Gateway to the West: Hiking in St. Louis, MO

Whether you're a longtime resident or just visiting Gateway Arch National Park, you can find something new on these trails around St. Louis.

Hiking Easy, Moderate

Also in Illinois, United States of America

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Spring foliage at Gateway Arch
Spring foliage at Gateway Arch Photo: Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

Description

When you think of a national park, you probably picture some vast landscape with endless rugged trails. You might envision the cliffs of Yosemite, the chasms of the Grand Canyon, or the geysers of Yellowstone. What you probably don’t think of is the urban landscape of St. Louis, Missouri, but there’s actually a national park there. Gateway Arch National Park, at only 90 acres in the middle of the city, may not fit your image of a national park, but it is one nonetheless.

The Gateway Arch, a 630-foot structure beside the Mississippi River, commemorates the westward expansion of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase and subsequent exploration by European Americans. The Arch marks where the town of St. Louis was first established, and also the approximate starting point of Lewis and Clark’s expedition up the Missouri River toward the Pacific Ocean. So if you think about it, the iconic national parks of the American West would not be what they are without the events which Gateway Arch stands for. That’s why the monument earned national park status in 2018. For national parks travelers, its significance can’t be ignored.

As you might expect, there isn’t much for hiking in downtown St. Louis, but the greater metro area actually has quite a bit. Many isolated trail systems are scattered throughout, in pockets of intact nature with a surprising diversity of flora and fauna, plus interesting landforms. The city sits near the confluence of two great American rivers––the Missouri and the Mississippi. Between the waterways is a landscape of sandy floodplains, hilly woodlands, and rocky bluffs.

Within an hour’s drive of downtown, you can head down a trail and into the woods, and quickly forget the urban world that surrounds you. St. Louisians know this already, but the realization may escape visitors and newcomers who don’t take time to really see the “Show Me State.” So if you come for the Gateway Arch, you might take some inspiration from Lewis and Clark and stay a little longer to explore in Missouri.

Routes included