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From Missouri Conservationist: September 2020

Northwest Region | Bluffwoods Conservation Area

Loess hills provide hiking options

By Larry Archer

In the hills above the Missouri River floodplain south of St. Joseph, a system of trails takes visitors throughout the 2,281-acre Bluffwoods Conservation Area (CA).

“The area has an extensive trail system and one of the trails is ADA; we usually refer to it as the Forest Nature Trail,” said Bluffwoods CA Manager Lonnie Messbarger.

As an ADA-accessible trail, the Forest Nature Trail is paved and relatively level, but the nonpaved trails offer more of a challenge, Messbarger said.

“The natural surface trails do have some pretty steep parts of it,” he said. “Bluffwoods has some pretty severe terrain because it’s right on top of the loess hill mounds that can have 300–400-foot elevation changes pretty quick.”

That erodible quality of the area’s loess soil gives the area a unique feature not often found in northwest Missouri. In drainage areas, the soil has washed away, exposing the bedrock below and giving the creeks an “Ozarkian” look, he said.

“You just don’t see rock waterfalls and rock ripples in a lot of the creeks in this part of the world; they’re mostly dirt,” he said. “You get some pretty neat features, but you’ve got to go find them.”

Bluffwoods Conservation Area consists of 2,281 acres in Buchanan County. From St. Joseph, take Highway 59 south 8 miles, then east on Bethel Road 0.6 mile to area entrance. 39.6372, -94.9314 816-271-3100

What To Do When You Visit

  • Birdwatching Included in the National Audubon Society’s Iatan/Weston River Corridor Important Bird Area ( Included in the Great Missouri Birding Trail ( The eBird list of birds recorded at Bluffwoods CA is available at
  • Camping Two designated primitive camping areas.
  • Hiking Two primitive hiking trails totaling 3 miles; three asphalt hiking trails (two ADA accessible) totaling 1.1 miles; interior service roads suitable for hiking totaling 1.7 miles.
  • Hunting Deer and turkey Deer and turkey regulations are subject to annual changes. Please refer to the Spring Turkey or Fall Deer and Turkey booklets for current regulations. Also rabbit and squirrel

Discover MO Outdoors

What to Look For When You Visit

  • Gray fox
  • Bobcat
  • Rose-breasted grosbeak
  • Pawpaw

Discover more nature at

This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Larry Archer

Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler