The best parks in St. Louis (2024)

Table of Contents
Tower Grove Park Turkish Pavilion Jump to section: The Best Parks For Strolling Tower Grove Park Lafayette Park Carondelet Park Francis Park Clifton Heights Park Klondike Park Augusta Missouri The Best Parks For Nature Klondike Park The Nature Institute Edward “Ted” and Pat Jones–Confluence Point State Park Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center Lone Elk Park Cliff Cave Park Spring Bend Park Islands of Adventure Kinetic Park Skate Park St. Charles Missouri The Best Parks For Sports Queeny Park Penrose Park Greensfelder Park Kayak Creve Ceour Lake Park St. Louis Missouri Kinetic Park Brown Road Park Creve Coeur Park Citygarden Sculpture Park BERNAR VENET 2Arcs X 4, 1999-2000 Downtown St. Louis The Best Parks For Art Citygarden Click here for a Google Map of the St. Louis area parks Laumeier Sculpture Park Laumeier Sculpture Park Tony Tasset, Eye, 2007 Sunset Hills Missouri Chesterfield Central Park Shaw Park Grand Center's Pocket Parks children walking Faust Park Historic Village Chesterfield Missouri The Best Parks For Kids Tilles Park Faust Park Read More: The Best Playgrounds in St. Louis Suson Park The National Museum of Transportation St. Louis Missouri National Museum of Transportation Towne Park Deer Creek Park (a.k.a.Rocket Park) Brentwood Park Read More: AccessiblePlaygrounds in St. Louis Gateway Arch National Park Downtown St. Louis Missouri The Best Parks For History Our Two Beginnings:Cahokia Mounds +Gateway Arch NationalPark Fort Belle Fontaine Jefferson Barracks Compton Hill Reservoir Park Marquette Park Bellefontaine Cemetery Castlewood State Park St. Louis Missouri The Best Parks For Hiking August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Center Castlewood State Park Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park Rockwoods Reservation Wildwood Missouri Hawn State Park Meramec State Park Pere Marquette State Park Rockwoods Reservation Biking Weldon Spring Conservation Area Missouri St. Francois State Park Washington State Park Weldon Spring Conservation Area And Don't Forget... References

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The best parks in St. Louis (1)

Photography by Driver

Tower Grove Park Turkish Pavilion

Tower Grove Park Turkish Pavilion

Maybe if the world were a little calmer and greener, and everybody had a big, self-mowing back yard with a lake... But most of us don’t. We need our parks: They keep us sane and happy and connected; give us breathing space; kindle romance and absorb kid and canine energy. If Forest Park is the heart of St. Louis, then these parks help circulate its oxygen.

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Jump to section:

  • The Best Parks For Strolling
  • The Best Parks For Nature
  • The Best Parks For Sports
  • The Best Parks for Art
  • The Best Parks For Kids
  • The Best Parks For History
  • The Best Parks For Hiking

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The Best Parks For Strolling

Tower Grove Park

This wooded Victorian strolling park rewards meandering. Its 340 kinds of trees could chart every shade of green, and they attract 200 kinds of birds, from red-shafted flickers and monk parakeets to ospreys and ring-billed gulls. Henry Shaw developed the park to give St. Louis “a grand pleasure ground,” with wide lanes for horse-drawn carriages, gates guarded by zinc griffins, and exotic pavilions and gazebos. Every few feet, there’s something to see: lions copied from the tomb of Pope Clement XIII, heroic sculptures (Shakespeare’s here), busts (including Mozart), and antiquities (columns from the Old Courthouse and stone “ruins” from the old Lindell Hotel, reflected in one of the most picturesque ponds in St. Louis). Park officialsalso recently uncovered a long-forgotten streamon the park's east side, accenting it with rain gardens and native plants on either side.

Lafayette Park

The oldest park in St. Louis, Lafayette is a perfect square, surrounded by Victorian architecture. Enter through any of several wrought-iron gates, and make your way toward the centerpiece: a lake that Victorians once paddled in swan boats. Real swans remain, and on the grassy field beyond, the Perfectos crack skinny vintage baseball bats. In the southeast corner’s romantic little Rockery, an iron bridge arches over a pond. Check out the cannons removed from a British frigate, the HMS Actaeon; the formal statues of George Washington and Thomas Hart Benton; and the late Bob Cassilly’s concrete frog sculpture, smirking from the playground.

