The only thing that makes a hike more enjoyable is rewarding yourself with a picnic after all of your hard work. And the only thing that makes a picnic more enjoyable is chowing down while taking in a gorgeous view. We’ve rounded up four hikes within an hour of Springfield that offer a primo spot to stop and savor a meal while you look out over the Ozarks scenery.
Lake Springfield Park Trail
Length: 3 miles out and back
Location: 5324 S. Kissick Ave., Springfield
The Lake Springfield Park Trail has several trailheads, but to enjoy the full length of the trail, park at the Kissick Avenue trailhead. From there, you’ll want to go left, since turning right will take you to the James River Greenway Trail. You’ll hike northeast through the park until you hit the Greater Ozarks Audubon Trail. Here, it’s time to head left and up to a rocky overlook. This sweet little spot looks east over the lake and offers stunning views. It’s especially lovely in the mornings as the sun is coming up. Once you’ve filled your belly at this ideal spot, turn around and head back the way you came. Or, if you’re looking for a change of scenery, cross the road and jump on the James River Greenway Trail. This trail is a little longer, but it’s paved and runs along the lake.
Valley Water Mill Park Trail
Length: 1.6-mile loop
Location: 2450 E. Valley Water Mill Road, Springfield
This northeast Springfield spot is an underrated gem. The wood chip trails are wide and well maintained (read: fewer ticks), and it’s super-easy. The trail also loops around a spring-fed pond, providing a scenic backdrop for your hike. From the trailhead, which is just off the parking lot, head right toward the boardwalk. Once you’ve walked about a mile, there’ll be a small offshoot of the trail on your left that’s easy to miss. Follow the short path down to a rock bluff that overlooks the spring. Here you can sit down and relax while you nibble on your provisions. It’s a tall bluff, so be careful if you have young ones with you. Further along is a wooden platform with benches that’s a great spot to rest with kiddos.
Cedar Gap Conservation Area Trail
Length: 1.6-mile loop
Location: From Mansfield, take Highway 60 for 4 miles, then take Route O for 1 mile to the parking lot.
The Cedar Gap plateau is the second highest point in Missouri. It’s home to the headwaters of Bryant Creek, the Gasconade River and the Finley River. On the trail you’ll be able to check out limestone glades and take in the landscape. There’s a scenic overlook located less than half a mile from the starting point, so you can save your picnic for the end of the hike. Just make sure to go right at the trailhead. The trail is moderate, so it might not be best for young kids. If you just want to get to the lookout point, go left at the trailhead for an easy, short walk to the overlook. You’ll find views of the valley, and a great spot for bird watching. In the fall, there’s plenty of colorful foliage.
The Lakeview Trail
Length: 8-mile loop
Location: 19100 Highway 215, Dadeville
This 8-mile trail snakes around the perimeter of Stockton Lake Park, offering scenic views of Stockton Lake’s calm water. Hop on the trailhead near the marina toward the entrance of the park, and go right to enjoy a hike through the woods. Along this trail there are two prime spots to take in the lake views. Toward the tip of the park you’ll find a swimming beach. There are bathrooms and picnic tables here, so it’s an ideal spot to refuel. If it’s hot out you can always jump in the water to cool off. Shortly after you cross Highway 215, there’s another overlook that offers views from a rock bluff. If you’re not up for hiking the whole trail, park at the northern trailhead, and from here you can hike just the upper portion of trail while still taking in the views.