Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hiking Greater St. Louis - Lewis and Clark Trails Loop

Hikers typically don't think of the Midwest when considering a hiking destination, but if you ever find yourself in St. Louis, for business or even just passing through on your next cross-country road trip, you would be remiss not to seek out some hiking along the Missouri River bluffs.

Missouri River bluffs sunset hiking, Weldon Spring Conservation Area
The Weldon Spring Conservation area in Saint Charles County, just off I-64 west of St. Louis, is home to several trails that fit the bill for an amazing day in the woods. This post describes a 5-mile loop of the Louis and Clark Trails that can be done in just a few hours - even as a several-hour stop-off on your next cross-country road trip.

From I-64, take the Weldon Spring exit and go south on route 94. Pick up a map at the conservation area headquarters (or take along a printed copy of the one available in the quick stats section below), and park in the the parking area on the left side of the road just past the Francis Howell High School.

Descending to Missouri River bluffs, Lewis and Clark Hiking Trails
Take the trail that heads southeast down a fire road directly toward the Missouri River, and in less than a mile you will take a right at the Y and find yourself descending down a scenic single-track trail that leads to a lookout point on the Missouri River bluffs. There's a huge boulder here you'll probably want to stop at to take pictures and linger, but there are more vistas coming, so pace yourself.

Missouri Conservation Department maintains Lewis and Clark Hiking Trails
The trail turns northeast here and winds down into and follows the wall of a gully leading back around to another incredible vista along the bluffs. After this vista the trail descends rapidly to a creek with a fairly wide creek bed - be careful here for seasonal flooding.

This convenient hike off of I-64 west of St. Louis is about pay off!
At the creek, which is at approximately the 2.5-mile point, the Lewis and Clark Trails split and you will have a choice to continue on the Lewis Trail, which leads back toward the river for an 8-mile loop option, or follow the Clark Trail for the 5-mile option. The Clark Trail leads up the creek bed. This part of the trail is a bit less scenic, but it is still a wonderful walk in the woods. Eventually the trails will reconnect, and you will turn left at the junction to continue back to the parking lot where you started.

Signage can seem confusing, but get the map and you'll figure it out!
Here are the quick stats for the Weldon Spring Conservation Area Lewis and Clark Trails Loop:

Trailhead: From I-64, take the Weldon Spring exit and go south on route 94. Park in the parking area on the left side of the road just past the Francis Howell High School.
Distance: 5-mile loop with 8-mile option
Elevation Gain/Loss: 860 ft (262 m) approximate
Map: A map of the Weldon Spring Conservation Area is available from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Hiking Time: About 2.5 to 3 hours for the 5-mile loop, depending on your personal speed.
Best Times to Hike: This hike is great year-round, but summers can be incredibly hot. Also, be careful to avoid seasonal flooding.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

For more information on this hike or other hikes discussed in the blog HikeyHikey, feel free to leave a comment below. Check out my other blogs Man of Merit and MyFitLife2Day. Or contact me via my splash page at about.me/brian.schwarz.

Happy hiking!