Carondelet Park

“This park helped a lot of marriages survive retirement,” says local historian NiNi Harris, who’d see men fishing from the pergolas or playing pinochle at Lyle House. Tree-lined boulevards and old brick homes with character surround the “undulating landscape,” so prized by 19th-century landscape designers. In the ’30s, some of the sinkholes were merged into a shallow, picturesque lagoon. The YMCA’s new Carondelet Park Rec Complex adds a little splash, with its lazy river and water slide, and a new Great Rivers Greenway trail will hook Carondelet to Jefferson Barracks and run to Soulard’s Lyon Park.

Francis Park

In the town square of St. Louis Hills, Francis Park is cornered by four churches and outlined by a stream of walkers, bikers, and joggers who like counting their 1-mile laps. Originally the farm of David Francis, the park is almost as lively as the World’s Fair that he spearheaded. People chat on mosaic benches by the formal lily pond; they go to art shows and car shows, old-fashioned band concerts, and Grub & Groove rock ’n’ roll restaurant tastings. Kids shriek down the sledding hill, hunt Easter Eggs, slurp cocoa at the Christmas tree lighting. On summer nights, astronomers set up telescopes on the sidewalks.

Clifton Heights Park

Say you’re in Manhattan’s Diamond District, sifting through bag after bag of chipped, flawed, cloudy stones, and you come upon a small, perfect, brilliant-cut emerald. That’s Clifton Heights Park. Ringed by Victorian houses and Arts and Crafts bungalows, it has a lake that’s scooped deep, a basin protected by steep grassy slopes. Two fountains soften the air, and a viewing deck and boathouse add visual interest to the gentle, tenth-of-a-mile lap.

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The best parks in St. Louis (2)

Photography by Andres Hevia

Klondike Park Augusta Missouri

Klondike Park

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The Best Parks For Nature

Klondike Park

Here’s how to make a single weekend both rugged and civilized: 1. Reserve a camping spot at Klondike Park; ideally, a primitive site tucked away from others for a Friday night, and build a bonfire before bedtime. 2. Start Saturday morning by hiking around the park’s scenic lake, observing the white high-silica sand that was used to create glass at the one-time quarry. 3. Bike to the Katy Trail, running just south of the park, and follow it west to Augusta. 4. Sample the wines at Mount Pleasant Winery and Augusta Winery, then head back to your campsite before sunset. 5. After a restful slumber and packing up, stop at Chandler Hill Vineyards’ Farmers Market, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, and take home something to remember the weekend.

The Nature Institute

The view from atop the bluffs is stunning: the Mighty Mississippi stretching into the distance, the Great River Road wrapping alongside it, those distant smokestacks towering over the trees… Well, maybe that last part’s not so great, but otherwise, the view from Olin Nature Preserve and the adjacent Mississippi Sanctuary is unparalleled. While exploring the sanctuary, follow the western-most trail, past Creek Trek Waterfall, to a scenic overlook. At the preserve, take the 1.4-mile Loop Trail, with a brief detour at the former skeet-shooting range. And on the way out, stop at Talahi Lodge, where you can relax and enjoy a picnic.

Edward “Ted” and Pat Jones–Confluence Point State Park

When exploring nature, where better to start than the spot where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark embarked on their storied expedition? (OK, so technically, the rivers then met two miles from where they intersect today.) At what’s now Confluence Point State Park, you can follow an interpretive trail through the floodplain. There, at the shore of the confluence, witness the rivers’ raw power, as the current effortlessly sweeps entire trees downstream. Gaze along the banks and overhead to spot the wildlife that dots the landscape. Then, on your way home, pass through the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary and stop at the Audubon Center at Riverlands, where you can watch a 12-minute video about the sanctuary, learn about bird migration patterns, and peer through spotting scopes. Students and faculty at Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts recently completed construction on the Riverlands Avian Observatory, a new bird blind near the center’s Heron Pond. The modern design was named a finalist in the Architizer A+ Awards, garnering international attention.

Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center

This 112-acre gem isn’t as sprawling as the state parks west of it, but Powder Valley has a lot going on, particularly for families. The location is convenient, near Interstates 44 and 270 in Kirkwood. The park’s three paved trails are easy to navigate, with Tanglevine Trail accessible to hikers with disabilities. And the on-site learning center is among the area’s best, with a 3,000-gallon aquarium, a 250-seat auditorium, a two-story tree exhibit, a wildlife-viewing area, and more. The only downside? Fido has to stay at home.

