One of the more scenic and easily accessible trails of the Meramec River Valley can be found by following the Al Foster Trail in Wildwood, Missouri. The trail was developed through a partnership between the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, St. Louis County Department of Parks and Recreation, Great Rivers Greenway and the City of Wildwood. Named in honor of Al Foster, a 20th-century journalist and nature photographer, the 8′ wide crushed stone is very popular with both walkers and cyclists.
The Missouri Pacific Railroad which first established the bed of this trail in 1851. The small town of Glencoe soon sprang up where the railroad passed through the area. From 1900 to 1945, Glencoe became a premier resort community for travelers to enjoy the Meramec River. With the main railroad and resorts now gone, there are still beautiful sights to see and traces of history to glimpse along the trail.
Al Foster Trail
- Length: 5.5 miles total one way. From the trailhead in Glencoe, users can take the trail 3 miles east to Sherman Beach, then another 2 miles east to Castlewood State Park. The trail also extends a half mile west from the Glencoe Trailhead.
- Difficulty: 1 out of 5. Flat and wide crushed limestone. Rock Hollow section detour is paved.
- Scenic Value: 3 out of 5. Some nice river and bluff views through the trees. Fun for train fans and kids to see the miniature train tracks. More lovely during spring when wildflowers pop up or in the fall when the leaves change.
The trail can be accessed from several points. It also connects to a wide network of other trails in the area. The main parking area and trailhead is located at Glencoe Community Park.
Right next to the parking lot is the depot for the Wabash, Frisco, and Pacific 12 inch gauge steam railroad. First created in 1939, the organization has been providing train rides from Glencoe since 1961. We took a ride back in 2018 and our whole family loved the 40 minute ride along the river and through the woods. While the railroad was not able to open in 2020 due to COVID, this attraction is a must see when they reopen and a bargain at $4 a ticket.
After walking pass the depot you will see the official trail head marker. The trail from here can be taken either left or right. Right leads for 0.5 miles to an overlook. The trail crosses a bridge over Hamilton Creek. Take a peek below the bridge to glimpse the original abutments from the former railroad bridge.
If you turn left, you will start the main portion of the trail which continues for 5 more miles one way. Not far down the path a short spur leads off to the river on the right. Depending on the river level, you can head down to check the view. Swimming in the Meramec is not recommended however, as the currents are very strong.
Soon the trail will begin to hug the towering bluffs to your left while the river glides by off to your right. This is the perhaps the most scenic section of the trail.
The tracks of the miniature steam train also follow along the trail for a good portion of its length. As little train fans, our kids had a blast following along the tracks. Use caution if your are on this trail when trains are operating as there are several crossings.
As the trail passes alongside the bluffs, another trail branches off to the left. This is the Bluff View Trail. It is a 2.3 mile connector trail that is very popular with mountain bikers. It winds up the bluffs to Bluff View Park. You can also drive to the parking area at Bluff View Park and take a short and easy paved path 0.5 miles each way for a scenic overlook of the river valley.
Continuing along the Al Foster Trail, the wide path remains mostly in the trees. This provides a nice shaded walk in the hotter days. One short section breaks out into a open area.
Towards the end of this open area, keep an eye out for an almost hidden side trail to your right near an area with some old asphalt and a metal rail. A side trail leads down to the river with what’s left of an old sand and gravel company that once operated here. You can even see the remains of an old tugboat beached on the shore. Use caution when exploring this area and stay away if the water is high.
Just past the open area, the trail once again has a fork. You can continue straight to keep following the Al Foster Trail all the way to the next trailhead at Sherman Beach or even further all the way to Castlewood State Park. If you want a change of scenery, take the split to the left and explore the paved Rock Hollow Trail.
Off to the right near the trail split you can see one of the bridges from the train ride. It is a located in a lovely spot tucked in the woods.
This section of trail along Rock Hollow near the Al Foster Trail intersection is also an amazing place for wildflowers in the spring, particularly bluebells.
The Rock Hollow Trail continues to follow the excursion train tracks. This portion is also known as the historic “Zombie Road” as Rock Hollow follows the roadbed of one of the oldest roads in the region. Look off to your left and watch the mountain bikers zipping through the trees up and down the bluffs. They have one scenic ride.
The end of the WF&P Railroad tracks can make a nice turn around point to make a complete 3.5 mile total hike or about the limit of the little legs in our family. You can also continue up the Rock Hollow Trail but it does start to climb uphill with the last half mile fairly steep.
Things to know:
Parking for the trailhead is located at 225 Grand Ave.
Wildwood, MO 63038. Restrooms and picnic tables are located here but no water. Glencoe City Park also features a playground. (Currently the playground is closed due to COVID.) This is a popular trail and the parking lot does fill up.
The trail gets heavy use from walkers, runners, and bikers. It is wide enough for easy passing but use caution and watch for those biking.
This area features a large variety of other trails and parks to explore if you want to extend your hike even more. An area map can be found here.
If you wish to drive to Bluff View Park to hike the shorter 0.5 mile path each way to the overlook, drive to 1900 Old State Road. Two trails lead from the parking lot, one paved and one dirt. Both will pass by the overlook.