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Outdoors

Spend the day exploring the outdoors in Columbia, Missouri

By Danny Lee

Finding fun outdoors comes easy around Columbia, Missouri, where residents and visitors can explore a landscape crowded with parks, trails and other outdoor action areas. Columbia offers enough forest-y fun for any nature lover, from the Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary to the wild appeal of the rails-to-trails Katy Trail. With a multitude of other invigorating outdoor venues, as well as facilities for more organized recreation, such as hiking, biking, swimming and casual picnicking, there’s an activity for everyone.

children bicycling on the MKT Trail in Columbia, Missouri

The MKT Trail, which connects Columbia to the Katy Trail, is a popular jogging and bicycling trail.

Finger Lakes State Park

All-terrain vehicles and woodland recreation coexist within the generous expanse of Finger Lakes State Park. Rolling hills, rippling waterways and forested glades thrill visitors who might never suspect that it’s all on reclaimed coal-mining land. A water trail accessible by canoe or kayak leads around the park’s lake, also popular with fishermen, and a pleasant beach is perfect for a refreshing dip after a hike or mountain bike outing through the woods. Visitors can lounge around the campfire and lay down their heads among the trees and quiet nighttime rustlings of a naturally wild environment in one of the 19 basic or 16 electric campsites.

Capen Park

The rocky topography of Capen Park takes Missouri outdoors adventure to another level. Rock climbers and rappelers love the challenging outcrops looking down on Hinkson Creek. Those who don’t fancy dangling from or clambering up and down the sheer limestone cliffs will certainly relish the tranquil, wooded trails along the creek’s flat-rocked path. One great place to enjoy the stream is from the graceful old iron bridge that crosses its course. Hikers love to sit on the bluffs looking out across the green and leafy property, tucked away in an in-town location that seems remote but is actually almost as convenient as your own backyard.

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

A short jaunt south of Columbia, Rock Bridge Memorial State Park showcases a variety of trails, wooded glens, hills and dales making up a fascinating karst landscape. It’s alive with sinkholes, crystal-clear springs feeding into streams, and the underground limestone features that jut unexpectedly into the open air or give way to yawning caverns below. Connor’s Cave makes a great self-guided exploration. Hikers, horseback riders and bikers share the 15 miles of trails tracing through shady woods and wildflower-sprinkled meadows in the park and adjoining Gans Creek Wild Area. Families gather in broad picnic areas and shelters and fill the playgrounds with happy laughter

At the heart of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park lies the popular Devil’s Icebox Trail. It’s a .5-mile loop boardwalk trail that features plentiful opportunities for nature viewing; it’s mostly wooded, shelters uncountable wildlife, and passes by sinkholes, a limestone glade, and a valley formed by a collapsed portion of the limestone caves that underlie the whole area.

Every level of hiking is available, from forested trails to well-maintained boardwalks, and you can’t beat the admission price: free!

Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary

Nearly 100 acres are devoted to the preservation of a large natural expanse that offers visitors to Bonnie View a beautiful getaway. Broad meadows filled with daisies, Queen Anne’s lace, bellflower and yellow corydalis open from woodland edges. Birdwatchers love the diverse landscape for its possibilities. Paved walkways and a modern shelter open the park up to enjoyment in all weather. The property includes the Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary, which has recorded 146 bird species in the area. In the spring the diversity swells with the arrival of migrating Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets along with flycatchers, many varieties of warblers, American Woodcock, and Swainson’s thrushes.

Katy Trail

At 240 miles, Missouri’s Katy Trail is one of the nation’s longest rails-to-trails parks, and provides Columbia visitors an excellent route to explore the state’s wilder areas. Tracking along the Missouri River, the trail serves bikers, hikers, and joggers 12 months a year, displaying brilliant colors in the fall, silent snowy vistas in the winter, wildflowers in the spring and a summer full of the relaxing buzz of crickets, katydids and yearly broods of cicadas. Birds and other wildlife make frequent appearances along the way; raccoon and deer, squirrel, chipmunks and opossum have their own daily and nightly rounds, which sharp-eyed hikers and bikers can enjoy keeping tabs on. The rolling Missouri serves up plentiful fishing holes, and fans of wild edibles will find natural treats no farther away than the nearest blackberry bush. The trail also features the MKT Trail, which connects Columbia to the Katy Trail.


With a variety of activities and outdoor venues, the parks and trails of Columbia are an outdoors paradise.

Explore the outdoors of Columbia.

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Spring is arriving, and that means more time in the great outdoors! Check out a few of our favorite parks and trails below, and find out what you shouldn’t miss out on.

MKT Trail

What to do: The MKT Trail is a CoMo favorite. Walk, run, bike – even work out at the fitness stations located at the Stadium and Forum trailheads. The trail stretches for 8.9 miles from Flat Branch Park in downtown Columbia until it reaches the Katy Trail near McBaine

Don’t miss the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at Battle Garden, located at the Stadium trailhead. The structure includes eight columns, each of which holds an excerpt from King’s writings.

Cosmo Park

What to do: Cosmo Park has something for everyone – trails, soccer and football fields, tennis and volleyball courts, a skate park, an off-leash area for dogs, playgrounds, a mountain bike trail, and more. Pack a lunch and take a break in one of the park’s nine shelters.

Don’t miss the newly-renovated Steinberg Playground, which includes an updated version of a beloved past favorite, the rocket ship, along with dinosaur features, a tire climbing area, slides, swings, and other play structures. The playground is the largest in Columbia’s park system and will keep the kids entertained for hours.

