By Katie Helbig
I think fall is one of the most beautiful seasons with its pleasant temperatures and brightly colored foliage. It’s also one of the best times to hike in the St. Louis area. My husband and I have tried to instill a love for the outdoors in our kids from a young age and a great way to do that is by hiking! With growing kids, hiking trail needs and desires can change about every time they outgrow the next size of clothing, but here are a few of my family-friendly favorite fall hikes.
Note: Our current hiking situation is a 5 and 6 year old who are pretty good for 2-4 miles on the trail (depending on the terrain and what snacks I bring) and a toddler who hitches a ride in a backpack. The pictures are of our family throughout the years as we visited these favorite spots with friends and family.
Pickle Springs Natural Area – The Trail Through Time (2 miles)
Pickle Springs Natural Area, located in Sainte Genevieve County about an hour away from St. Louis is well worth the drive. The Trail Through Time is about 2 miles, which is a length doable for young hikers but with terrain that is interesting to both adults and their kids. There is so much to look at! Beautiful springs and water features. Amazing geological formations. My kids loved climbing in the cave areas and checking out some of the stunning rock formations. If we have time to drive a bit to our hiking destination, this is my first choice. It’s fun for everyone! The only downside to Pickle Springs is that there is not a bathroom at the trailhead.
Castlewood State Park – Lone Wolf Trail (1.5 miles)
Castlewood is one of the more popular trail destinations in the St. Louis area. It’s a mecca for hiking, trail running, mountain biking and more. There are a lot of trail choices at Castlewood, but my favorite and my kids’ favorite is the Lone Wolf Trail. It’s 1.5 miles long with some up and down terrain, amazing views and wooded trails. You start with a challenging, steep ascent while the kids’ legs are freshest and are treated to incredible views overlooking the Meramec River. The trail heads across the bluff and then winds down to Kiefer Creek offering some water views, too. I like that it’s a loop trail, not an out and back so you don’t repeat trail. The fact that you work hard to get to the top right from the beginning and the kids see the view keeps them engaged the rest of the hike, wondering what else they might discover. Teach your kids to watch out for mountain bikers and to share the trail with other hikers as this is a popular spot for sure. Bonus features: a playground across from the trailhead and a creek to throw rocks in as a reward when they finish the hike!
Powder Valley Conservation Area – Hickory Ridge Trail (long loop – 1.7 miles)
Powder Valley is super close to my house, so it’s a convenient way to get in a hike without spending much time in the car. Power Valley has an amazing Nature Center open Tuesday through Saturday which is educational and fun for kids and adults alike. It could be an outing in itself to just explore the Nature Center. Power Valley has three hiking trails all which would be great for families and are fairly short. Our favorite is the long Hickory Ridge Trail loop. While there are a lot of steep ups and downs, the entire trail is paved so it is possible to take a stroller if you wanted. My kids really like the bridges along the trail and when it follows along a small creek. If it’s warm enough and they are wearing their Keens, I’ll let them hike in the creek a bit. That’s a huge hit. There are numbered resting benches along the way and my kids, for some reason, love to see their progress as the numbers on the benches go up. Looking back at pictures, Powder Valley was the spot of a first hike for two of my kids when they were infants (only a few weeks old), so I guess it has a special place in my heart. The only downside to Powder Valley is running is not allowed! If you hike this trail, see if you can spot the “run around bridge.” That’s our favorite snack spot.