Hi friends! SO the Coronavirus hit and now school is cancelled for at least three weeks. I’m sure you’re like me and are wondering how we’re all going to survive being home together for such a long time with no sports, friends, or anything really to do. Here is my best suggestion – GO HIKING. If you pack food and prepare to go potty in the woods (if you haven’t dug a BIFF you haven’t lived) then hiking some remote trails is the best social distancing you can do plus it’s fun and WAY better than more screen time. I share our hikes on social media when we go and I always get asked for suggestions so I’m going to put all our favorite hikes in one place and as I find photos I will add photos here but for now I’m just going to write about them so I can get this out quicker. Except this shot from our hike today b/c um – amazing right?!?

Let me preface this by saying a few things about how our family feels about hiking….

First, I HATE crowded hikes so you won’t find us at Castlewood or Queeny or even Pickle Springs anymore. I need empty trails to really find the peace I crave on the trail. Second, we started hiking as a family when Gray was about to turn 3. His first hike as a toddler was at Rockwoods Reservation and is about a 2 mile hike. Little kids DO NOT NEED TO BE CARRIED. Pack snacks. Pack water. Give them sticks to hit trees with, roll over logs to look for bugs, move slowly, encourage climbing on trees or logs, point out animal scat or tracks, sing songs, play follow the leader, etc. If you keep it interesting they won’t cry and beg to be carried but you might have to slow down and get creative! Last thing – we ONLY hike in Missouri from late fall until spring break. I love an open forest where you can encourage your kids to (safely) go off trail to climb or explore without the fear of ticks, spider webs or poison ivy. Annnnnd I’m a huge HUGE wimp about those three things too so winter hiking is our family favorite! This doesn’t apply anymore but when our kids were little our favorite thing was to bundle them up in snow gear and go hike where we knew we could find ice flows – kids won’t complain if you make it fun I promise and being out in the cold can be so fun!

Also, we are using THIS book for our hikes. We started forever ago when they were little and our goal is to finish by the time Bailey graduates in the spring of 2023 (this time off to get some checked off will help us accomplish this maybe b/c with youth sports we’re a bit behind!). I can not say enough about this book. I LOVE THIS BOOK. I highlight the hikes we’ve done and I try to remember to date them or write little notes on the pages. It’s beat up and lives in my van most of the time and someday the kids will fight over who gets it. This book is BELOVED in our home.

OK, in no particular order…

1. Hughes Mountain Natural Area

Actually this IS our very favorite hike. Whenever one of us dies (me or Chris) the other person is going to pay for a bench on this trail that says “For Jodie who loved this trail, from Chris who always walked beside her.” Notting Hill anyone? We do this hike 1-3 times per winter. It’s just past Potosi and the kids LOVE that you have to drive through “BLOOD ALLEY” but really all that means is be careful b/c it has the most highway deaths or something. There is a gas station in Potosi where we ALWAYS go potty b/c there are no facilities at the hike and we always pack lunch to eat at the top of the mountain. The hike is fairly steep with a few harder parts but TRUST ME it is worth those few minutes of steepness. It’s an ancient volcano and the rock formations are incredible – like nothing you’ve ever seen or will ever see in MO. When we get to the top we always play hide and go seek, eat lunch, wander around and just take in the views. It’s not unusual for us to hang out for 1-2 hours at the top. It’s not a long hike so spending time up there makes the drive more worth it. You know what else makes it worth the drive? Caledonia. As you are leaving don’t turn right on HWY 21 to go home just yet – go left and hit Caledonia. BEST CANDY STORE EVER plus antique stores!

2. Shaw Nature Reserve

This one is super close to St. Louis, has TONS of trails to explore plus is run by Missouri Botanical Graden so it is well cared for. We LOVE this in the snow and this is one I will come visit later in the spring to enjoy the flowers. Most of their trails are well marked so the threat of ticks/spiders/poison ivy is limited. When my kids were little sometimes we’d just come out to play on their nature playground too! There are paved trails, boardwalks across water, wild flower trails and learning centers. We’re members so it was free for us but there is a cost to get in if you aren’t a MOBot member. Speaking of MOBot let’s just mention that right here – I still take my kids there and we “hike” around there a lot. This is a spot I’ll go even in mid-summer b/c everything is paved so again none of the “scary” things I hate on normal hikes!

