3 mile Lewis & Clark trail but the views sure are worth it.
Looping through the woods of the park, this is a hot spot for bikers as well, so best to be mindful and listen out on tight turns.
With no hills to climb, this hike is achievable for anyone who’s up for getting amongst the towering woods but enjoys knowing the way out.
Location: Southwest St. Louis
Trail Distance: 8 miles (one way)
Right in the heart of St. Louis lies the famous Grant’s Trail which is, without a doubt, one of the absolute gems of the city.
It’s a mixed-use paved trail that is frequented by thousands of St. Louisans each week who adore it for hiking, biking, running, or simply taking a good-old-fashioned stroll.
You’ve got it all on Grant’s with creeks, forests, meadows, and horse pastures that line the 8-mile long trail.
If a 16-mile round trip sounds like your idea of hell, then do not fear, as Grant’s is an out-and-back trail that lets you decide how far you’re willing to venture.
Because it is so central there’s always the option of hiking the full 8 miles out and seeking public transport or a taxi back to the starting point.
Just like St. Louis, it is virtually flat which also makes it perfect for families and first-time hikers looking to stretch their legs and see what they’re made of before giving the harder trails a go.
Moderate Hikes Near St. Louis
River Scene Trail
Location: Castlewood state park
Trail Distance: 3.25 miles
Just a 30-minute drive out of town, Castlewood is one of the closest state parks to St. Louis and also one of the most beautiful.
It has plenty of amazing hiking trails to explore, but none more so than the River Scene Trail which offers gorgeous views of the iconic Meramec River Valley.
At only 3.25 miles in length, this is a fairly short hike that requires a little hiking know-how to safely accomplish.
Emerging from the stunning forest, the trail will lead up to the rocky outcrops known as the bluffs. From here you are treated to a full panoramic view of the forested river system in all its glory.
The trail then leads you along the bluff’s edge for about a mile, allowing you to take in the breathtaking views along the way.
In the end, there’s a set of wooden stairs to descend before reaching the ruins-porn of Castlewood’s glamorous years as an Art Deco resort.
Once you pass through the railroad tunnel, you will pop out, eyes squinting in the sunlight, and make tracks for the trailhead.
There may be a few challenging ascents along the River Scene, but boy oh boy, the views really are worth it!
The Dogwood Trail
Location: Babler Memorial State Park
Trail Distance: 2.2 miles
Situated in the historic Babler Memorial State Park, this hike, although short, has a decent amount of elevation that places it in the moderate hike category.
Featuring several fairly steep inclines that bend and weave their way down into the lavishly green valley, the Dogwood Trail has roughly 300 feet of elevation to its name.
The big drawcard to Babler, and what makes this trail so special, is the abundance of Dogwood trees that glow and gleam in the springtime.
Another notable feature is the 20-foot high outcropping that the trail runs right underneath – giving hikers that quintessential experience of feeling small in nature.
A short but impressive hike that requires a level of fitness on the lower side of moderate to comfortably complete.
Little Grand Canyon
Location: Shawnee National Forest
Trail Distance: 3 miles
Shawnee National Forest may be a longer trek out of St. Louis, but its rugged scenery is totally worth it. Heading south, it takes 1.5 hours to reach by car, making it more of a full-day excursion than a quick nature fix.
The Little Grand Canyon trail is an absolute gem, attracting keen hikers from all across the Midwest for its unique scenery and jaw-dropping landscapes.
On the Little Grand Canyon, you’ll come up against some fairly rocky terrain almost from the offset.
The trail will then lead you down into an impressive and rather unexpected canyon where there’s a lush waterfall awaiting your arrival.
You’ll be expected to cross a few small streams to get there. So, depending on your rock hopping skills, a good pair of waterproof hiking boots are recommended as the chance of getting wet is high on this hike.
Pere Marquette State Park Outer Loop
Location: Pere Marquette State Park
Trail Distance: 6 miles
One hour due north of St. Louis is the Pere Marquette State Park that’s perfect for an overnighter where hiking is the aim and camping is the game.
This park has it all, stunning views, challenging terrain, a fast-flowing waterfall, a historic lodge, and acres and acres of pristine forest.
The outer loop takes in all of the aforementioned features of the park and makes for a long but fairly easy hike for people with a moderate level of fitness.
There’s also a river and a couple of lakes close by to soak in after a long day on the trails, and before nestling beside the campfire for a well-earned feast.
Just be mindful that the park is prone to being a little muddy underfoot in the wetter months so pack accordingly.
Location: Meramec State Park
Trail Length: 8.2 miles
The Wilderness Trail in Meramec State Park is a full-day affair that requires a moderate level of fitness to safely make it back to the car park before dark.
If you’d rather take your time and soak in your surroundings as you go, then there’s always the option of doing an overnight hike – which this trail is popular for.