Lone Elk Park

There’s a poignant story behind the name. After World War II, the one-time military ammo depot transformed into a park stocked with 10 elk from Yellowstone National Park. That herd grew to more than 100 by the late ’50s, when the military again seized control of the grounds—and the elk were exterminated one winter for safety reasons. But one bull escaped, wandering the hills alone for years. Finally, in 1966, the same year the land was renamed Lone Elk Park, locals purchased six more elk from Yellowstone. Six bison joined them in 1973, and the herds have grown since. For those who dare to venture out of their cars, White Bison Trail makes a 3-mile loop through the park, allowing visitors to get relatively close and personal with the elk. On the way out, stop at the World Bird Sanctuary, and pay homage to another iconic North American animal, the bald eagle. But keep in mind that dogs, those other beloved beasts, are prohibited at the park.

Cliff Cave Park

Missouri is the Cave State, so no list of naturecentric parks would be complete without visiting a cave. Cliff Cave is among the best-known, and it’s St. Louis County’s second-longest cave. In 2009, a gate was added to protect the endangered Indiana bats that live inside. Nonetheless, you can follow the rugged 3-mile Spring Valley Trail to the face of the cave, hike or bike along the 5.1-mile paved Mississippi Trail, or stroll along the 1-mile River Bluff Trail for a view of the Mississippi River and surrounding valley.

Spring Bend Park

Slated to open April 2024, Spring Bend Park was designed as a haven for nature lovers. The first stage of the new conversation area will includewalking trails andaccess to the nearby Katy Trail, while the second stage–to be unveiled at a later date–will feature a cabin and overlook for spotting birds, deer, and other wildlife.

Islands of Adventure

  • Howell Island Conservation Area:This low-lying island in the Missouri River, located near Wildwood, is accessible by following Olive Street/Eatherton Road.
  • Louis H. Bangert Memorial Wildlife Area:Just south of the Blanchette Bridge, this 160-acre island in the Missouri River is accessible via the Katy Trail.
  • Maple Island Conservation Area:This spot, located near Alton, Ill., is popular among fishermen.
  • Pelican Island Natural Area:Adventurers can reach the island at the heart of the 2,260-acre area by boat, launched from the mainland adjacent to Sioux Passage Park in North County.
  • Walkers Island:A causeway on the southeast side of Horseshoe Lake, located near Granite City, Ill., extends to this island, another prime fishing spot.

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The best parks in St. Louis (3)

Photography by Matt Seidel

Kinetic Park Skate Park St. Charles Missouri

Kinetic Park

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The Best Parks For Sports

Queeny Park

The park’s Greensfelder Recreation Complex plays host to carefree ice-skaters from October through February. But it also transforms into an arena of hard hits, flying elbows, and ingeniously clever names when the Arch Rival Roller Girls, the St. Louis GateKeepers men’s roller-derby team, and Midwest Sport Hockey’s leagues take the floor.

Penrose Park

“Mr. Bumpy Face” (so called for its many bumps and undulations) is one of only 27 velodromes in the nation where cyclists can go to race around a NASCAR-like track. Efforts are underway to return the site that once hosted USA Cycling’s Elite Track National Championships to its former glory, with a much smoother concrete track.

Greensfelder Park

At first, the 50-foot Alpine Tower doesn’t look like much: simply a series of logs, cables, ropes, and trees strung together. As groups attempt to scale it, however, they find it requires a blend of problem-solving, trust, and teamwork.

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The best parks in St. Louis (4)

Photography by @foxandgypsy

Kayak Creve Ceour Lake Park St. Louis Missouri

Creve Ceour Lake Park

Kinetic Park

Dardenne Prairie probably isn’t the first place that an X Games enthusiast would look for fellow skateboarders while in St. Louis. But this park’s 33,000-square-foot skate course—the largest outdoor park of its kind in the state—offers myriad challenges and obstacles: bowls of varying difficulty, a street course, ramps… The facility even includes a rock-climbing wall.

Brown Road Park

Recently, 10 acres of this St. Peters park were transformed into a BMX track, complete with straights, berm turns, and rollers. Today, the St. Peters BMX Gateway group hosts races and practices here for off-road cycling enthusiasts.

