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Four Places to Find Zen in Springfield

We rounded up four of our favorite places in Springfield to have a calming moment in nature—where it’s just you, your thoughts and the fresh air.

by Katie Pollock Estes

May 2021

Hosta Garden by Aaron J. Scott
Photo by Aaron J. ScottSpend a minute or many relaxing in Hosta Garden in Nathaniel Greene/Close Memorial Park

The Hosta Garden at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park

This park-within-a-park is one of many gardens surrounding the Springfield Botanical Center, and it’s one of the best if you’re looking for a place to mentally reset. The lush carpet of hostas is shaded beneath tall trees and surrounded by a gated fence that makes it feel like a private, magical space—like a fairy garden sized up so you can fit inside. It always has way fewer people passing through than the rest of the park, and if you find a spot to sit and read or relax, you’ll surely knock your blood pressure down a few points.
Find the best spot: One of the comfy Adirondack chairs near the water feature
Watch for critters: Like playful squirrels chasing each other through the plants

Springside Learning Station at Valley Water Mill Park

Along the southeast edge of the Main Loop trail that circles Valley Water Mill Lake, a wooden deck directly overlooks the spring that feeds into the lake. You have to step off the main trail just a little bit to get to it, but it’s easy to spot. The wide deck is often quiet and empty—perfect for resting solo on the benches and listening to the sounds of gently lapping water or animals scurrying around in the underbrush. You can rest a minute before finishing the Main Loop or taking the longer route and breaking off onto the Forest Spur trail.
Find the best spot: A seat on the bench that edges the decking
Watch for critters: Like frogs along the water’s edge and or fish jumping from the water

James River Water Trail starting at Lake Springfield Park Boathouse

For those days when you want to be on the water to really relax but don’t want to trek too far or lug a kayak on top of your car to a far-flung river destination, there is James River Water Trail. This Ozark Greenways trail takes you up the James River from an access point at Lake Springfield Park Boathouse, where you can rent kayaks and canoes by the hour. It’s the most low-stress float trip of your life, and so relaxing. You’ll feel like you’re on your own private waterway much of the time, and you can even float under James River Bridge where you’ll spot Galloway Creek Greenway walkers.
Find the best spot: Your vessel, of course. Here you’ll be on the move.
Watch for critters: Like blue heron wading along the shoreline

South Dry Sac River at Lost Hill Park

Just past the parking lot at northwest Springfield’s Lost Hill Park, the gentle hillsides and wood and stone ruins of old farm buildings set an idyllic mood from the get-go—but it’s the paved trail you want to explore if you’re looking for a calming experience. The lightly trafficked park trail weaves across the South Dry Sac River, where you can pause to take in the sound of water rippling over river rocks and birds twittering in the trees. When you’re done relaxing, there’s a lot of other stuff to explore here as well, such as caves and natural bridges. So just stick to the trail and keep right on going.
Find the best spot: Step off the trail and find a rocky seat somewhere along the river’s edge
Watch for critters: Like crawdads and teensy little fish