Off The Beaten Path
As summer fades, staying active in Columbia becomes more enjoyable with the pleasant fall weather. Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, south of Columbia on Highway 163, offers a variety of trails to explore outdoors. Most Columbians know about Devil’s Icebox Trail with its wooden pathways and chilly cave, but the park has several other trails ideal for hiking, mountain biking and even horseback riding.
While hiking through Rock Bridge, you can discover a new side of Columbia you may have not seen before: high bluffs, winding creeks, blooming wildflowers and stunning woods. The approximately 22 miles of trails connect to each other, with the exception of Karst Trail. All eight of the park’s trails are suitable for hiking.
According to Park Superintendent Jim Gast, Deer Run Trail is pleasant if you’re looking for a quiet hike in the hills along woods, grassy areas and creeks.
There are a variety of mountain-biking trails in Rock Bridge. For a beginner mountain biker, Gast recommends starting out on the Grassland Trail. This two-mile trail has open grass areas and smoother, flat terrain. During the ride, look out at lush grasses and plants. Once above a roughly 65-foot-high ridge at Sinkhole Trail, riders will find open, level areas suitable for mountain biking. The 1½-mile trail is sprinkled with natural sinkholes.
For more adventurous, experienced mountain bikers, Deer Run Trail is a narrow trail with hills and intermittent stream crossings. This trail is filled with woods and shade compared to the flatter, open space trails. Mountain biking is permitted only when the trails are dry.
The Gans Creek Wild Area Trail System is an 8.5-mile-loop trail perfect for horseback riding or hiking. Bring a horse to any of the Gans Creek trailheads and roam along the trail. The entire area consists of 750 acres full of streams, hills and bluffs. It takes roughly 60 minutes per mile to hike the trail system.
Because Gans Creek Wild Area is a loop trail system, eventually horseback riders and hikers reach the initial trailhead. Another option is to go through part of the trail system from one trailhead to another. This trail is accessible through Shooting Star, Wagon Wheel or Gans Creek trailheads. Horseback riding is permitted until Oct. 31, if the trails are dry.
“If we get a lot of rain then we close the trails,” Gast says. Since the Gans Creek Wild Area is reserved as a wild area, bicycling is not permitted.
Rock Bridge Memorial State Park partners with Gov. Jay Nixon’s 100 Missouri Miles Challenge, “which encourages Missourians to participate in 100 miles of outdoor physical activity between now and the end of the year,” Gast says. “We’re happy to see so many people taking on the challenge on our trails.”
Tips For An Afternoon Of Hiking
1. Never go by yourself; always hike with someone else.
2. Bring along a water bottle.
3. Pack a map of the trail you’re visiting (maps are available online).
4. Take along bug spray.
5. Don’t forget sunscreen, especially on the less shaded trails.