Creve Coeur Park

Visitors without boats can still get out on the park’s popular 320-acre lake by visiting Creve Coeur Lake Rentals, which rents out kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards.

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The best parks in St. Louis (5)

Photography by Ann White

Citygarden Sculpture Park BERNAR VENET 2Arcs X 4, 1999-2000 Downtown St. Louis

Citygarden Sculpture Park BERNAR VENET 2Arcs X 4, 1999-2000

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The Best Parks For Art

Citygarden

Igor Mitoraj’s sculpture Eros Bendato (that wonderful giant head) is one of the landmark sculptures here. In nice weather, sit and watch: Not a moment will pass without someone peeping out of one of the hollow eyes (and not always a kid). Every piece here is its own sort of landmark. Even if you can’t bring the title or the artist’s name to mind, you probably know it visually—for instance, Erwin Wurm’s Big Suit or Tom Claassen’s Untitled (Two Rabbits). Jim Dine’s Big White Gloves, Big Four Wheels explores the distance between Disney’s Pinocchio and Carlo Collodi’s original, spookier story; it’s thematically echoed by Tom Otterness’ darkly comic Kindly Geppetto, which depicts the carpenter as a cartoony figure taking a swing at Pinocchio’s head with a mallet. World-class abstract sculpture also abounds here, including Mark di Suvero’s monumental Aesop’s Fables (above), which now serves as a visual connector to Richard Serra’s Twain, a work that stood alone on the Gateway Mall for years, marooned and misunderstood. Another main point of interest: the 14-foot-long video wall, which screens films, photography, and Cinema at Citygarden, a springtime series of juried shorts from local filmmakers. (And if you have an iPhone, be sure to download the free Citygarden app before you visit; you can find it and more info at the park's website.)

Click here for a Google Map of the St. Louis area parks

Laumeier Sculpture Park

You can approach Laumeier as a series of surprises and mysteries—tie your shoelaces tight, put your dog on a leash, and lose yourself in its 105 acres. Or explore it as a tourist, plotting out what to see before you go. Internationally revered for its world-class collection—with pieces from such artists as Niki de Saint Phalle, Donald Judd, and Beverly Pepper—Laumeier is still as pioneering as it was when it was incorporated in 1977. The permanent collection began with 40 pieces donated by sculptor Ernest Trova, and his presence here includes the 1974 COR-TEN sculpture Profile Canto IV, as well as Falling Man/Study (Wrapped Manscape Figure) (right). One of the park’s best-known and best-loved pieces is Tony Tasset’s Eye, the giant fiberglass eyeball that’smodeled after one of the artist’s own eyes. (It’s also, we’re guessing, the backdrop for a thousand selfies.) Other pieces, like Dan Graham’s Triangular Bridge Over Water, are tucked in the woods. And some are essentially invisible, such as Eric Hall’s SITE/SOUND, a series of aural portraits of the sculptures composed by St. Louis musicians, which you can hear via smartphone by downloading the tour from laumeier.org.

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The best parks in St. Louis (6)

Photography Courtesy of Laumeier Sculpture Park

Laumeier Sculpture Park Tony Tasset, Eye, 2007 Sunset Hills Missouri

Laumeier Sculpture Park Tony Tasset, Eye, 2007

Chesterfield Central Park

Chesterfield Arts, one of the most active arts nonprofits in the county, has been around for two decades. In that time, it’s placed $5 million’s worth of public art throughout Chesterfield, with quite a bit in Central Park. One of the best-known pieces is J. Seward Johnson’s The Awakening. Seventy feet long and 5,700 pounds, the five-piece aluminum sculpture is meant to look like a bearded giant struggling to free itself from the earth. (It not only attracts kids, who love to climb on its enormous hands and knees, but also has become a popular wedding spot.) The park has two 9-foot stainless-steel Trova sculptures, too, Gox A and Gox AB (Gox No. 3 can be found at Laumeier), as well as Maura, a figurative piece by Don Wiegand. The latter statue, a bronze figure of a running girl mounted on a stone base in the shape of her shadow, was dedi- cated on June 26, 1999, at 10 a.m., and its shadow lines up with its stone counterpart on that day every year. Chesterfield Arts has also dedicated Aspire, an interactive sculpture by Rod Callies and the first winner of the organization’s new University Sculpture Competition. Comprising four massive steel spires painted white, the piece can be found alongside the Stream Walk by Chesterfield Amphitheater.

