One of the questions I get asked the most is which hikes do I recommend in the St. Louis area, especially which hikes are good for kids. We are blessed with so many amazing hikes in the area, but I’m going to try and narrow it down to the ones I think give the best bang for your buck.
I’m going to start with the Illinois side of the river as there are so many Missouri area hikes that it’s going to take me longer to whittle down my list. “Near St. Louis” may also be a bit of stretch as I couldn’t bring myself to leave out the amazing hikes in southern Illinois that are a 2-2.5 hour drive from St. Louis. They are definitely worth the drive.
1. Pere Marquette State Park – Grafton
Just getting to this park is an experience as you drive along the Great River Road scenic byway squeezed between the river and soaring bluffs. As the largest state park in Illinois, Pere Marquette offers plenty of room to roam. There are over 12 miles of hiking trails. Our favorite family hike at the park is to make a roughly 2 mile loop by starting behind the Visitor’s Center and taking the dogowood trail to the ridge trail and finally connecting to the goat cliff trail. This loop allows a stop at the scenic McAdams Peak overlook. Before or after your hike, stop in the lodge for a wonderful meal at the restaurant. We are especially partial to the breakfast there.
2. Silver Lake Trail – Highland
This small but mighty park is a bit of hidden gem in Madison County. If you follow the Silver Lake park road all the way to the end, there is a delightful nature trail that follows the shoreline of the lake. This easy and flat hike crosses over several wooden bridges that span various coves and streams. Kids love clomping across the bridges or taking time to throw a rock in the water. The entire trail is 4.5 miles including a short loop section at the end. It’s easy enough to shorten by turning around sooner. Silver Lake also makes a nice spot to watch the sunset and the park even has a gazebo as a nice viewing spot.
3. Salt Lick Point Nature Preserve – Valmeyer
I recently wrote a blog post on this delightful hike on the site of an old quarry. While this hike involves a steep climb at the start, you are rewarded with an impressive view across the Mississippi flood plain.
4. Garden of the Gods – Herod
The Observation Trail here probably the most popular trail in the Shawnee National Forest of southern Illinois. An easy 1/4 hike leads you past spectacular rock formations that can make you rethink that you are still in Illinois. If you want to leave the crowds behind, there are over 16 more miles of trails to explore. **Use caution with small children in the park as there are steep drop offs from the rock formations. **
5. Bell Smith Springs – Ozark
We return to this amazing recreation area over and over. The trails are mostly easy and lead past stunning springs and rock formations. The Devil’s Backbone is the most well known spot and features jagged rocks springing out of turquoise clear water. It is a short walk from the main parking area although it does require going down (and back up!) a steep, stone staircase.
6. Giant City State Park – Makanda
There are so many great trails here, but the Nature Trail is a favorite. This easy one mile hike leads past some of the best rock formations in the park. Our kids always have a blast climbing up and through all the interesting boulders as seen here. The lodge at the park also offers a great place to eat or even stay overnight in a hotel room or cabin. Just down the road is an amazing Dungeons & Dragons themed playground that is a must see with kids.
7. Ferne Clyffe State Park – Goreville
Ferne Clyffe is a lush oasis filled with beautiful flora as well as rocky bluffs. There are numerous trails throughout the park, but we tend to concentrate on the two main waterfalls in the park. One is an easy and flat walk on the Big Rocky Hollow Trail. The other Bork’s Falls is located a short drive away in a different section of the park. This waterfall requires a bit more adventure as you drive down a bumpy gravel road and over the top of the waterfall before hiking down tot he bottom! Both waterfalls are wet weather only falls so try and time your visit to after heavy rain.
8. Willoughby Farms – Collinsville
This fun little farm tucked in Collinsville not only has animals to feed, a playground for climbing, and barns to explore, but also boasts several miles of nature trails. While there are some steep areas going up and down the hills, the trails are generally fairly easy. There are many bridges to delight kids and some nice wooded areas to make you forget that you are in the middle of town. Our kids love going here whether we are hiking or not.
There are so many other trails to pick from in Illinois, but these are all ones that we never tire of visiting over again. Hopefully, you can try out a trail you never even knew about. Feel free to share any other hikes in Illinois that you enjoy in the comments. Happy hiking!