10 Best Hikes in Missouri

10 Best Hikes in Missouri

Posted by Paul Miller on Sep 18th 2018

Even with more than 1,000 miles of trails crisscrossing immaculate wilderness areas, national forests, and magnificent state parks, Missouri is usually omitted as a hiking destination. However, dense forests, waterfalls, prairies, mighty rivers, and wildlife, are just a few of the marvelous natural wonders that can be enjoyed on only a couple of the states best hikes. So, lets see what the “Show-Me-State” has to offer in terms of great trails.

1) Natural Tunnel Trail – Bennett Spring State Park

The first hike on our list combines many of things that make the wilderness areas in Missouri so special. The Natural Tunnel Trail, a 3.5-mile, each way hike, takes you through dense deciduous forest, next to peaceful creeks, and through tranquil hollows. But the main draw for this trail is walking through a 300-foot long natural rock tunnel. There are also several small caves ready to be explored along the trail. And, for the history buffs out there, much of the trail follows 200-year old roads used by early settlers of the region, with several cemeteries dating back more than a century along the way. This trail is best taken in the fall to avoid the summer heat and to see the leaves changing color.

2) Lost Valley Trail – Weldon Spring Conservation Area

If you’re looking for a longer hike with diverse terrain and landscapes, head to the Weldon Spring Conservation Area just west of St. Louis and hop on the Lost Valley Trail. This 10.5-mile loop follows Little Femme Osage Creek through a serene valley. On the way around, pass by clear natural springs and waterfalls before making a short climb to a secluded lake and old cemetery. Along the trail, deer and wild turkeys are usually spotted. Since the trail is well-maintained with very little elevation change, this is a great afternoon hike for the whole family.

3) Lewis and Clark Trail – Weldon Spring Conservation Area

In the same area as the Lost Valley Trail but with strikingly different views, the Lewis and Clark Trail is another family friendly hike through a peaceful forest with panoramic views of the Missouri River. The 7.5-mile loop runs through lovely forests before climbing up to a large bluff overlooking the Missouri River. Many people say this hike is one of the most scenic in the entire state and a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of St. Louis for a day out in nature.

4) Mina Sauk Falls Trail – Taum Sauk Mountain State Park

To kill two birds with one stone, visit Taum Sauk Mountain State Park and hike to the highest point and see the tallest waterfall in Missouri, all on the same trail. From the trailhead, it is an easy walk to get to the top of Taum Sauk Mountain, maxing out at 1,772 feet, the highest point in the state. The view of the St. Francois Mountains from the top are more than beautiful.

Continue along the trail and link up with a 3-mile loop that takes you to the top of Mina Sauk Falls, a 132-foot waterfall that cascades over boulders and rocky ledges. Be sure to visit the falls after a good rain to see it at full force. If you go in the winter, the falls are usually frozen, offering a different perspective of the tallest waterfall in the state.

For serious hikers, the trail hooks up with the Ozark Trail, and by taking a 14.5-mile, one-way hike, you can go from Taum Sauk Mountain, around Mina Sauk Falls, through unique rock formations and finish at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, where you can enjoy a swim in one of the many popular swimming holes in the area. Whether you go for a day hike or do a longer backpacking trip, this area should definitely be on your hiking list.

5) Coyote Trail – Prairie State Park

To get an up close and personal look at some of the wildlife that calls Missouri home, Prairie State Park is the best place to go. There are several unofficial trails throughout the small park that take hikers through the last unspoiled tall grass prairie in the state, but the best opportunity to see all the different animals would be on the 3-mile Coyote Trail. Coyote families, deer, elk, and a herd of about 100 bison are all frequently spotted in the park. Take your time to explore the area and there are camping sites available if you want to spend your evening under the stars and try to find hooting owls or howling coyotes after the sun goes down.

6) Whispering Pines Trail – Hawn State Park

Ranging from 6 to 12 miles, depending on how much of the trail you want to do, the Whispering Pine Trail is a fantastic loop to take for a full day of hiking. Dense pine forests and meandering Pickle Creek make you feel miles away from civilization in this gem of a state park. Small waterfalls pouring over sandstone cliffs are other unique features along the trail. There are some ups and downs along the trail but the mild elevation gains bring you to lovely overlooks with views over the tops of the trees and of rolling mountains and stony bluffs. This hike is a local favorite and many people say it is their favorite hike in the entire state.

7) Turkey Pen Hollow Trail – Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Ha Ha Tonka State Park has a little more than 15 miles of trails running through it and there isn’t a bad one among them, but one of the longest and most demanding is the Turkey Pen Hollow Trail. The 6.5-mile trail goes through old growth oak forests, open meadows, and beside rock formations formed during the last ice age. For a full day of hiking, also take the Devil’s Kitchen Trail, which goes by caves, interesting rocks, and an ancient sinkhole. The other trail that shouldn’t be missed is the Castle Trail. It is only 1.5 miles, round-trip, and takes you to a high bluff overlooking the entire state park and the chance to explore ruins of an old castle. It’s no surprise that this state park is one of the most well-known in the area.

8) Wilderness Trail – Meramec State Park

Another great hike through diverse landscapes and isolated wilderness areas is located in Meramec State Park, southwest of St. Louis. The Wilderness Trail is a 10-mile loop that takes you around one of the more remote areas of the park. Shallow caves with trickling waterfalls, rock walls, and dense forests are all highlights along the trail, as are great views of the Meramec River. There are some mild climbs up some of the bluffs but the entire loop can be completed in a single day by even a novice hiker. However, there are several campsites along the loop and this trail makes for a great overnight trip or family backpacking weekend. Once you’re finished hiking, be sure to stop by Fisher Cave and Meramec Caverns for a tour of the impressive rock formations found inside.

9) Mudlick Trail – Sam A. Baker State Park

For a real backpacking excursion, Sam A. Baker State Park is one of the most undisturbed pieces of wilderness in all of Missouri and the Mudlick Trail offers a good challenge for hikers wanting to hit the trails for a nice weekend. Crossing narrow ravines and boulder-filled creeks before climbing to the top of Mudlick Mountain, with dense forest throughout, the trail is a strenuous 16.75-mile loop that is usually completed in 2 full days of hiking. There are three shelters along the trail but fill up fast during the spring and fall hiking seasons. To experience the grandeur and rugged terrain of the Ozarks, this is the best option for any avid hiker in Missouri.

10) Cedar Creek Trail – Mark Twain National Forest

The last hike on our list is by far the longest but well worth the effort. The 36-mile loop goes through the heart of Mark Twain National Forest and crosses through forests and tall grass prairies. The trail has some gentle inclines as you hike up and down bluffs, which offer excellent views of the forest and Cedar Creek below, but is mostly flat. The entire trail is made of several different loop trails, so choose to do the entire thing over several days or make a day of it and hike just one of the shorter loops. However, if you don’t do the whole thing, the 5-mile Smith Creek Loop is mildly strenuous, as it climbs over bluffs and crosses the famous Rutherford Bridge, which was built more than 100 years ago.