Shaw Park

Trova made his home in St. Louis County, so it’s appropriate that you’d find the sculptor’s work in the county seat’s oldest and largest park. Though Shaw is a recreational park, it’s also home to some carefully chosen public art. The most recent acquisition is a site-specific piece by nationally recognized sculptor James Surls, an 18-foot-tall, stainless-steel and bronze sculpture titled Molecular Bloom with Single Flower, which celebrates the immediacy of nature. Though it’s the newest, most visible piece in the park, there are rewards in seeking out other pieces here, including Rod Baer’s brightly colored Dancing Chairs (facing the School District of Clayton Administration Building), Carol Fleming’s gorgeously ancient-looking Egg (in the Sensory Garden), and that Trova piece, Geometric Abstract No. 2, located in the Moneta Garden.

Grand Center's Pocket Parks

  • Strauss Park:Located in the middle of Grand Center’s bustle, Strauss Park is named for late arts patron Leon Strauss. (His bronze bust is here, facing Fox Theatre, which he helped save.)
  • Park-Like:At the heart of the city, the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts worked with local artist and landscape designer Chris Carl to create agreen space for reflection across the street from the museum.
  • Ellen Clark Sculpture Park:Located on the corner of Lindell and Grand boulevards, a spot that doubles as a public-arts destination and free unofficial dog park.

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The best parks in St. Louis (7)

Photography by Ann White

children walking Faust Park Historic Village Chesterfield Missouri

Faust Park Historic Village

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The Best Parks For Kids

Tilles Park

Though known for its holiday lights display, St. Louis County’s Tilles Park draws St. Louisans year-round. Approximately 1,200 to 1,500 people visit the park every day, says Mike Flad, landscape architect and project manager for St. Louis County Parks. Among the draws is a playground that’s designed for children of all capabilities. The slide’s made from stainless steel, rather than plastic, allowing children with cochlear implants to use it. (Plastic slides tend to create static, which can damage the implants’ circuitry.) “All of the playground surfacing is rubberized and poured-in-place, and the playground is coated with a rubberized coating,” says Flad, “so when the kids are walking, they tend to create less static electricity.” The park also has a soundboard musical instrument, bongo drums, and water play, with approximately a dozen nozzles at ground level that activate at different times. Even the jungle gyms include activities at lower levels, which are accessible to children in wheelchairs. “They can interact with the rest of the children,” Flad says. “This is for everybody.”

Faust Park

Attracting more than 2,000 visitors per day, this Chesterfield park can keep a brood amused for hours. The St. Louis Carousel’s calliope is reason enough to visit the park. Apart from the carousel, Faust boasts a popular playground, as well as Historic Village, which now includes two former blacksmith’s shops. The former Spanish Lake shop dates to 1881; the other shop, from Fenton, dates to 1908 and serves as the village’s general store. Finally, walk to the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House, which is run by the Missouri Botanical Garden, for countless photo ops.

Read More: The Best Playgrounds in St. Louis

Suson Park

If your child yearns for the country, head to this 98-acre park in South County. Your little ones can learn to fish at one of three trout-stocked ponds. They also can see all sorts of animals, including miniature horses, a Percheron horse, a Belgian horse, a miniature Sicilian donkey, rabbits, turkeys, and chickens. And after Mother’s Day, check out piglets, a calf, baby goats, and baby lambs. “One of our most fun programs is Farm Fridays,” says Kyra Kaltenbronn, manager of park program services for St. Louis County Parks. “We have hayrides; pony rides; fishing lessons; face-painting; farm games like Find the Needle in the Haystack and riding pedal tractors around cones; and tours of the farm.” And there’s a large playground with lots of climbing options. “It is one of our signature parks,” says Kaltenbronn, “and it is just great.”

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The best parks in St. Louis (8)

Photography by Ann White

The National Museum of Transportation St. Louis Missouri

The National Museum of Transportation

National Museum of Transportation

Though it may seem odd to include a museum in a list of parks, there’s a reason: The St. Louis County Parks department runs this 130-acre site, and half of the exhibits are outside. The Creation Station, a hands-on learning center designed for children age 5 and under, is located in the education center. Outside, a new loading platform for the existing streetcars on display should be ready by fall. “Everyone [will be able to] ride a streetcar from almost one end of the museum to another,” says Molly Butterworth, the museum’s cultural site manager. Visitors also can explore railroad cabooses, steam locomotives, and historic passenger railcars. “We have a tugboat that was on the Missouri River and a World War II aircraft that was in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day,” adds Butterworth. “It’s a great opportunity for kids to put real three dimensions to what they’re learning in books.”

