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University of Missouri

CoMo Outdoors: Hit the Trails

Gorgeous parks and trails are CoMo’s calling card.

Pinnacles Park

About 250 million years ago Boone County was covered by a shallow sea. This sea teemed with life, and the fossilized remains of these ancient sea creatures are preserved in the Burlington limestone bedrock that compose the “Pinnacles” rock formations. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

It is strange and fine — Nature’s lavish generosities to her creatures.”
— Missourian Mark Twain

For outdoorsy Tigers, Columbia is one big playground. Start with the Mizzou campus. It’s a 1,262-acre designated botanic garden with 42,000 plants. The surrounding city abounds with natural wonders to lure gazers and adventurers, including a 3,198-acre city park system and seven destination trails stretching 60 miles. We have three state parks and six recreation areas where Tigers can jog, fish, swim, climb, spelunk or simply lollygag on a picnic blanket. Lavish indeed.

Pinnacles Park

Drive 12 miles north of town on U.S. 63, turn right, and go back 250 million years. That’s where you’ll find Boone County Pinnacles Youth Park, an amazing geographic reservoir of ancient sea-creature fossils and limestone rock formations. Hike one of several trails to see the namesake rock formation, a 125-foot-long “shelving rock” overhang; babbling brooks; and the beautiful, collaborative artwork of wind, water and time.

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MKT trail cutline here. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

Both runners and cyclists enjoy time on the MKT trail. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

MKT Nature and Fitness Trail

Motorists have their interstates. But the feeling that the road ahead can take you anywhere is one few running-trail enthusiasts get to experience. Columbians are lucky.

Opened in 1982, the MKT is an 8.9-mile sinew of crushed limestone that joins Columbia runners and cyclists to the rest of the state. Since 2001, the MKT has connected to the 240-mile Katy Trail, which runs from suburban St. Louis to Clinton, Missouri, 75 miles southeast of Kansas City.

But the city parks department is also looking inward; the history of the 60-mile trail system has been one of constant expansion. New in 2016 is the Grindstone Creek Trail, which connects Maguire Boulevard near the Regal Cinema to Waters-Moss Memorial Wildlife Area. Next is the extension of the Hominy Creek Trail past I-70 to Clark Lane. Not content to stop there, the city is pursuing an ambitious master plan that calls for a 30-mile trail loop, half completed, which would encircle the city.

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Shelter Gardens

Tucked into the north end of the Shelter Insurance corporate headquarters campus, this 5-acre botanical garden offers an oasis of idyllic scenery. The gardens contain more than 300 varieties of trees and shrubs, and more than 15,000 annual and perennial flowers. Bring your lawn chair on Sunday evenings in June and July for the 40th season of the Shelter Gardens Concert Series. Admission is always free.

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Eagle Bluffs

Reachable by car (via Old Plank or Burr Oak roads) or foot or bicycle (via the Katy Trail), this 4,431-acre wetland is home to 10 miles of streambed; 17 shallow pools; 1,100 acres of marshes; tracts of cropland, savanna and glades; stunning autumn colors; and a habitat for migrating and wintering birds as well as permanent wildlife. Amenities include a hiking trail, parking lots, restrooms, a scenic overlook and hunting blinds.

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Peace Park

Just a short walk north from the Columns is this peaceful enclave, perfect for study, reflection, painting, preschool streambed exploration, drum practices, peace rallies, festivals, hula hooping, walking, napping, sunbathing, picnicking — almost anything. Take a quick time-out from your day, grab a spot on a bench or on the grass, and enjoy this eclectic urban park.

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Mizzou Botanic Garden

All of Mizzou blossoms each spring as the campus-as-botanic-garden bursts to vibrant, colorful life. Established in 1999 under Chancellor Richard Wallace, the garden now has 11 thematic garden selections and seven special garden collections, many of which were created through the generosity of alumni. Maps for self-guided tours are available in the Reynolds Alumni Center. Guided tours are available for groups of six or more; call 573–882-1830.

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Stephens Lake Park

Purchased by the City of Columbia from Stephens College in 2001 for $7 million, Stephens Lake Park is a 127-acre public refuge just east of downtown. This urban gem is replete with a splash park, playgrounds, picnic pavilions, a waterfall, an amphitheater and, of course, a lake, in which you can swim, kayak and fish. One of 67 city parks, Stephens Lake Park is a mainstay among the city’s outdoor venues, playing host to the raucous Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival, Columbia Art League’s Art in the Park and the Stephens Lake Amphitheater Concert Series.

men fishing

Locals can catch a festival or a lunker at Stephens Lake Park. Photo by Shane Epping.