MDC Outdoor Recreation Spotlight: 5 scenic overlooks in central, northeast Missouri

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) encourages Missourians to discover nature this fall by visiting scenic overlooks at conservation areas in central and northeast Missouri.  

As the season changes, leaves reveal a kaleidoscope of colors and fall to the forest floor, revealing a new view of Missouri’s vast landscapes and diverse geographies. MDC conservation areas provide all Missourians opportunities to get outside and discover nature.

“Overlooks are among the best places on our areas to enjoy fall color,” said MDC Recreational Use Specialist, A.J. Campbell.

MDC’s free MO Outdoors App for mobile devices provides a convenient way to carry digital maps and other information, even outside of cellphone service range. Always pack a paper map and compass, too, as a failsafe.

Always check hunting season dates before hiking during the fall. If hiking during an open firearms season, wear hunter orange clothing to ensure you’re seen and identifiable as a human hiker.

Watch for wildlife in the woods, and flocks of birds making their seasonal migrations and resting in the refuge of Missouri’s managed conservation areas. Fall mushrooms and tree nuts offer additional reward for fall foragers, and late-season wildflowers give way to “frost flowers” as weather turns colder. Missouri’s public conservation areas truly come alive in the fall, from blufftop woodlands to river-bottom wetlands, and scenic overlooks provide an excellent perch to take in the big-picture view of all these changes. Learn more about these locations, and other outdoor opportunities at

DuPont Reservation Conservation Area

Take a fall drive on the Great River Road (Highway 79) between Louisiana, MO, and Hannibal, and stop by this conservation area. Two scenic overlooks offer stunning views of the Mississippi River valley, and visitors can drive right up to both locations. Each overlook has picnic areas and is maintained by the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area

Located south of Columbia off Route K, this conservation area features vast wetlands in the Missouri River bottoms. From a parking lot on South Warren School Road, a 1-mile trail leads visitors to a blufftop viewing platform. This short, out-and-back hike is great for visitors of all skill levels. Visitors can also enjoy the bluffs from below, by driving the area’s many gravel roads or walking or biking the KATY Trail, or floating the Missouri River.

Grand Bluffs Conservation Area

Located in southern Montgomery County, near the towns of Rhineland and Bluffton, this area can be accessed off Highway 94. Grand Bluffs Conservation Area offers one of the steepest hiking trails on conservation lands in mid-Missouri. This one-mile out-and-back trail climbs approximately 300 feet in elevation and ends at a viewing platform overlooking the Missouri River valley. Visitors can also enjoy the bluffs from below, by walking or biking the KATY Trail or floating the Missouri River.

Hart Creek Conservation Area

From a parking lot on South Hart Creek Road, follow the mowed trail through a field and up a long hill into the woods. This challenging, approximately 2-mile hike or bike ride leads to an overlook deck that rewards visitors with views of a large bend in the Missouri River. Visitors can also enjoy the bluffs from below by walking or biking the KATY Trail, or by floating the Missouri River.

Painted Rock Conservation Area

Located west of Westphalia off Highway 133, Painted Rock Conservation Area offers two viewing platforms along its 1.6-mile hiking trail loop. Both offer great views of the Osage River valley, including a large island in the Osage River. Periodic interpretive stops along the trail point out evidence of occupation by American Indians, including a burial cairn constructed between 500 and 1,500 years ago. The conservation area also offers a fishing pond with primitive campsites near the south bank of the Osage River. Visitors can also enjoy the bluffs at Painted Rock Conservation Area by floating the Osage River.