Towne Park

This 109-acre St. Charles County park features a reconstructed homestead, formerly known as the Pink Plantation. For kids, that may hold a certain amount of allure, but the Nature Explore Classroom will undoubtedly be a stronger calling card. The classroom consists of 11 learning spaces, including areas focusing on music and movement, messy materials, sand play, nature art, wildflowers, building, dirt-digging, balance, and water. The park also includes a fishing pond, a forest-themed playground, rain gardens, and hiking trails.

Deer Creek Park (a.k.a.Rocket Park)

It’s actually called Deer Creek Park, but many know it as Rocket Park. With a space-themed playground that includes a rocket ship, this Webster Groves park remains a favorite for kiddos. It’s also been updated with a sand volleyball court and walking trail, plus a new backstop, bleachers, and team benches for two of the baseball fields.

Brentwood Park

We're forecasting this park as the next big family destination, thanks to a new playground planned to be unveiled in April 2024. The playground will span 3 acres and includes a zip line,a net climber, a climbing wall, a play structure with slides, swings, walking paths, a boardwalk that overlooks a pond, anda waterfall, all at the request of area residents. The designers of the$7 million-dollar project also made sure to include many shaded areas throughout the park.You can view renderings of the new playground here.

Read More: AccessiblePlaygrounds in St. Louis

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The best parks in St. Louis (9)

Photography by Ron and Patty Thomas / E+ / via Getty Images

Gateway Arch National Park Downtown St. Louis Missouri

Gateway Arch National Park

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The Best Parks For History

Our Two Beginnings:Cahokia Mounds +Gateway Arch NationalPark

The world has claimed Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (it’s on the UNESCO World Heritage List), and archaeologists come from everywhere to excavate here. Peer at their digs, then climb 100 feet to the top of Monks Mound, the largest earthen mound in the Americas. “People don’t think of Indians having cities,” says Cahokia historian William Iseminger, “but this was America’s first”: a highly civilized metropolis that in the year 1250 was larger than London. The Mississippians built other mounds nearby—including one across the river, near the site Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau would choose for the village of St. Louis. The city’s Norman grid is now shaded by the Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse. The grounds of the 91-acre Jefferson National Expansion Memorial park are “almost sacred to our history as a nation,” says local historian NiNi Harris.

Fort Belle Fontaine

It’s 1806. Zebulon Pike leaves from this new cantonment on the Missouri River to explore the great Southwest (where Pikes Peak awaits its name). Two months later, exhausted at their journey’s end, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set up camp here, and their pals in the Company of Artillery fire off 17 rounds in their honor. By day, the fort’s cottonwood walls absorb the stories of soldiers, merchants, and Sac and Fox trappers who meet here to trade furs for vice (whiskey, tobacco, knives) and elegance (fabric, glass beads). By 1939, teens in reform-school cottages at the Missouri Hills Home for Boys have replaced that rowdy mix. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt visits and sits amid 300 flowering trees to hear a concert on the stone Grand Staircase, built by her husband’s Works Progress Administration. Today, the early machismo’s gone, and the 1930s grandeur is stained by an elegant melancholy, but you can still tell that this place mattered.

Jefferson Barracks

Missouri’s new military barracks opened six days after President Thomas Jefferson died. It was named in his honor. Jefferson Barracks would play a role in every U.S. war that followed. Its founder, Col. Henry Atkinson, led an action that started the Black Hawk War. JB funneled men and materials to the Mexican War, served as a hospital for both sides during the Civil War, and trained soldiers for both world wars. Jeanette MacDonald and Judy Garland sang for the troops at the park’s amphitheater, built in the 1930s. Decades intermingle at JB, but the single theme is courage.

Compton Hill Reservoir Park

On the night of the full moon, climb the 170-foot Compton Hill Water Tower, and see 360 degrees of the city sparkle. Built in 1898, the tower is one of a handful left standing in the U.S. (three are in St. Louis). Engineer James Kirkwood chose the site; the city’s water division wanted reservoirs to be in parks, purified by trees and fresh air. Sculpture wasn’t mandatory, but Compton Heights has a beauty: The Naked Truth is a tribute to three German-American newspaper editors. Adolphus Busch, who was donating the lion’s share of the cost, asked the German sculptor to drape the truth discreetly. He refused. In compromise, she was cast in bronze, rather than glaring white marble.

