“What should we do today?”
Last month, my friends and I often found ourselves wondering what exactly we would do on the weekends. When it’s winter in Columbia, staying in and away from the snow usually seems like the best option. While I don’t have any advice on how to make winter less miserable, I can help make spring even better.
As the weather warms and cabin fever is at an all-time high, nothing could be better than getting some exercise in the sun. Surprisingly, Columbia and the surrounding Missouri wilderness offers up plenty of hiking trails inside nature parks. Whether you’re just looking to get some fresh air around CoMo or make a weekend out of it in one of Missouri’s more intense parks, it’s safe to say that you have many options.
Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, a short drive south of Columbia, offers a range of trails that could easily suit any intensity level. For those less adventurous, there is a loop trail that is made of wooden planks and takes hikers up and down the sides of the rocks — there’s even part of the trail that swoops down into Devil’s Icebox, a cave that opens back up mid-April. However, if a challenge is what you seek, there are numerous opportunities to go off the wooden path and onto the 20-plus miles of more rugged trails.
Twelve miles north of Columbia is the The Pinnacles, an area of 250-million-year-old rock formations. The trail is about two miles round-trip and climbs up the limestone Pinnacles. On a sunny day, the best view is here. For more of a challenge, explore the off-trail alcoves and make your hike a little longer.
If you’re looking to stay a little closer to the ground, the MKT Nature Trail is perfect for a flatter walking experience. Following an old line of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, MKT meets up with several other long trails around Columbia, including the historic Katy Trail State Park. MKT is for the less-conditioned hikers, featuring just under nine miles of mostly paved running and walking trails. There are several places in downtown Columbia to catch the trail, like at Flat Branch Park or near Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at Battle Garden off of Stadium. Although MKT’s terrain may not be rough, you can adjust your walking pace in order to make your hike more intense.
Finally, if it’s possible to make the trip, take a weekend and drive down to Mark Twain National Forest, about three hours southeast of Columbia. The forest is broken down into several different land areas, but there are some beautiful hiking trails in every area. In the area closest to Columbia, the Houston/Rolla/Cedar Creek Ranger district, there are more than 20 long trails for backpackers and day hikers alike. The creeks and rivers that can be seen from the tops of the little rolling hills are what make the forest a special place to hike. The site offers many campgrounds for weekend trippers, and its rural setting is perfect for those wanting to get away.
No matter your experience level, Missouri’s trails always deliver. Whether you are looking to have a relaxing walk in the sunshine or break a sweat after scaling boulders, there’s always something for you to do in Missouri if you just take a look around. Hiking not for you? Well, it should be. Just like the changing spring weather, college is the time to change yourself and find new things to do. Step out of your comfort zone, and take a hike!