There are plenty of great spots to camp along the Wildnerness Trail that are suitable for first-time overnighters who want to get back to nature and hike out the next day feeling refreshed and ready for whatever lay ahead.
Loaded with forested areas, unique rock formations, streams, and a unique cave called the Green Cave, this is a remarkable trail that deserves your attention.
Mooner’s Hollow Trail
Location: St. Francois State Park
Trail Distance: 2.75 miles
This moderate hike runs a considered 2.75 miles through the St. Francois State Park where law-evading moonshiners once frequented.
The Mooner’s Hollow Trail is named after these liquor-producing outlaws who utilized the icy waters of Coonville Creek to create their brews.
The trail runs alongside the idyllic Ozark stream for about a mile before coming to a pronounced creek crossing. The crossing is a real treat with large boulders, rock pools, and cascades that lead upstream.
This slice of natural beauty makes it the optimal spot to take a long and leisurely lunch break and swim. The hike then takes you across a glade where you’ll be treated to some idyllic scenery to the south.
A short and thrilling hike that is steeped in some real-deal moonshining history.
Challenging Hikes Near St. Louis
Whispering Pines Trail
Location: Hawn State Park
Trail Length: 9.75 miles
It’s quite remarkable just how many state parks are within an hour’s drive of St. Louis, and Hawn State Park is one of the more impressive ones.
Featuring sandy-bottomed streams, canyons, cliffs, and endless hills of stately pine and oak trees, you’ll be needing more than a day to explore Hawn.
The Whispering Pines Trail captures the essence of what makes Hawn so remarkable, taking in the dramatic landscapes that have been shaped by thousands of years of water flow.
It’s also a great location for birding and spotting other Midwest wildlife, with even the occasional bobcat sighting.
Make no mistake, this is a challenging hike that demands a good level of fitness to accomplish in one day, but with a defined path in its entirety, at least you won’t get lost.
Taum Sauk Trail
Location: Mark Twain National Forest
Trail Length: 12.3 miles (one way)
Part of the iconic Ozark Trail that runs hundreds of miles through the great Missouri Ozarks, the Taum Sauk Trail is a hefty undertaking.
Regarded as being one of the bonafide best sections of trail amongst the Ozark Trail links, this hike will leave you with a greater sense of the wild side of Missouri.
Winding up through the mountainous region, you’ll summit Taum Sauk and pass a few waterfalls, cliffs, and take in some stunning views over Taum Sauk Reservoir.
At 12.3 miles in and 12.3 miles out, this advanced hike can be confidently finished in two days by experienced hikers.
There are some technical sections that require a little climbing experience and should not be taken lightly.
Fox Run to Round House Loop
Location: Rockwoods Range Conservation
Trail Distance: 10.2 miles
Although it’s not quite as epic as the first two challenging hikes, the Fox Run to Round House Loop has a certain charm about it that is well worth a visit.
Unlike the other more well-known and trod-on hikes on the list, this 10.2-mile hike is rarely overrun – even at the peak of the hiking season.
Because of its distance, it is still considered a challenging hike, but there isn’t anything overly excessive in terms of hard terrain.
Just a few short ascents and descents mixed in with a bunch of stream crossings and good old-fashioned woods walking.
You will still get the odd vantage point to take in the lay of the land of the Rockwood’s Range, it just isn’t quite as spectacular as the Ozarks in scope.
Knowing it’s only a 30-minute drive out of central St. Louis means this walk is both easy to get to and a pleasure to hike.
Buford Mountain State Forest Trail
Location: Buford Mountain Conservation Area
Trail Distance: 10.5 miles
Buford Mountain is a mere 33 feet shy of being the highest natural point in the state of Missouri. This may sound like a bad thing, but it actually means that Buford Mountain flies under the radar quite a bit.
Which, if you’ve ever tried to hike around Taum Sauk in the summertime, is a blessing in disguise.
If you do choose to tackle the Buford Mountain State Forest Trail (which we suggest you do), you’ll be treated to stunning panoramic views of the wild landscapes that Southeast Missouri is famous for (just without the crowds).
The 10.5-mile trail features a sequence of summits, saddles, glades and requires a mile-long climb to the summit of Buford.
Another summit to look out for is Bald Knob which arguably has the best views of the whole forest from its overlooking post.
Setting out on a hike with your friends or family is a great way of catching up while exercising and taking in some spectacular scenery along the way.
And as you can see there is a seemingly endless stream of trails around the St. Louis area that are all ready and waiting to be hiked.
The spirit of adventure is deep-seated into the Midwest way of life, with the famed explorers of Lewis & Clark setting off on their western-frontier expedition from right here in St. Louis.
So, take a little slice of that daring Lewis & Clark spirit with you on your next hike in and around St. Louis and dig your heels back down into the vastly unique and inspiring landscapes of Missouri along the way.
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