Hikes,  Hiking,  Kids,  Missouri,  St. Louis

Step into Adventure on the 1,000 Steps Trail at Washington State Park in Missouri

Missouri’s Washington State Park is a hidden gem of the state’s park system. Less well known and crowded as some of the more popular trails further south, this park is well worth a visit. While the park has several hiking trails, the 1,000 Steps Trail is one of our favorites. While the trail is a great one any time of year, the hike is especially stunning in spring.

Washington State Park History

Washington State Park is an area steeped in history. The park’s claim to fame is that is the site of the largest collection of petroglyphs in the entire state of Missouri. These ancient rock carvings were left behind by the American Indian culture that archaeologists call Mississippian. These people are believed to have inhabited the area around 1,000 A.D. Because of the number and exceptional quality of the carvings, these sites were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

Washington State Park Petroglyph

Be sure to check out the main petroglyph viewing site near the park’s north entrance. A short trail and boardwalk lead over the carvings. Panels explain the symbols and meaning. A second petroglyph site is located near the interpretive center and park’s headquarters.

Washington State Park Petroglyph
Washington State Park Petroglyph

The tradition of carving and crafting with stone continued when the Civilian Conservation Corps arrived in the area in the 1930s. An African-American company of the CCC was assigned to develop the park trails, roads, and structures. The amazing craftsmanship of their work can still be seen today throughout the impressive park structures. They constructed Thunderbird Lodge which now serves as a convenience store and check in area for cabin, boat, and float trips.

Washington State Park Hiking Trails

All of the main trailheads are located near the lodge. There are three trails ranging in length from 1.5 to 6 miles. The Opossum Trail is a scenic 3 mile trek along a stream and eventually climbs up the bluffs to a beautiful stone shelter at an overlook. The Rockywood Trail shares a path with the 1,000 steps trail before continuing on in a 6 mile trek. Our favorite hike here shows off the dedication of the CCC trail builders. Are there really 1,000 stone steps along the trail? You may be too busy admiring the scenic views or catching your breath to count.

1,000 Steps Trail

  • Length: 1.5 miles
  • Difficulty: 3.5 out of 5. The trail is short but the terrain is more difficult due to the steep and uneven steps.
  • Scenic Value: When the spring flowers are in bloom, this spot is a solid 5 out of 5. The rest of the year it’s a 3.5 out of 5. The CCC stonework is impressive and there are nice viewpoints over the Big River valley.

The 1,000 Steps Trail is a fun trail any time of the year but spring is this spot’s time to shine. In mid-April the forest floor along the path is carpeted in a stunning display of wildflowers. Photos do not do this view justice.

Washington State Park Missouri 1,000 steps trail
Washington State Park Missouri 1,000 steps trail

1,000 Steps Trailhead

Starting from the trailhead across from the lodge, the path follows the edge of the Big River valley. The trail is marked with yellow tags but also shares a portion of the red Rockywood Trail. The rich river bottoms provide a perfect condition for the flowers to flourish on both sides of the trail. There are a variety of species to spot here. This is also the first place I’ve seen a pink bluebell flower.

Washington State Park Missouri 1,000 steps trail

Hiking the Trail Loop

The trail is flat and easy along this section for about 0.25 miles. This is where the loop portion begins. Since I like to get the steep portion of a hike out the way first, we always turn right and hike this trail counter-clockwise.

Washington State Park Missouri 1,000 steps trail

Following the yellow blazes, begin the climb up the the hill. The 70 year old steps are still in good condition, but they are often uneven so step carefully.

Washington State Park De Soto Missouri 1,000 steps trail

The climb is not a long one, but it is steep in some sections and can be slick when wet.

Washington State Park Missouri 1,000 steps trail

Reaching the Overlook

After a couple switchbacks, the trail levels out and a spur to the left leads to a stone overlook. Be sure to take the spur as the overlook has a nice view of the Big River Valley below.

Washington State Park Missouri 1,000 steps trail
Washington State Park Missouri 1,000 steps trail
Washington State Park Missouri 1,000 steps trail

After taking in the view, retrace your steps back to the main path to continue to follow the yellow blazes. It’s time to climb some more.

When the trail levels again, another spur to the right leads to a picnic area. Continue to follow the trail arrows to the left.

Washington State Park Missouri 1,000 steps trail

Interpretive Center Stop

The Rockywood and 1,000 steps trail will split while you continue to follow the yellow arrows. The trail passes by the Interpretive Center and one of the petroglyph sites. Both are worth a visit. The Interpretive Center has trail maps, brochures, and an exhibit on the history of the area.

Washington State Park Missouri 1,000 steps trail

Completing the Hike

From this point on, it’s all downhill and just as steep. While going down is usually easier, still use caution while navigating another series of stone steps.

Washington State Park Missouri 1,000 steps trail

As you approach the valley floor, the flowers appear again in abundance. The contrast of the CCC’s handiwork and the colorful flowers make a nice picture.

Washington State Park Missouri 1,000 steps trail wildflowers spring

From here, it’s a nice stroll along the level path to the parking area.

Washington State Park Missouri 1,000 steps trail
Washington State Park Missouri 1,000 steps trail

Happy Hiking!

Things to Know Before You Go

  • Washington State Park is open 7 a.m. to sunset, year round
  • The Interpretive Site is open sunrise to sunset
  • The park offers a campground and cabins for rent if you want a longer stay.
  • From Memorial Day through Labor Day, you can enjoy the park’s pool.
  • The park concessionaire also has watercraft rentals available at the Thunderbird Lodge and gift shop.
  • The park also features picnic areas and restrooms throughout.
  • Be sure to always pack out what you bring in and keep Missouri parks nice for all to enjoy.

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