Day Trip,  Hikes,  Missouri

Rugged Adventure Awaits at Pinnacles Youth Park

Pinnacles Youth Park is a special place just north of Columbia, Missouri. The features of this park give you a taste of the more rugged terrain in states further west. You can admire the towering rock pillars from below or be more daring and explore them from above. No matter which way you explore this park, the scenery is outstanding.

The park is privately owned, but open to the public. There are no trail maps or well marked paths here, you are basically on your own to explore. Be sure to follow all the rules and tread carefully here. If you want to take it easy and just view the scenic landscape from below, the trails at creek level are flat and easy. However, to get the best view you have to cross a creek and scramble up the rocks.

Pinnacles Youth Park

  • Distance: 0.50 mile or less out and back to shelter bluff,
    1 mile out and back to top of pinnacles.
  • Difficulty: 2/5 along trails on parking lot side of creek and to shelter bluff.
    5/5 for trail across the creek and climbing the pinnacles. Not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights or very young children. There are steep drop offs and rough terrain.
  • Scenic Value: 5/5. This place is a must see.

The trail start near the large parking area and pavillion. There is a kiosk and box to make a donation to support the upkeep of the park. Head down the hill along the trail and you will come to a T with a wide path. If you wish to view the pinnacles from ground level or splash in the stream, turn left.

The path to the left will pass a picnic area and soon come to a nice and flat sandy beach area. This is great spot for kids to play if the water level is not too high. You can also find fossils almost everywhere you look in the sand and rocks. It’s quite incredible how much the creeks have eroded the delicate limestone. These flat trails parallel to the creek are perfect for all ages and abilities.

Look up and see if you can find the two natural arches in the rock pinnacles above. You may also see people climbing up and over the narrow rock spires.

After exploring this end of the trail, head back to the main trail and go the opposite direction down the trail heading downstream. You will pass a sign saying “Old Mill Crossing” on the left (more on that later) and cross a wooden bridge.

When you come to a fork, keep heading straight past a rock formation. After a short distance you will reach the huge shelter cave. This is another popular spot for families to play and easy for anyone to walk to.

When you finish exploring the cave, retrace your steps back to the “Old Mills Crossing” area. If you are feeling brave, this is the spot to cross to explore those craggy rock pillars up close. Depending on the water level, you may be lucky enough to just rock hop across if the flow is low. We were not so lucky and had to do a full on wade in shin deep water. Be prepared with water shoes if you can. Do not attempt if the water is too high or fast.

The crossing involves going all the way across to the left side of the photo.

The trail picks up on the other side heading left. When you come to a fork, keep left to climb the pinnacles for the great views and interesting rocks. The right path heads back down to the creek on the back of the pinnacles.

The path gets more rugged as you climb but the views are great. Use care to not get to close to the edge as the trail narrows.

There are so many nooks and crannies to explore. Spindly trees cling to the side of the rocky crags. If you have trouble finding a good path, look to the right and you can usually find a trail to follow.

The trail will emerge on a great overlook of the creek and the end of the pinnacles.

You may see some extra brave people climbing along the more narrow section in the distance. We did not attempt this with kids!

Look carefully at the rock at the overlook and you can see fossils everywhere embedded in the pink colored limestone. It is quite amazing how many there are all throughout the park.

From this point the trail gets even more narrow and more of a real scramble. We explored only a little bit further before turning around to stay safe with the kids. If you continue on, be sure to respect any private property signs and be extremely careful climbing.

Additional Things to Know:

  • The park is open daily 8 a.m. – sunset.
  • Full park rules can be found here. Absolutely no alcohol, drones, or glass containers allowed.
  • There are pit toilets by the large picnic pavilion. You may need to bring your own TP and there isn’t an actual door on each side so you may want to have someone keep watch.
  • Only reserved primitive camping is allowed by youth groups. Camping for anyone else is available at nearby Finger Lakes State Park.
  • Consider making a donation if you can to help support the park and keep this beautiful place open.
  • Please be very careful exploring. No selfie is worth falling for.

Happy Hiking!

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