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

What to do: You can hike, bike, and even horseback ride (Gans Creek Trail) through Rock Bridge Memorial State Park’s 20+ miles of trails. With so many trails, you’re certain to find one suited to your level of adventure.

Don’t miss the park’s natural karst features. While Devil’s Icebox cave is currently closed to protect the bats that inhabit it, you can explore Connor’s Cave from May through September. Be sure to check out the natural rock bridge that gave the park its name.

Twin Lakes Recreation Area

What to do: Twin Lakes Recreation Area can be used for non-motorized boating, fishing, and jogging, and includes a playground and shelter area. In the summer months, take the kiddos to Little Mates Cove swim area to cool off.

Don’t miss the off-leash dog parks – Lakeside Dog Park for dogs of all sizes and Paws Pond Dog Park for small dogs. Your pooch will love making new friends and swimming in the lake.

Finger Lakes State Park

What to do: Activities at Finger Lakes State Park include hiking, mountain biking, fishing, boating, and camping. Finger Lakes is one of only two ATV parks in the state park system – you can use the 5.25 mile trail or explore the 900 acres of open riding area designated for ATVs. The park offers both basic and electric campsites, and showers are available April-October. Also available to park users are a swimming beach and boat ramp.

Don’t miss the 4.5 mile water trail on Peabody Lake. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent from the park office March 15 – November 15.


Get out there and enjoy CoMo’s awesome opens in a new windowparks and trails.

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Just because the temperatures get colder in the winter months doesn’t mean you can’t still get outside and enjoy yourself! Maybe you want to put jingle bells on your shoes and run a 5K or perhaps cross country skiing on a quiet trail is more your speed. No matter your interests, get outside on your next winter visit to Columbia!

Cross Country Skiing

There are few spots more peaceful after a snowfall than the opens in a new windowMKT Trail. The trail is made of crushed limestone, so instead of plowing snow, the trail is open for cross country skiing. Take in the beautiful scenery throughout Columbia and enjoy the quiet of the MKT.

Sledding and Ice Skating

If you’re looking for a little more noise, head to opens in a new windowStephens Lake Park to check out Columbia’s home for winter sports. On the east side of the park, hit the sledding hill when snowfall is at least 4-6 inches deep. Also, when the lake is deemed to have thick enough ice, it opens for skating! Check out the outdoor winter sports safety tips and be sure to check online to find out if the lake is open to the public for skating.

Winter Races

Ready to run? Columbia has three races coming up this holiday season, so lace up your shoes for one of these!

opens in a new windowAdvanced Radiology Turkey Trax 5k – Columbia

Thursday, November 22, 8:30 am – 10:00 am at Rock Bridge High School

Thanksgiving can challenge any routine, whether it be cooking, family events or travel. The TurkeyTrax 5K Run provides friends and family a chance to do something active before they start their traditional Thanksgiving celebration. More importantly, the TurkeyTrax Run is designed specifically to benefit a select group of local charities – you choose the one you want to support! This year’s charities are Ronald McDonald House Charities of Mid-Missouri, Heart of Missouri Girls on the Run, and Children’s Miracle Network.

opens in a new windowJingle Bell 5K for Arthritis – Columbia

Saturday, December 8, 8:00 am – 9:30 am at 6th and Ash St.

Get in the spirit this holiday season at the Arthritis Foundation’s Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis®. Be one of the thousands of runners and walkers who hit the nation’s pavements, pathways and parks this winter to fight arthritis, the nation’s most common cause of disability.

Jingle Bell Run/Walk® is a fun and festive way to kick off your holidays by helping others! Wear a holiday themed costume. Tie jingle bells to your shoelaces. Run or walk a 5 kilometer route with your team members and celebrate the season by giving

First Night 5K – Columbia

Monday, December 31, 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm at 19 S 6th St

Ring in 2013 with this downtown 5K put on by First Night Columbia. Weave your way through downtown and the University of Missouri campus then join the celebration of First Night!

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Now that you know what your options are, bundle up and head outside for some winter fun in Columbia!

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Only in Columbia…

Columbia is fortunate enough to have an abundance of green spaces throughout the city. With over 60 city parks, there’s always somewhere to take a jog, play with your kids or spread out a picnic blanket. One of the hallmarks of the city’s parks and trails system is the opens in a new windowMKT Trail.

Winding 8.9 miles through the city, the crushed limestone surface of the MKT Trail is built in the old railbed of the MKT train line. With five access points, most with parking next to the trail, the MKT is ideal for a quick jog or a day long adventure.

The picturesque Flat Branch Park marks the beginning of the MKT.

The trail begins at the Flat Branch Park trailhead and weaves through neighborhoods, nature areas and open spaces.

If you happen through the Stadium section of the trail, make sure to walk through the parking area to explore the beautiful Marting Luther King Jr. Memorial at Battle Gardens. A mixture of sculpture and beautiful landscaping, the gardens are a peaceful spot to rest during your time on the trail.

Bridge on MKT Trail after snow.

The trail truly is an all-weather surface and is open for cross country skiing when snow falls. The quiet landscape, flat land and gorgeous scenery make it the perfect cross country skiing locale. Have a new kind of trail experience this winter.

After the MKT makes its nearly nine mile journey through Columbia, it meets with the statewide opens in a new windowKaty Trail at the Hindman Junction in McBaine. From there, users can travel east or west on the Katy, which stretches over 225 miles across Missouri. Not only is the MKT Trail a uniquely Columbia experience, it also serves as a gateway to a national treasure in the Katy Trail. Next time you’re in town, hop on the MKT and see where it takes you.

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