- Length: 4 miles or about 2.5 if you use the connector plus an additional 0.6 miles of paved trail round trip from the trail head
- Difficulty: 3 out of 5, some moderate up and down hills. Can be muddy and slick after a good rain.
- Scenic Value: 4 out of 5
Don Robinson State Park is a site that has been on our bucket list to hike for the past couple years. This newer park located near St. Louis climbs through a rugged terrain of streams and canyons of the LaBarque Creek watershed.
Not only is this a scenic spot to hike, but the history of the site is interesting as well. The namesake of the park, Don Robinson, was a St. Louis businessman who made his fame by developing and selling “OFF” spot remover. He then began buying rugged and wooded land in the Jefferson County area because in his words, it was “wild and wooly with lots of canyons.” Upon his death in 2012, the land was donated to the Missouri State Park system with a trust fund for development of a park.
While several of the elaborate structures built while Mr. Robinson lived here have been demolished (see them here), his home still stands. It is not open for visitors but you can take a peek from a distance at the eclectic building style Robinson was known for.
Near the house was once a swimming pool surrounded by dramatic archways. These structures have been removed and now the site is an overlook and picnic area.
There are two trails in the park. The LaBarque Hills Trail is a 2.4 mile loop. The Sandstone Canyon Trail is a 4 mile loop with a connector to shorten the hike. This trail starts as paved for .6 mile and then changes to a rock/dirt path. I don’t believe the paved section counts as part of the trail length. We like to do the Sandstone trail with the connector since the kids have limits to how far they will hike.
Once you leave the paved section of the trail, the path can quickly changed to plain mud if it has rained recently. We are often slipping and sliding down the first descent before the trail levels out and the condition improves.
We usually go counter clockwise on the trail and hike the white connector first. This section of the trail crosses over a fun natural bridge. The kids were excited to peek beneath the bridge and see daylight below.
The connector trail bounces over and along the creek with occasional wet weather waterfalls before joining back up with the main loop.
The spring wildflowers were starting to show their beauty along the sides of the trail as well.
The trail soon comes to a point where the main trail goes left along the top of the canyon while a side trail goes right, crosses the top of a small waterfall, and continues down into the canyon.
If you stay on the main upper trail, it follows along the edge of the canyon rim. More waterfalls trickle down over the canyon edge in several locations.
If you want to explore the canyon bottom instead of the upper rim, then where the trail forks you would cross over the top of the waterfall. A deep and rugged canyon and rock shelter are carved out of the rock. It is a beautiful place to explore.
A waterfall from the creek splashes down into the canyon and continues on rock steps as it flows downstream. These falls take a good amount of rain to show their natural beauty.
Following the canyon trail can mean wet feet and muddy conditions as it follows along a creek.
If it has rained recently, keep an ear out for the sound of running water. You just might find some secret waterfalls.
If you don’t mind the cold, exploring in winter can be amazing. The crowds are less and the waterfalls turn into stunning pillars of ice.
Eventually the two trails meet back up not far from a structure that stands out in this natural setting. The dramatic remains of a concrete dam sit along both sides of the stream. I’m not sure the whole history here of why an attempt was made to dam the creek, but it’s an interesting site to see tucked into the woods.
If you splash through the creek to the other side, another man made structure is located here. The kids enjoyed peeking into this twig tepee structure.
I was excited to spot a heart shaped rock in the stream bed here on one of our hikes. My grandpa was always good at finding heart shaped rocks on his farm. Whenever I see one, it always provides a nice reminder of him.
From here the trail continues back up the hill through another section of slick mud before joining back up to the paved trail back to the parking lot.
Note: Like most state parks, this one is fairly popular and can become busy at peak times. To avoid crowds, I always suggest going early or on a weekday if possible. We started hiking at 7:15 on a Saturday and passed two people on our hike with a few more on the paved section. Once we left around 10:00 the park was much busier.
A trail map and other information on current hours and updates can be found HERE. Happy Hiking!