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Guide to: Columbia hiking

City trails offer scenic views and rock climbing

July 12, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST

On the surface, Columbia Might look like any other Midwestern town, but the city has its secrets. Outside the heart of the city, Columbia is anything but a concrete jungle. Forests, caves, wetlands and rocky bluffs make up the landscape and connect city parks to nature. Columbia is home to more than 50 parks and trails, and the following is merely a selection of what the city and surrounding areas have to offer.

V: No sweat!
VV: Time to rock climb
VVV: Expect a challenge

View Guide to: Hiking Columbia in a larger map

Bear Creek Trail

Location: Access and parking at 2799 N. Garth Ave. and 3201 Creasy Springs Road
Length: 4.8 miles
Hours: Albert-Oakland Park: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., Cosmo Park: 6 a.m. to midnight
This limestone-paved trail stretches between Albert-Oakland Park and Cosmo Park. In some parts, the trail is covered by a canopy of trees, but in others it leads to clearings near sections of the creek. Along the trail, hikers will run into the Garth Nature Area where a boardwalk scales the side of a steep hill and a short .6-mile trail loops around a wetland area. Albert-Oakland Park allows hikers to customize their own exercise routines on a one-mile, hard-surface fitness circuit with 11 exercise stations. Cosmo Park offers two hiking options: The moderately steep 1.75-mile nature trail runs over a boardwalk and through a marsh, and the 1.25-mile paved fitness trail accommodates joggers, walkers or bicyclists.

Rating: V
The hike is fairly long, but overall, the paved trail remains flat and simple. This allows for an easy yet scenic family hike.

The MKT Trail

Location: Access at Fourth and Cherry streets, 501 S. Providence Road, 800 S. Stadium Blvd., 2701 Forum Blvd. and 3662 Scott Blvd.
Length: 8.9 miles
Hours: Forum Nature Area: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The MKT Trail is a popular choice because it runs near downtown and neighborhoods. The flat, gravel trail is mostly covered by trees and runs under major roads and into a few clearings. The trail was built on the historic MKT railroad and connects Stephens Lake Park to the Katy Trail. In 2000, the White House administration and the Department of Transportation dedicated the trail, along with thousands of others nationwide, as a Community Millennium Trail. During a hike, people can listen to the “Voices of the Past” cell phone-guided tour. It tells the story of each person in whose memory the trailside benches were dedicated.

Rating: V
The trail is long but easy to navigate. Hikers can start their route at five different trailheads to go for short or long walks.

Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area

Location: 6700 W. Route K
Length: 3.2 miles
Hours: 4 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The 4,431-acre conservation area helped restore some of Missouri’s natural wetlands. There are 17 wetland pools that give way to 1,100 acres of moist soil and marshes that create habitats for migratory birds and give people an opportunity for extensive bird watching. The Missouri River and Perche Creek run through the land. A sunken steamboat that once sailed on the Missouri River is believed to be buried under years of sand and silt in this area. Trails also lace the wooded areas and link to the Katy Trail. Hikers can climb from the Katy Trail to the blufftop observation deck, which overlooks the marshlands. The trail is flat, but the climb to the top of the deck is steep. The hikes in this area are quiet, serene and away from major roads and neighborhoods. Many bicyclists make their way along the gravel Katy Trail, but the path is hiker-friendly, as well.

Rating: V
With so much acreage, people can explore the wetlands or the forest. The climb to the top of the blufftop observation deck is steep and strenuous.

Hinkson Creek Trail

Location: Access at 2011 S. Old Hwy 63, 1600 Capen Park Drive and various MU campus locations
Length: 4.25 miles
Hours: Capen Park and Grindstone Nature Area: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The Hinkson Creek Trail connects Grindstone Nature Area and Capen Park to the MKT Trail. The tree-lined trail runs far enough south of Stadium Boulevard for people to enjoy the sounds of the creek rather than the sounds of the road. Featuring a large bridge over Hinkson Creek and leash-free zones for dogs, the trail remains fairly busy. The Grindstone Nature area encompasses its own 6.6 miles of informal trails that lead hikers over bluffs. People interested in rock climbing can bring their harnesses to Capen Park to climb along the side of the steep cliffs. MU built 2.25 miles of this trail, known as the MU Recreation Trail, and the City of Columbia built and maintains the other two.

Rating: VV
Walkers, joggers and bicyclists can navigate the paved trail with ease, but the large rocks at Capen Park add a challenge for hikers who love to climb.

The Pinnacles Youth Park

Location: 12 miles north of Columbia on Highway 63
Length: 2 miles
Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset
Hikers can see the scenic Pinnacles that jut out over the landscape. These double-sided rocky bluffs stand 75 feet high and run 1,000 feet long. In addition to hiking next to the bluffs, people can challenge themselves to navigate their way over the top of them. The Pinnacles are a natural formation that started as a simple river bluff. When Silver Bluff Creek doubled back on itself, it encircled the land and created bluffs on both sides. Kelly Creek also caused some erosion that is beginning to form natural arches within the limestone. Hikers should climb with the utmost awareness. Portions of the hike are narrow and steep along the cliffs of the Pinnacles.

Rating: VV
The climb over the Pinnacles is steep and narrow. Hikers are encouraged to proceed with extreme caution when they scale the park’s jagged bluffs.

Three Creeks Conservation Area

Location: Five miles south of Columbia on Highway 63 and 1.75 miles west on Deer Park Road
Length: 11 miles
Hours: 4 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Turkey, Bass and Bonne Femme Creeks run through this thick, hilly forest area. Hikers can use the three-mile Turkey Creek Nature trail to see bluffs, geological formations and diverse plants, such as Eastern red cedar trees and wildflowers. This trail is narrow and full of ruts but clearly marked. People should also keep their eyes open to spot more than 100 types of birds in the wooded area. An eight-mile mulch multi-use trail is open to joggers, bicyclists and horses. After the Civil War, emancipated slaves bought small parcels of land in this area and later sold their property during the Great Depression.

Rating: VV
Hikers can choose many different routes throughout the 1,500-acre area to see all sorts of wildlife. The trails run through the forest with ruts and fallen tree limbs.

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

Location: 5901 S. Highway 163
Length: 22+ miles
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Together, the eight hiking trails throughout this state park stretch more than 22 miles. The most common attractions in the park are the Devil’s Ice Box and Connor’s Cave. Even in the peak of the summer heat, people can climb into the caves to stay cool. The half-mile boardwalk trail that leads to the entrances of these caves also reveals naturally formed springs and valleys and the 63-foot Rock Bridge tunnel. Both are accessible to the public. The other trails throughout the park give hikers multiple natural landscapes. People can hike through grasslands, creeks and open clearings. The park offers chances to see sinkhole ponds, natural springs and other aquatic anomalies.

Rating: VVV
The park contains gravel terrain and boardwalks throughout its pathways. Hikers can also explore a large number of different areas, including caves and streams.

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