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Go take a hike: Exploring Missouri's 10 best state park trails

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The River Scene Trail at Castlewood State Park heads to bluff-top overlooks with views of the Meramec River Valley.
After being cooped up all winter, most people are ready to get outdoors. Missouri's state parks offer a variety of hiking trails that are perfect for exploring nature and stretching your legs.

And spring, with its longer days and warm temperatures, is a great time to explore before insects and humidity arrive with summer.

Here are 10 of the best hikes in the state.

1. Whispering Pines Trail, Hawn State Park: One of the best hiking and backpacking trails in the state, the two loops follow Pickle Creek and the River Aux Vases by sandstone bluffs. Shortleaf pines combine with hardwoods to put on a glorious fall color show. In winter, the seeps in the bluffs form ice sculptures. 10 miles.

2. Mudlick Trail, Sam A. Baker State Park: Another popular long hike, the Mudlick goes through one of the most significant undisturbed natural landscapes in Missouri. The trail begins in the Big Creek Valley, and climbs to the top of Mudlick Mountain. 11 miles.

3. The Ozark Trail through Taum Sauk and Johnson's Shut-ins state parks: This rugged and scenic section of the trail crosses several mountains and streams, and features the state's highest point and tallest waterfall. 13 to 33 miles.

4. Colosseum Trail, Ha Ha Tonka State Park: The short hike highlights the features of the karst geology, including a natural bridge and sinkhole. It climbs to the top of a ridge, with views of the spring and castle ruins. Seven-tenths of a mile.

5. Rocky Top Trail, Lake of the Ozarks State Park: The trail leads to one of the largest glades in the park, then heads through woodlands to a bluff offering a panoramic view of the Grand Glaize arm of the lake. 2 miles.

6. Devil's Icebox Trail, Rock Bridge Memorial State Park: This short walk follows a boardwalk that takes visitors to the 63-foot-high natural tunnel known as the Rock Bridge, and to a double sinkhole entrance to Devil's Icebox and Connor's Cave. One-half mile.

7. Wilderness Trail, Meramec State Park: The long hike goes through upland forest with rocky glades and views of the river, especially when leaves are off the trees. There are eight backpacking camps. 8.5 miles.

8. Drover's Trail, Prairie State Park: Named for the cowboys who once drove cattle across the prairie, the trail winds through the wildflowers and tall grasses to a hill that provides a sweeping view of the landscape. Look for the park's bison herd. 3 miles.

9. River Scene Trail, Castlewood State Park: The trail may give the most bang for the buck of any in the state. It follows the edge of a bluff with commanding views of the Meramec River Valley, then descends through bottomland forest along the river. 3.25 miles.

10. Boardwalk Trail, Pershing State Park: The boardwalk leads visitors through bottomland forest, shrub swamps and marsh to a wood tower overlooking a rare remnant of wet prairie. A great way to explore the wetlands and wildlife. 1.5 miles.

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