August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area in St. Charles County, Missouri has an interesting past. Tucked among the dozens of lakes and miles of hiking trails at can be found concrete bunkers once used to store TNT. What once was used as a munitions plant to support World War II, is now a great place for recreation.
August A. Busch Conservation Area History
The Conservation Area land was used by the Department of Army as a TNT munitions plant to support the World War II effort in the 1940s. Many families were forced to leave their homes and farms and the two nearby towns of Howell and Hamburg were cleared to build the plant. Random ruins of the former farms plus several cemeteries can be found throughout the area. The main structures still visible today are 100 of the old TNT storage bunkers.
The Atomic Energy Commission also used the property in the 1960s for uranium ore processing. The affected areas were part of a federal environmental cleanup project. Certain environmental and safety standards were required to be met to make the area safe for recreation and wildlife.
Things to Do at August A. Busch Conservation Area
Near the conservation area entrance is the Department of Conservation office and Visitor Center. The building is only open Monday-Friday so it has been closed when we have visited on weekends.
Fishing & Hunting
Fishing is allowed in many of the lakes on the property. Hunting is also allowed in season. It’s always best to check hunting season dates before visiting. (I prefer leaving conservation areas for the hunters during firearms deer season and hiking other places such as community or state parks.) There is also an archery range.
The many lakes in the area can attract birds and other wildlife. There is an auto-touring route that leads along the park roads and past the lakes and wildlife viewing areas.
There are many miles of trails available for hiking and biking. Some trails are marked only for hiking while others allow biking as well. Most of the paths are fairly flat and easy. More details on the hiking trails can be found below.
Busch Conservation Area Hikes
Fallen Oak Trail
The Fallen Oak Trail is 0.7 mile loop that starts behind the Visitor Center parking area near a picnic pavilion. This trail is paved and easy. There are actually two loop options, a short loop and a long loop. The long loop is the full 0.7 miles. The short loop is much shorter, about 0.2 miles.
This paved path passes by a bird blind where you can peek through and watch birds at feeders. The path also crosses a wooden bridge and passes through a wooded area.
The Pine Trail is a popular are for portrait photographers. This short and flat path passes through a grove of towering pine trees.
The parking area is a gravel area near a wooden sign for the trail. This trail is 0.2 mile loop, but it does connect to other trails as well. It’s a very beautiful and fun little hike for the whole family.
Dardenne Creek Trail
This trail is located near the largest lake, Lake 33, which is located at the north side of the property. Drive past the dam and you will see a parking area at the end of the road.
According to the map and AllTrails, the actual 0.3 mile loop trail is supposed to start on the right side of the parking area. This path started as a clearly defined trail, but as it reached the creek we lost the trail. It was covered in leaves and we could not find it so we retraced out steps.
Back at the parking area, we started down the wide, old road next to the trail sign. The path starts out flat and wide. Soon, the trail reaches Dardenne Creek. You can see the remains of an old bridge. While the creek looks clear and is supposed to meet environmental standards, I personally would not want my kids wading in the water because of the past history of the area. After admiring the creek, we returned back to the parking area.
This is a 0.4 mile loop trail through a wooded area. The trailhead is located off the main road southwest of lake 33. We have not hiked this trail.
This is another super short 0.2 mile loop trail through an open prairie area. We did not have time to check this trail out.
Busch Hiking-Biking Trail
This trail is the longest loop in the park. There are two options, a shorter 0.8 mile north loop, or a longer south loop. If you hike the two together, it will be about a 3.6 mile hike.
It was really cold the day we visited so we opted to just hike the shorter loop. The trailhead is just a gravel pull off area off the road where the road makes a sharp turn. Park by the gate.
We opted to head right and hike counter-clockwise. The trail follows an old road so it is wide and fairly flat.
Soon, the first concrete TNT storage bunker comes into view. The bunkers have received their share of graffiti over the years. Luckily, I didn’t see anything vulgar and the kids didn’t pay much attention to the words anyway.
As we continued the loop, we passed several more bunkers. One had a small opening on the left side of the door so we could take a peek inside.
Towards the end of the loop, a trail branched off to the right. This leads to the longer loop section. We will have to try that trail next time. On this visit, we simply completed the short loop back to the parking area.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Conservation Area is open daily 4:00 A.M. – 10:00 P.M.
- The building and Visitor Center is open Monday – Friday, 8:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.
- You can find a map of the area HERE.
- This website has more information on the history of the TNT area.
- Use caution and be aware of various hunting seasons.
- Be sure to pack out what you bring in and practice leave no trace principles.