The 12 Best Hiking Trails in Missouri
When considering Missouri, it can easily be dismissed as a midwest farming state without much to offer but cattle and corn. However, there is much to see in this unique state. The Ozark Mountains rival the Ammalachians and Smokys in terms of beautiful scenery, with no shortage of views to take in. This makes Missouri a great state for hiking, with pastures to trek through and waterfalls to see.
The varied and challenging landscape in Missouri makes is a very popular hiker’s destination, throughout the state you’ll find features such as fresh water springs and peculiar rock formations. Hiking trails of different levels and difficulties are available to choose from, there’s something for every hiker in the state of Missouri. To get the information on the go and on the trail, check out the best hiking apps. We love these because they’re so handy, keep your map, compass, and everything else you need right in your pocket!
Hikes in Missouri range from easy to strenuous, from beginner to expert, and from mountain to forest. Miles of trails weave and wind through the state, more than 1000 miles of gorgeous treks. There’s so much to choose from, so we’ve selected our favorite hiking trails and national parks and forests for this article; read on to find out all about the best hiking in Missouri.
1. Bell Mountain Loop Trail, Mark Twain National Forest
Along the famous Ozark Trail, which runs from St. Louis to the Ozark Highland Trail in Arkansas, is Bell Mountain. It’s one of the tallest mountains in the Ozarks, reaching 1700 feet of elevation. The Bell Mountain Trail is an 11.6-mile loop rated as moderate, which reaches the summit of Bell Mountain where miles of panoramic views await. This trail lies only 30 miles south of Potosi, so why not camp and spend the night in the 1.5 million-acre Mark Twain National Forest.
On the trail, you can expect to see predominantly oak and hickory, with beautiful red cedars to be spotted as well. Shut-In Creek crosses the area, a spring-fed stream that features several gorges (or shut-ins). The unique natural habitat of this area cannot be seen anywhere else in the Ozarks. Nature lovers have to try this hike, the plant species in the area is so diverse, and birdwatchers will find much interest in the area as well. The trail is open to horseback riders, and with lots of Missouri campgrounds around the area, it’s a great spot for some equestrian camping.
This loop trail offers a forested pathway, a rocky climb, and at the summit; one of the best views in Missouri. Endless vistas of mountains and glades await the hiker who completes this hike. As it’s not a difficult trail, we recommend this hike to anyone so long as they have the stamina to hike more than 10 miles. The range of natural surroundings and excellent views makes this hike our favorite in Mark Twain National Forest.
2. Hogsback Trail, Klondike Park
Located right next to a gorgeous area of the Missouri River in Defiance is Klondike Park. The entire 250-acre park is packed full of natural features, making it a great destination for hikers. Near Augusta, the Hogsback Trail is a short 1.6-mile trail, good for all skill levels but with a steep hill at the beginning. Here, the sights are endless, with plenty of cacti and other rare plants dotted around. Klondike Park also offers access to the famous Katy Trail.
Many visitors come to see the white cliffs at Quarry Lake in the heart of St. Charles County park. Wildlife viewing is another attraction, hikers have a chance of seeing all sorts of animals and fish too. This makes it a great trek to do with the kids; the trail is short and sweet, with plenty of animal sightings to keep children amused.
3. Lewis and Clark Trail, Klondike Park
This trail located in the Weldon Spring Conservation area is so easily accessible, only 45 minutes from downtown St. Louis. Throughout Klondike Park, there are many paths for mountain bikers, but the favorite for hikers is the Lewis and Clark Trail and Lewis Trail Loop. This popular hiking trail is a 7.1-mile loop and is considered to be the most scenic in the Metro St. Louis area.
When hiking the Lewis and Clark Trail, plenty of stunning natural views surround you every step of the way. The trail passes by towering limestone cliffs and bluff escarpments, and then to a stunning lookout over the Missouri River. Depending on the weather, this trail might include an easy creek crossing, where hikers can take the northern fork, otherwise, continue to do the entire 8.2-mile loop of the Lewis Trail.
This trail is a top pick for views, with some of the very best of the Missouri River, as well as the valley. If you want to see some of Missouri’s mountains, and some of the state’s other fantastic views, then the Lewis and Clark Trail is a great hike for you.