3. Taum Sauk Mountain State Park

OK, I’m going to be REALLY honest and tell you that we’ve done this hike twice and I’ve HATED both hikes. It’s not the trail’s fault though! The first time Chris and I did this one alone in the snow and we lost the trail for an hour, I was breaking in new boots and got the worlds worst blisters and we didn’t realize how long it would be so we didn’t pack food or water. I was MISERABLE. The second time Grayson got a migraine halfway back and Chris had to carry him then he puked the whole way home. BUT the trail alone is pretty neat. Before you even start the hike you get to stand on the highest point in MO which is just cool. Then you can sign their book and take a sticker (I love a good sticker)! The trail is NOT easy, very rocky and steep at times. FOR SURE wear hiking boots and not running shoes. I have Merrils and love them. Anyway, the hike takes you to the tallest waterfall in MO – Mina Sauk Falls. We always turn around at that point and head back BUT you can hike to the bottom of the falls – each time we’ve gotten to the falls we’ve either been in pain, exhausted or sick so we’ve never actually seen the falls from bottom up which would be WAY more impressive I’m sure. Will I ever go back to this trail? Nope. Been there done that. But if you’ve never done it it’s a cool one to check off your list!


4. Amidon Memorial Conservation Area

The first time we did this hike it was in December and the kids were pretty little. We had no idea what we were in for but basically it’s a VERY short hike that leads to one of the coolest rivers ever. Like Johnston Shut-Inns but more private and less well known (although over the years more and more people are going). SO this is one place I would suggest going when the kids can get wet! Bring towels and lunch and sunscreen and go play in the water all day! Just google images and you’ll see. OH and this is NOT good for little ones – you want to take kids that are safe in water so you can watch them and don’t have to chase/follow them the entire time.

5. Mastodon State Historic Site

When my kids were younger we’d go once every spring – it’s an easy peasy hike but the museum is super cool and there are other spots that are fun to walk around like downtown Kimmswick. Not going to say much about this b/c we don’t go anymore BUT if you have little ones this one is WONDERFUL. I used to leave the house in the morning, go do the museum, then the hike and then treat the kids to lunch at the Blue Owl in Kimmswick with ice cream and walking over their big bridge after. We did this every year for at least 5 years.

6. Hickory Canyon Natural Area

We LOVE this hike in the dead of winter when it’s either SUPER cold (below freezing) OR on like the first semi-warm day AFTER a deep freeze b/c these trails have the BEST ice flows. NOW – please dear God – DO NOT LET YOUR KIDS KNOCK DOWN THE ICE. We have VERY strict ice rules in our family b/c you don’t want to ruin it for anyone else. But bring your camera b/c it’s seriously impressive! Also, it’s pretty neat there are two trails here on either side of the highway so we always do both b/c neither is all that long. We only hike here when we know the ice will be amazing!

7. Pickle Spring Natural Area

I mentioned this hike earlier and trust me – it’s AMAZING. When our kids were little (6-7 years ago) this was a favorite and then suddenly it got super busy b/c it made like every “best hike in MO” list so after one miserably crowded hike we quit going. BUT if you’ve never been or aren’t as picky as us OR go on a weekday it’s absolutely a must see. It’s not a hard hike and it’s literally the most perfect KID HIKE ever. Amazing rocks to climb. rock arches to walk under, creeks to cross (my kids hate “dry” hikes and our favorites ALWAYS include water), etc. If you’ve never been I would get up early one day during this break and go out there b/c I bet it won’t be busy right now.

Are you guys still with me? Sorry there aren’t photos. I know we all have extra time on our hands but I don’t have time to dig through 10+ years of images to find the right hiking photos. SO I’m linking everything I can and look at google photos to get ideas AND go buy the book – reading about hikes helps me a ton when choosing. Ok back to it….

8. Valley View Glades

So they say this hike is AH-MAZING in April/May during the height of wildflower season! We’ve only gone in like January and it’s still pretty but in a brown dead sort of way – just the way I like my hiking scenery. This is a LONG HARD hike but my kids have done it twice and they were maybe mid-grade school? It’s a lot of up and down – nothing like HARD HARD just long and we’re always tired at the end. It’s cool though b/c you walk through valleys and forests and cross creeks – so it’s one that keeps my kid’s interest AND it’s not really that far from St. Louis.

Sorry I’m not putting mileage – you’ll have to do SOME work on your own! haha! We rarely do a hike over 3-4 miles and if a trail IS longer we turn back b/c when we hike we are SLOW but it’s how we’ve trained the kids to hike. Gray loves to find sticks, smash rotten logs and throw rocks. Chris loves to play follow the leader with them and do “parkor” with them. We just take our time. Hiking for us isn’t about exercise it is just about getting out of the house, the city, breathing fresh air, seeing wildlife, exploring, etc.

OK – last part of my list are a few hikes in Illinois that we love….

