Plan a Nature Escape to Missouri’s Babler State Park
Dr. Edmund Babler State Park, or just Babler as it’s known locally, is a wonderful oasis in a the busy St. Louis suburbs. Over 2,400 acres offer hikes, scenic drives, bike trails, camping, and more.
Babler State Park History
In 1934, Jacob and Henry Babler presented the state with 88 acres in memory of their brother, Edmund Babler, a prominent St. Louis surgeon who was dedicated to helping the less fortunate. An additional 800 acres of land was quickly added to the park.
Almost 200 Civilian Conservation Corps workers soon arrived to develop the park. They cut roads through the hilly countryside, and built scenic viewpoints, trails and covered shelters using stones quarried from the area. Twenty-two CCC structures at Babler State Park are now included in the National Register of Historic Places. A life-size sculpture of Edmund Babler was added to the park in 1938.
Things to Do at Babler State Park
Babler State Park has one of the best Visitor’s Centers of any Missouri State Park. Not only does the center offer history of the area and the CCC-era construction, but it also features many natural displays and interactive kids activities.
Don’t miss the tanks with snakes, turtles, and other critters. They also recently added several sensory activities for the little ones.
The gift shop here is great too. Not only does it offer a nice view of potential wildlife, but it has some cute gift ideas, snacks, and outdoor gear items.
Hiking, Biking, and Equestrian Trails
This park offers five hiking trails (keep reading for details) and a paved bike trail that runs 1.7 each way between the campground the central portion of the park. As of the time of this post, the paved trail is closed to bicyclists due to hazardous conditions. I assume it is still open for walkers/hikers however.
The paved path can make a good winter or fall hiking option if you want something a little easier, but still scenic.
The park also offers a 6 mile equestrian trail and parking area. This trail passes under two of the old CCC stone tunnels.
Babler state park offers both basic and electric camping spots. The campground is open year-round, although the showers and modern restrooms close in the off-season.
There was a playground located in the day-use area of the Guy Park Trailhead. However, it was damaged during a storm and is closed at this time. There are plans for a new play area to be installed.
Babler State Park Hiking Trails
All of the hiking trails at Babler are fairly short and not too difficult, making them a great choice for the whole family.
Virginia Day Nature Trail
- Distance: 1.25 mile loop
- Difficulty: 3/5 Minor hills in and out of valley, tree roots along portions of path
- Scenic Value: 3/5 Nice walk in the woods, more scenic in fall
The Virginia Day Nature Trail is a great starter hike. The path is a loop with a small spur in and out from the trailhead. The trail is named after Virginia Day, who was a volunteer naturalist at the park for many years.
The trailhead is located across the road from the Visitor’s Center. From the trailhead, the path descended into a wooded valley. A neat aspect of this trail is that there are signs identifying the different types of trees. The kids made it into a scavenger hunt as they kept an eye out for the next sign.
If you are quiet, you might even see some wildlife along the trail.
If you have very little ones or want a super short hike, there is a white connecter option. Turn right when the loop portion of the trail begins and the connector will be located a short distance on your left. Follow the connector and turn right when it rejoins the red main trail to make a small loop.
Staying on the main trail, we hiked counter-clockwise by turning right when the loop started. The main trail, blazed in red follows along the valley and then onto a ridge. Keep left when a spur heads west towards the paved bicycle trail.
The trail then heads back into the valley and follows a creek bed. The path crosses a wooden bridge and boardwalk before reaching the spur back to the trailhead.
- Distance: 1.25 mile loop
- Difficulty: 3/5 Minor hills, roots on path
- Scenic Value: 3/5 Views of trees and glades and an overlook. Nice fall hike.
The Hawthorn Trail is located on the far western portion of the park. There is a parking area, pavilion, and flush restrooms located here. The trail begins across the road from the parking area.
This trail also has a small spur from the trailhead before beginning the loop portion. We opted to turn right and start the hike in the trees.
The path follows alongside a narrow ridge. There are nice views of some larger trees along the ridge and down in the valley below along this section.
The path makes a mild but steady climb up the halfway point of the hike. From here, there is an overlook towards Wild Horse Creek Road. During the summer, the view was mostly obscured by trees. It would provide a nice overlook during the winter months, however.
The trail then passes a glade area with seasonal wildflowers before finishing the loop.
- Distance: 1.25 mile loop
- Difficulty: 3/ Minor hills, roots on path
- Scenic Value: 4/5 Lovely spring flowering trees and wildflowers, spur to a spring
The Dogwood Trail is probably my favorite trail at Babler. It’s not too long or too short and has some interesting features.
There are two trailheads for this hike. The easiest is to start near the former playground at the parking and picnic area off Guy Park Drive. The Woodbine and Dogwood Trails both start from this same trailhead.
From the trailhead, a short spur leads to the loop portion of the hike. The last time we hiked we opted to turn left and hike clockwise.
The path is fairly easy. No real hills along this stretch, but there are a lot of tree roots and uneven surfaces. In spring, there are lovely flowering trees and wildflowers to admire.
After about a half mile, keep an eye out for a spur trail on the left. This path is a short detour to a pretty little spring, cave, and remains of a stone dam. Admire the spring view before retracing your steps back to the main path.
The trail continues through the woods around the loop and crosses in and out of a small valley. There are several other spur trails that branch off to the left leading to the stables and two stone picnic shelters.
The second picnic shelter, the Cochran Shelter also has a restroom. We found some beautiful redbud trees in late March near this shelter before completing the loop and returning to the trailhead.
- Distance: 2 mile loop
- Difficulty: 3/5 Gradual climb up a hill
- Scenic Value: 3/5 Nice wooded hike and view of a CCC tunnel
The Woodbine Trail leaves from the same trailhead at the Dogwood Trail, off Guy Park Drive. This lollipop path has a spur that connects to the loop portion. Another short spur connects to the paved bicycle trail which parallels a portion of this hike as well as sharing a section of trail.
From the trailhead the path crosses a wooden bridge and follows the valley.
There is a small hill to climb here with some wooden steps.
When the path intersects with the paved trail, the path passes by Crystal Spring. This is one of two continuously flowing springs in the park although I’m not sure if we ever did find it or not. The path also passes an old stone building. Perhaps an old restroom.
As the path reaches the top of the hill, it joins the Equestrian Trail. Be sure to check out the stone tunnel that was constructed during the CCC days. It is impressive to see!
From here the path follows a ridge. You can find some early and lovely fall color along this stretch before finishing the loop and returning to the parking area.
Not really a hiking trail, the Amphitheater trail is a 0.2 mile each way path that connects the campground to the amphitheater. Interpretive programs are often held at the amphitheater.
Things to Know Before You Go
- You can print a park map HERE.
- The Park Hours are 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. daily April through October
- Winter park hours, November through March are 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily.
- The Visitor Center hours are 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays – Sundays through October. The visitor center is closed November 2022 through March 16, 2023. From March 17, 2023- April, the hours will be 9 a.m. – 4:30, Friday through Sunday. In summer and fall, the visitor center will be open Wednesday though Sunday.
- Always remember to pack out what you bring in.
More to See
- Babler is not far from other great hikes in the Wildwood area including Rockwoods Reservation’s Trail Among the Trees, Rock Quarry, and Lime Kiln trails. The Lewis and Clark Trail is another nearby trail option
- With kids, a stop at the Wildwood Community Playground is a must! This nature themed play are has several unique features.