St. LOUIS, Mo.—The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) reminds you that this Saturday, June 6 is National Trails Day. Hiking is an ideal way to get outdoors to discover the beauty of nature and enjoy numerous health benefits. That’s even more appropriate right now, since taking to the trail is a form of recreation that aligns perfectly with social distancing guidelines.
Hiking can be as challenging of an adventure as you want to make it, or simply and easy walk after work or with the young ones in tow. Fortunately, MDC offers many great hiking options within the St. Louis region that range from something conveniently close for city and suburban dwellers, to an alluring getaway for those who want to push the bounds a bit further. They cover almost everything; level, paved walkways, or steep and rocky terrain that will get your heart pumping.
To comply with social distancing in the light of COVID-19, it’s recommended to maintain 6-feet from other hikers not in your immediate family unit. Avoid trails that seem excessively crowded—a full parking lot might be a good sign to come back later or try a different trail. Bring and use hand sanitizer, especially after touching common services such as signs, guardrails or gates and before eating. Keep your groups small, at 10 or less. While carpooling is normally a good thing, you might want to make an exception during these special circumstances.
This time of year, it’s also important that hikers carry a few important items, including:
- Water—bring a little more than you think you’ll need. Drink plenty and often.
- Bug repellant that includes DEET—annoying ticks and mosquitoes are some of the only “dangers” you’ll encounter.
- Sunscreen and/or hat—especially if planning to hike in open areas.
- Even though warmer weather is here, hikers may find avoiding shorts and instead wearing lightweight and light colored long sleeve shirts and long pants will provide an extra barrier for insects, poison ivy and the sun.
- Good and comfortable walking/athletic shoes or sturdy hiking boots, depending on the terrain. Don’t neglect socks either; good quality wool socks wick away moisture and tend to be less prone to forming blisters.
- Hiking stick or trekking poles—These can really aid with negotiating hilly or rough terrain and crossing streams.
Hiking is a wonderful way to get up close with nature. You feel a real connection to the land when it’s directly beneath your feet. The only thing between you is a pair of hiking boots. Flood your senses with the diversity of bird song. Soak up the fresh air and gentle breezes. Smell the damp wood and feel the complex textures of bark with your fingertips. There’s still time to see some dazzling spring wildflowers.
The uneven terrain of paths that wind up, down, and sideways, work a variety muscle groups and help with overall balance--boosting the energy you use by 28 percent compared to walking on flat surfaces. Hikers report benefits like weight loss, stress relief, better sleep, and more positive thoughts.
With all this in mind, here are a few suggestions for great MDC hiking destinations in the St. Louis region:
- Davidson (Claire Gempp) Memorial Wildlife Area—Located in Sunset Hills, this 13.5-acre area presents walkers with a short, level mulch-service trail that’s disabled-accessible. Enjoy open space, forests and a boardwalk over a wetland, all packed into a short hike within St. Louis County. https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Zgq
- Phantom Forest/Goodson (Jean and Joan) Conservation Areas—Together these two make one hidden treasure in St. Louis’ west county. Nestled amid subdivision homes, the pleasant forested hiking trail offers a surprisingly potent nature fix. Both areas join via a connector trail at the southwest corner of the property. https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Z7G
- Victoria Glades Conservation Area, Jefferson County—You’ll encounter yawning, open glade vistas, oak-hickory forest, and intermittent streams within an hour of the metro St. Louis area. The two-to-three-mile trail has plenty of terrain changes to keep things interesting. During spring and summer, the glades are decorated with all manner colorful flowers. https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Z7Q
- Engelmann Woods Natural Area, Franklin County—Visitors during spring will be treated to a burgeoning assortment of wildflowers on the forest floor. Or return in fall for a striking color display from the changing leaves. An excellent hiking trail conveys trekkers through both the higher ridges and low-laying creek beds of the area. https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Z7d
- Hughes Mountain Natural Area, Washington County—For those willing to expand their sphere of adventure, Hughes Mountain is worth the trip. After a short climb, explorers will discover one of the most unique geological features in the Show-Me-State. The unusual Devil’s Honeycomb at the top of Hughes features some of the most ancient exposed rocks in the country and is considered one of Missouri's geologic wonders. Sunset views from there are incredible. https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Z7s
MDC has many more trails for exploration within the St. Louis region to help hikers celebrate National Trails Day or find a hike any other day of the year. To discover other MDC trails, go to https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Z75 or download the free MO Outdoors app with area information, directions, and trail maps at https://short.mdc.mo.gov/ZeD.