Photo of Elephant Rocks State Park by Jason Green
In the before times, I attended heaps of concerts and prayed at the church of live music on the regular. Since Covid has temporarily squashed that outlet, we pivot to hiking! I’ve always enjoyed hiking, but it’s been a more focused passion of mine this year, and it’s something I intend to stay focused on in a post-Covid world.
The hikes listed here (using their All Trails title) hit my sweet spot of getting away from civilization (low human traffic and no ambient sounds of road traffic), moderately challenging terrain, three-to-eight-mile length, a variety of rock formations and/or vegetation, and 2 ½ hours max from St. Louis City, with bonus points for water features.
1. Whispering Pines: Short Loop, Hawn State Park | Farmington, MO
1 hour 15-minute drive, 6.3 miles
Gorgeous clifftop views, plenty of babbling brooks, and the pines really do whisper as they sway in the breeze. We’re going to repeat visit this one. Easy to add on mileage by checking out side trails and backpacker camp sites.
2. Sandstone Canyon Trail, Don Robinson State Park | Eureka, MO
45-minute drive, 4 miles
Make sure you read up on the fascinating story behind this park. Gorgeous trail chockfull of creeks and streams and scenic climbs. We got redirected by a park ranger on our first attempt to hike because the park was full and people were parking where they shouldn’t.
3. Lost Hill Trail, Robertsville State Park | Robertsville, MO
45-minute drive, just under 3 miles
Right by the Don Robinson Trail, great alternate in case that one is too crowded, as it was on our first pass, or you just want to see more in the area.
4.Lower Rock Creek Trail, Mark Twain National Forest | Fredericktown, MO
1 hour 30-minute drive, 5.5 miles
This is a really unique trail, basically scrambling up or alongside a low-level river bed. You can clamber across the shut-ins or follow the marked trail that runs parallel, or a combination of both. You’ll be tempted to stick your feet in every 15 minutes in the summer. Anxious to return in the winter to see its icy state.
5. Tiemann Shut-Ins + Silver Mine and Turkey Creek Trails, Millstream Gardens Conservation Area | Knob Lick, MO
1½ hour drive, 1.8 + 5.9 miles
This trail is a little sketchy after a major rain, as sections get submerged and access may be closed due to flash flooding. But the river views and passages alongside the river are impressive any time you go. Each section has an entrance, or you can combine for a longer out & back.
6. Oak Ridge + Deer Run Trails, Onondaga Cave State Park | Leasburg, MO
1½ hour drive, 3.5 + 2.6 miles
Onondaga Cave is one of my go-to spots for showing off Missouri’s natural wonders, and it’s my regular camping and floating spot, but I’d never hiked the trails before! Awesome to see the river from this perspective. Many small social lookout trails along the way.
7. Panther Den Loop, Panther Den Wilderness | Makanda, IL
Just over 2-hour drive, 2.9 miles
Really easy to make this into a longer hike by following social trails, intentionally or unintentionally. We turned this into a 5-mile on accident, but I regret nothing. Rock formations are spectacular and a blast to climb around on/in between.
8. Indian Glade & Graham Cave Loop, Graham Cave State Park | Montgomery City, MO
1½ hour drive, 2.5 miles
This one does have a little brush with civilization as it passes through a campground, and the cave was a little disappointing, but the wildness of the rest makes up for it. The trail gets a little sloppy after a rain, but the rain also brings tons of exciting fungi to the party.
9. Little Grand Canyon Trail, Shawnee National Forest | Pomona, IL
2-hour drive, 3 miles
Shawnee National Forest is worth the drive. This is a great spot for little caves and overhangs. Probably the most trafficked of these trails, but also worth the hassle. Trail covers both the ridge overhead and the rock step valley below.
10. Cove Hollow Trail, Shawnee National Forest | Alto Pass, IL
2-hour drive, 5.4 miles
Another great trail in the Shawnee area. Cove Hollow is a massive, open cave in the cliffside where we found someone practicing their classical guitar and basking in the acoustics. Covers high and low ground around the lake. Pairs well with a visit to the Shawnee Wine Trail.
11. Jackson Falls Trail | Ozark, IL
2 ½ hour drive, 3.7 miles
The gorgeous blue falls are something you’d expect to see somewhere in Colorado, not in your own Midwest backyard! Lots of rock climbers take advantage of the anchors in the cliffs.
12. Wilderness Trail Long Loop, Meramec State Park | Sullivan, MO
1-hour drive, 8 miles
The first lengthy hike I went on this year was also one of my favorites. Cliffs, glades, prairies—this trail pretty much has it all. Amazing wildflowers in the spring. | Courtney Dowdall