4. Mina Sauk Falls Trail, Taum Sauk Mountain State Park
Taum Sauk Mountain is the highest point of elevation in Missouri, at 1772 feet above sea level. Here in this state park, you’ll also find the state’s tallest waterfall; the Mina Sauk Falls. This huge water cascade drops 132 feet over three ledges, and the crashing water attracts many sightseers every year. Before even starting the hike, you can climb the lookout tower for a jaw-dropping panoramic view of the St. Francois Mountains.
The Mina Sauk Falls Trail is a 2.9-mile trail, offering stunning scenery along the way. The rocky trail begins at the summit of Taum Sauk, and from there, hikers will cross lush green glades between the peaks and valleys, to the top of Mina Sauk Falls. This rugged 2.9-mile trail isn’t easy, the descent to the bottom of the falls involves climbing over some rocks, so we would recommend this trail to the able-bodied hiker. After taking in this phenomenal sight, hikers can continue the loop back up the mountain, or follow the Ozark Trail section down the valley trail towards Johnson’s Shut-Ins.
5. Katy Trail, Jaycee Park
For those in search of a multi-day trek, the Katy Trail runs 225 miles all the way from Clinton to Columbia. Open to hikers and mountain bikers, this trail offers wonderful views of the Missouri River and passes through several quaint river towns. The Katy Trail is the longest recreational rail-trail in America, a trail converted from train rails.
One section of the Katy Trail runs from St. Charles to Machens, a 25.3-mile moderate hike in Jaycee Park, Missouri. It’s a great spot for mountain biking as well as hiking, with lots of opportunities for wildlife viewing and bird watching. Much of the trail runs alongside the Missouri River, with scenic views around every bend. This section of the Katy Trail passes through several varied landscapes, including dense forests, deep valleys, prairies, and pasture land.
This trail is quite long, but fairly level, and remains easy hiking throughout. With so much beautiful scenery all around, this valley trail is one not to miss when visiting Missouri. Many historic Civil War sites are also located nearby, and history buffs are guaranteed to enjoy the rich heritage of the area.
6. Wilderness Trail, Meramec State Park
Meramec State Park’s longest trail is the Wilderness Trail at 8.5 miles long. This is a moderate to advanced trail, as although the trail is clearly marked with blazes, it’s quite overgrown. This doesn’t stop it from being worth the hike though, as from the path you can see some of the most beautiful views in Meramec State Park.
Things to see include an overlook of Meramec and Copper Hollow Spring, flowing from Copper Hollow Cave at the foot of a 50-foot cliff. Further on, small streams and interesting rock formations make a pleasant end to the hike. The majority of the trail passes through lush, rich, forested areas, with gorgeous surroundings the whole way.
7. Turkey Pen Hollow Trail, Ha Ha Tonka State Park
The Turkey Pen Hollow Trail is a 6.7-mile loop which is perfect for backpackers, winding throughout Ha Ha Tonka State Park. The trail passes through impressive dolomite glades and lush green woodland, where diverse and interesting plant life can be found. Natural features to be seen along the trail include gorgeous views of the lake and a large sinkhole, as well as a large outcrop of rock which is actually the last remaining part of the Red Arrow fault line, which runs through this area of Camden County. The main attraction in the area is the huge castle atop the hill, built in the early 1990s, but there are many other things to see in this area just outside the Lake of the Ozarks.
An alteration of the hike will instead take you to a pond, where plenty of frogs can be seen in the springtime. This hike is great for nature lovers and sightseers, and take note that the trail is rocky and requires a good pair of hiking boots. One other natural feature of interest is the Devil’s Kitchen, where hikers can check out the natural amphitheater. The pond area of the trail is both seasonally and weather-dependent, so make sure your shoes are waterproof! If you think your trusty old pair needs a new water-repellent coating, check out our article on how to waterproof hiking boots.
8. Devil’s Icebox Trail, Rock Bridge State Park
The Devil’s Icebox Trail is accessible via the Spring Brook Loop Trail, which is more of a boardwalk than a nature trail. This doesn’t mean it’s any less worth visiting though, as from this boardwalk many fantastic views can be enjoyed. One fascinating natural feature that hikers can enjoy is the Rock Bridge, a 63-foot tall natural tunnel. A double sinkhole with a stream running underneath offers another interesting sight.
