- Length: 3.4 miles or about 2.5 if you use the connector
- Difficulty: 3 out of 5, some moderate climbing up to bluffs
- Scenic Value: 4 out of 5
The area around Castlewood State Park has been a popular escape for St. Louisans for decades. Amid the quiet beauty and wildlife here now, it’s hard to imagine that the park was once the site of a bustling resort that peaked in popularity after World War I. Trains delivered visitors by the thousands to enjoy the outdoor activities centered on the Meramec River beaches. A variety of hotels and restaurants catered to travelers. Taverns and dance clubs bustled during the evening hours with speakeasies springing up during Prohibition.
After World War II, Castlewood lost favor as a recreation area. Resort and club buildings were torn down or converted into other use. The area was transformed into a residential community and one of the best places in the St. Louis area to hike. You can catch a few hidden peeks into Castlewood’s storied history on the outstanding River Scene Trail. This trail is one of the most scenic in the St. Louis area with amazing views of the Meramec River. Because of it’s popularity, this is a good hike for a weekday or in the mornings.
If you look closely you may spy the foundations of former resort buildings tucked among the trees both above and below the bluff.
The full loop is 3.4 miles, but a connector allows you to shorten the hike to closer to 2.5 miles while still passing the scenic overlooks. We usually park in the lot to the right just after crossing over the creek and before passing under the railroad overpass. You can then take the steep climb up from the parking area to the bluffs. From there, the trail meanders alongside the edge of the bluff for about a mile.
It’s not long before the views open up along the bluff of the river bottom below. Several benches are scattered about for a scenic rest stop.
After wandering along the bluff line and enjoying the views, you will start to descend back to river level along a series of wooden steps. Look off to your right and tucked beneath the weeds you may find a concrete staircase to nowhere. This hidden staircase once led visitors from the train station at Castlewood to the clubs and hotels along the top of the bluff.
Once you reach the bottom of the stairs, you pass below a tunnel under the railroad tracks. These tracks are still in use so you might even get to watch a freight train rumble past.
From here the trail meanders along the river. Wildflowers bloom here in the spring in the floodplain soil.
As the trail nears the park road it reaches a fork. The left fork is the connector to shorten the hike and return to the parking area. The right fork continues the loop along the river for the full 3.4 miles. From either end of the trail you cross under the railroad overpass to return to the trail head.
There are several other trails at Castlewood that are worth a hike as well. Kids can spend some time playing in shallow Kiefer Creek and the park boasts several pavillions and a small playground as well. The park is also one of the best spots near St. Louis for mountain biking.