Marquette Park

“Boy, there’s a lot of history packed into that little 15-acre park,” says NiNi Harris. “It was the site of a hospital for Union soldiers during the Civil War; the site of a very large orphanage and industrial school; the site of tryouts for the 1948 Olympic [water] polo team; and the location for filming The Game of Their Lives.”

Bellefontaine Cemetery

On its 314 acres, Bellefontaine Cemetery boasts 4,000 trees from more than 150 species. And the cemetery is expanding its gardens, focusing on sustainable, drought-tolerant native species. Bellefontaine also is home to foxes, raccoons, and other wildlife. “We’ve partnered with the Audubon Society, the Audubon Center at Riverlands, and they are doing a bird count for us,” Hummel says. “With them, we are starting new planting areas that are creating habitat for migratory birds and small mammals. We are trying to enhance the urban wildlife refuge that we are.” Then there are Bellefontaine’s other attractions: its architecture, art, and history.

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The best parks in St. Louis (10)

Photography by Dre Wallace

Castlewood State Park St. Louis Missouri

Castlewood State Park

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The Best Parks For Hiking

August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Center

  • Watch for the serene view of Lake 19, located midway along the looping trail.
  • Must-Hike Trail:Busch Hiking and Biking Trail
  • Distance: 3.2 miles

Castlewood State Park

  • A series of overlooks above the Meramec River, from atop the park’s “castles” (limestone bluffs), provides some of the most scenic views west of St. Louis.
  • Must-Hike Trail:River Scene Trail
  • Distance: 3.3 miles

Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park

  • Pack a picnic, then take a spur trail midway along the looping trail to stop and enjoy lunch at the Bates Picnic Area.
  • Must-Hike Trail:Dogwood Trail
  • Distance: 2 miles

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The best parks in St. Louis (11)

Photography by Ashley Fleming

Rockwoods Reservation Wildwood Missouri

Rockwoods Reservation

Hawn State Park

  • About a half mile from the trailhead off Park Drive, there’s a sweeping vista. After hiking Hawn, visit the double arch at nearby Pickle Springs Natural Area’s Trail Through Time.
  • Must-Hike Trail:Whispering Pines Trail–North Loop
  • Distance: 6 miles

Meramec State Park

  • Copper Hollow Spring is halfway along the looping trail. (Remember to pack plenty of water for the long hike.)
  • Must-Hike Trail:Wilderness Trail
  • Distance: 10 miles

Pere Marquette State Park

  • A lookout point atop McAdams Peak provides a scenic stop near the east end of the trail.
  • Must-Hike Trail:Goat Cliff Trail
  • Distance: 1.7 miles

Rockwoods Reservation

  • Near the trailhead, a historic 40-foot kiln—the path’s namesake—rises over the rugged trail.
  • Must-Hike Trail:Lime Kiln Loop Trail
  • Distance: 3.2 miles

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The best parks in St. Louis (12)

Photography courtesy of MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION

Biking Weldon Spring Conservation Area Missouri

Weldon Spring Conservation Area

St. Francois State Park

  • Look for the point in the trail that crosses Coonville Creek and a serene, cascading mini waterfall.
  • Must-Hike Trail:Mooner’s Hollow Trail
  • Distance: 2.7 miles

Washington State Park

  • After climbing the stone steps that compose the trail, stop and gaze out at the Big River valley.
  • Must-Hike Trail:1,000 Steps Trail
  • Distance: 1.5 miles

Weldon Spring Conservation Area

  • The hike takes approximately five hours, but the view from atop the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River is worth it.
  • Must-Hike Trail:Lewis Trail
  • Distance: 8.2 miles

And Don't Forget...

There are many other parks worth visiting. Here are just a handful.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated from an earlier version.

The best parks in St. Louis (2024)

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Hobby: Nordic skating, Lacemaking, Mountain biking, Rowing, Gardening, Water sports, role-playing games

Introduction: My name is Fredrick Kertzmann, I am a gleaming, encouraging, inexpensive, thankful, tender, quaint, precious person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.