9. Fults Hill Prairie Nature Preserve

We’ve done this hike three times maybe now and take it from me – START LEFT. DO NOT GO UP THE STAIRS b/c that is what your brain is going to tell you to do and it makes the most sense BUT over there on the left is the steepest hill in the world with unstable rock so walk UP that first and come down the stairs with handrails where you can rest if need be. OK. Now that I got that off my chest b/c it’s written in BIG HUGE letters in our book now after we screwed up THREE TIMES IN A ROW I wanted to make sure I told you that. Alright, so this is a STEEP hike at the start and end but the middle is super easy. No water on this hike but breathtaking views. I mean they TAKE YOUR BREATH AWAY. And the drive is one of my favorites. Driving to the hike and home from the hike is part of my favorite part b/c Chris and I love to talk about living in the country, we love watching for wildlife (we hiked today at Crane Lake Trail – not adding it to my list b/c I’d never do it twice BUT we saw 2 bald eagles, a dozen turkey, deer and other wild life which was awesome), crossing creeks, etc. We love road trips. And driving on Bluff Road is my favorite ever. ALSO – do the hike EARLY and then go to Fort de Chartes – even if no one is there you can walk around BUT if you plan your hike for their big festival weekend the Fort is AMAZING when all the festival people are there dressed up!

10. Piney Creek Ravine Nature Preserve

One of my all-time favorites. Here are my notes in our book…. LOVE THIS HIKE, super steep, muddy always, wear BOOTS, gorgeous creek and waterfalls, feels longer. OK – so this drive is awesome bit windy – we’re lucky no one but Chris gets carsick and as long as he cracks a window he’s fine. But this is fairly windy to get to so just beware. It’s also strange b/c you start out walking next to a pasture on the muddiest grass path you’ve ever walked. You are going to HATE it and will want to turn around before you start. One year my girls, who were in actual rubber boots (if your kids can handle hiking in rubber boots for this one do it b/c then the water/mud won’t matter) had to CARRY ME b/c the water was so deep on the grass path I would have been soaking in my hiking shoes (I can’t hike in actual boots I always get blisters so I wear hiking shoes that aren’t water proof). Anyway – JUST KEEP SWIMMING. Or walking but it might feel like swimming. You’ll come to the forest and walk down just a bit until suddenly you are on solid rock at the top of a waterfall and it JUST GETS BETTER AND BETTER FROM THERE. I wrote that it “feels longer” b/c we always go off trail and explore the creek (my kids LOVE water). OH – and the PREHISTORIC PETROGLYPHS and PICTOGRAPHS! Yep. Amazing. Just muddy as hell. And I guess steep but hard hikes are like labor for me – I always forget how hard it is until I’m in the middle of it! haha!

11. Pere Marquette State Park

I’m sure you grew up going to the Pere Marquette Lodge like I did and I know everyone has played on their giant chess set, but just in case you haven’t been in a while I’m putting this on the list. We go at least once a year and sometimes several more times. We stayed in the lodge for a night just a few weeks ago with the kids and it was a perfect 24 hour getaway! We always ask for gift cards for Christmas so our whole trip including meals was $3.17 this last time! There is a great hike with pretty views – it can be muddy so wear boots. But also? Driving the River Road is awesome. In winter you can see bald eagles! The Audubon Center at Riverlands is a great museum for kids and the Confluence is closed right now but when that opens (fixing it from flood damage) it’s SO fun to see where the Missouri River meets the mighty Mississippi! Elsah is our FAVORITE town. The Fin Inn is an old favorite but prepare yourself for fried food (their hush puppies are my fav) and Grafton has SO many new things to do there! Plus there is the Great Rivers Museum and the ferries!

12. LAST BUT NOT LEAST…… Little Grand Canyon

We’ve only done this once b/c it’s a fairly long drive but OMG you guys. ADD THIS ONE TO YOUR LIST! It’s long but not that long and well, breathtaking just does NOT do this hike justice. So do not wait – pack your car for a road trip, leave early, eat lunch on the trail and enjoy the hell out of this one! NOT little tiny kid friendly – your kids need to love climbing and if you have really bad knees skip this but dear God add this to your list if you are at all able. That’s all I’m going to say. If I say too much it’s like ruining the end of a great movie. JUST GO.

Last bit of advice? Pack DOUBLE the food you think you’ll need and keep some back in the car for the way home b/c my kids are always starving on the ride home. Bring pillows/lovies for the ride home b/c they will pass out – my big kids still do. In your backpack bring bandaids, food, water, tissues (for your BIFF and/or noses), wet wipes if you have kids that hate mud and if you have kids that whine/complain easily bring skittles – you can go ahead of the kids and “hide” them on the trail for them to find to keep them moving/happy. Bring trash bags for muddy shoes/clothes and a change of clothes for everyone. We still do this and don’t have little kids that fall anymore but you just never know. One long car ride home with a cold/wet kid and you’ll never forget again.