16 Great Trails

The Ozarks are a wonderland of trails, both hidden and super-accessible. All you have to do is get out there and enjoy them.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this article was fact checked and accurate at press time, but 417 Magazine cannot guarantee its accuracy indefinitely.

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Katy Trail State Park

Central Missouri, including a 152-mile stretch of the trail from Boonville to St. Charles | Start in Boonville, roughly 160 miles northeast of Springfield | Level of Difficulty: Moderate

As the nation’s longest rail-to-trail conversion, the Katy Trail stretches some 238 miles from Clinton to Machens, a town located just north of St. Louis. If you’re super eager, you can bike the entire thing in a few days’ time—just ask 417-landers David and Polly Letsch. “We did it in a long weekend from Friday to Sunday,” David says of the couple’s first trail adventure in 2011. 
Since then, the two have returned to the Katy Trail each year, but now they usually just do one- or two-day trips of their favorite sections on the tandem bike they bought shortly after their first time on the trail. While the couple agrees that the entire trail is enjoyable, they say the Boonville to St. Charles stretch is perfect for a leisurely three-day trek—there are tons of restaurants, B&Bs, wineries and breweries to stop at along the way. Whether you have a companion or are riding solo, plan your trip using this rough itinerary with some of the couple’s most-favorite stops. 


Day 1: Boonville to North Jefferson

Spend the night before your trek at Hotel Frederick (660-882-2828, hotelfrederick.com) in Boonville. You’ll be over-the-top comfortable here for your much-needed night’s rest, and you’ll remember the dinner you have at The Fred Restaurant & Lounge for years to come. 
In the morning, fuel up with coffee and a homemade pastry at Taylor’s Bake Shop (660-882-8814), then hop on your bike and head to the trail—it begins running adjacent to the Missouri River just past Boonville. After pedaling along the scenic stretch for roughly 13.5 miles, take note after you pass through the trail’s only tunnel: the picturesque town of Rocheport is just ahead. Rocheport is filled with several cozy B&B’s, restaurants and Les Bourgeois Winery (missouriwine.com), where you can stop for a glass of vino, a quick snack or an early gourmet lunch. 
Your next stretch will take you along limestone bluffs as you pass through Huntsdale then McBaine and Providence, and you can pick up the MKT Trail to visit Columbia. Stop at Cooper’s Landing Campgrounds Store & Marina (573-657-2544, cooperslanding.net) for home cooking, barbecue or even Thai food at Chim’s Thai Kitchen (509-295-3810). Bonus: There’s often live music here.
After filling up, hop back on your bike, and start pedaling away at the last stretch. If you want a bed, keep going til you reach nearby Hartsburg and stay at the Globe Hotel Bed & Breakfast (60 S. 2nd St., Hartsburg, 573-657-4529), or if you’re willing to camp, check out North Jefferson’s Noren Access Campsite area for $5 per night (drop-ins only). Keep your eyes peeled while on this section of the trail—you’ll get a great view of the capitol. 


Day 2: North Jefferson to McKittrick

​Load up on water and snacks before leaving North Jefferson because the next stretch of the trail is a bit quieter as it meanders through rural landscapes and early railroad towns. Stop for your first taste of day two’s food, drinks and fun roughly 18 miles later in Mokane, where Mokane Bar and Grill (573-676-3119) greets bikers with cold booze, wings, burgers and plenty of other bar fare.
As you continue, you’ll pass through Steedman and Portland before the trail snuggles up to the Missouri River on a 5-mile stretch to Bluffton, where the Grand Bluffs Conservation Area sits a mile east of town. Check it out for extra exploring. McKittrick isn’t far from here, and it sits right across from Hermann—a popular German-esque winery town where you’ll find plenty of options for dinner, drinks and lodging (visithermann.com). If you’d rather cover more ground, you’ll find some small campgrounds down the road, and this will give you a less-lofty total to tackle on day three.


Day 3: McKittrick to St. Charles

Once you get to Marthasville on day three, plan to make some stops—there are small wineries, eateries and other attractions at nearly every stop from here on. Augusta, in particular, is one of the Letsches’ favorite trail towns. Apple Gate Inn Bed & Breakfast (636-228-4248, applegate-inn.com) is one of their favorite places to stay. (No one will judge you if your three-day trip turns into four!) If you just stop to eat, go to Augusta Brew Haus (636-482-2337) for pub-style food, barbecue and a bier garden located along the trail. 
The next town, Defiance, is home to several more eateries, with Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard & Winery (314-409-6139, yellowfarmhousewines.com) offering wines, snacks and confections with visits to its tasting room. After you leave this small city, you’re on the last stretch—just 19.6 miles left to go! When you arrive in the city of St. Charles
(historicstcharles.com), there are many options for dinner and lodging. Pick one, indulge, and pat yourself on the back for your successful three-day trek across one of the state’s most enticing trails. 


Greer Spring Trail

Alton, Missouri | 145 miles southeast of Springfield | Level of Difficulty: Moderate

Greer Spring is nature’s gift at the end of a mile-long shaded trail into a steep ravine. And it’s well worth the trek. We hiked the trail last year with a dozen friends: a Sunday morning side trip after a weekend B & B getaway. It took our group less than 30 minutes to descend. All told we spent around 90 minutes, including half an hour exploring Missouri’s second largest spring, noted for its secluded wilderness setting. 
The trailhead is about eight miles north of Alton on the scenic Missouri 19 highway—about 1.5 miles south of the bridge over the Eleven Point National Scenic River. Parking is convenient, and the trailhead is well-marked. The groomed forest trail traverses gently down the slope and is easy to navigate, so much so that we encountered families along the way. It’s likely considered moderate for the uphill return, a 250-foot change in elevation. We took our time, stopping to shoot photos and take in the hush of woodland solitude. 
Near trail’s end, a platform overlook provides the first scenic view of the rushing spring, which flows from two sources. 
The largest influx bubbles up from the gorge in a visible streambed boil. (Look slightly downstream from the overlook.) The other spring, about 250 feet upstream, flows from a cave you can’t see from this spot.
We continued down steps to the end of the trail, which opens onto the spring stream bank, a jumble of rock formations and foliage. 
We clambered around in the area shooting photos, wowed by the natural beauty. This is a place worth lingering, and 30 minutes wasn’t long enough for me. While some in our group headed back to the overlook, a few of us picked our way upstream to view the small cave. It was gorgeous!
Alas, we couldn’t stay forever. We burned off our waffle breakfast hiking the trail back up. But the slope really isn’t bad, and there are also occasional benches that provide rest spots if needed.
Our group agreed the short but scenic hike was indeed a lovely side trip. Later I learned more than 200 million gallons of water a day on average flow the mile and a quarter from Greer Spring to feed the Eleven Point National Scenic River, more than doubling the river’s size. (You can find more details and travel tips here.)
I know we’ll be back. And when we float the nearby Eleven Point River, we’ll appreciate Greer Spring even more.—Sony Hocklander

Big Piney TrailBuzzard Roost TrailCastle TrailCory Flatrocks Devil’s Eyebrow Natural AreaDogwood Canyon Nature Park • Frisco Highline TrailGalloway Creek Greenway • Greer Spring TrailJohnson's Shut-Ins • Katy Trail State ParkLakeview TrailLost Valley TrailOzark TrailRuth & Paul Henning Conservation Area • Ward Branch GreenwayWilson’s Creek Greenway

Hiking Books • How to Train • How to Pack a Backpack • The Great Bear Scare 

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