One other attraction on this trail is the stream which leads to two caves, a fascinating thing for hikers to explore. Currently, only one cave is open; Connor’s Cave is 150 feet long, and by wading through a shallow stream, visitors can do some real-life caving. Remember to take along your flashlights and helmets, and learn about the cave systems and the area’s history.
9. Natural Tunnel Trail, Bennett Spring State Park
This 7.5-mile trail in Bennett Spring State Park passes through creek beds, summer meadows, and scenic wooded hills, but its main attraction is its namesake. The highlight of this hike is the path through Spring Hollow to a 300-foot long natural tunnel. This rock tunnel is about 15 feet wide, formed when water eroded an exit in a cave. The rest of the trail is dotted with other small caves, and there’s plenty of scenic wildflower meadows to enjoy.
We recommend this loop trail to any nature lover, or anyone interested in special geographical features. You can also enjoy views of a river on your hike, and fishing is popular in the area if you want to combine hiking with an angling trip.
10. Cuivre River Trail, Cuivre River State Park
In the Lincoln Hills, the most popular attraction is Lake Lincoln, where plenty of visitors come each year to swim. However, Cuivre River State Park is also home to an excellent hiking trail; the Cuivre River Trail. This path passes through steep fern- and moss-covered hollows and is open to horseback riders on the southern loop. One feature of this trail is a clear water spring, and while you’re there, try out your new camping water purifier. It’s of paramount importance to always make sure you’re drinking clean water when out exploring in the backcountry.
11. River Scene Trail, Castlewood State Park
Castlewood State Park is home to a number of premier hiking trails, but one offers a better view than the rest. Out of them all, the River Scene Trail has the most breathtaking views of the ancient Meramec River Valley. The River Scene Trail passes through the magical green forest, then out along mountain buffs where hikers are treated to fantastic panoramic views.
One unique attraction is the Art Deco ruins which litter Castlewood State Park, from its years as a resort. Other than that, a scenic and peaceful hike along the river is what remains on this trail. Mountain bikers are welcome on the River Scene Trail, where the memorable views awe every visitor.
12. Trail among the Trees, Rockwoods Reservation Area
If you’re searching for a trail that’s good for all skill levels whilst still presenting plenty of beautiful views and natural surroundings, try the Trail among the Trees in the Rockwoods Reservation Area. This 2-mile loop features gorgeous fields of wildflowers and is nicely shaded with trees the whole way.
If you can time your visit after a rainfall, the picturesque creeks will be bubbling with water, this hike is a great one to take the kids on and show them some nature. All-around, the scenery on this hike is very pleasant, with plenty to enjoy as you make your way down the mostly-paved trail.
There’s a lot to see and do for the nature lover in Missouri. From St Charles to Kansas City, the state is filled with interesting attractions and unique natural features. The Ozark Mountains have many a beautiful view to offer, with the famous Ozark Trail an obvious choice for the best hiking in Missouri.
For mountainous scenery, try Mark Twain National Park. Here, the Bell Mountain Loop Trail reaches the mountain’s summit and offers stunning panoramic views from the top. Taum Sauk Mountain is the highest peak in Missouri, and this state park is also home to the tallest falls; the Mina Sauk Falls. The hike here is well worth the view if you can manage a rocky scramble at the foot of the falls.
Some of the best hiking in Missouri can be found in Klondike Park, where there are two notable trails. The Hogsback Trail leads to views of the white cliffs, while the popular Lewis and Clark Trail includes a creek crossing and more excellent limestone cliff scenery. Some of the best views of the Missouri River can be enjoyed from this trail, and with mountainous views on offer as well, there’s no doubting Klondike’s merits.
A huge castle sits atop Ha Ha Tonka State Park, but there are many other attractions for hikers too. Hikers can marvel at the huge sinkhole visible from the trail, and lake views are on offer as well. Just outside the area of the Lake of the Ozarks, the Turkey Pen Hollow Trail is a great choice for nature lovers. Wildlife sightings are common in Ha Ha Tonka, and on this trail, many frogs can be seen in the spring!
As you can see, hiking in Missouri is plentiful. Whether you’re a long-distance trekker or a half-day hiker, this state holds a scenic and enjoyable hiking destination for you.
Bonus tip: Check out this video of the Mina Sauk Falls!