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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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It’s January in Columbia, and you know what that means – it’s cold. Below are some indoor activities that will keep you warm and one outdoor (because who doesn’t love sledding?). Keep an eye on our opens in a new windowcalendar of events as well for more ideas.

Cinderella, on stage at Columbia Entertainment Company

opens in a new windowCinderella 
January 22-25, 29-31 at Columbia Entertainment Company, 1800 Nelwood

The timeless enchantment of a magical fairy tale is reborn with the Rodgers & Hammerstein hallmarks of originality, charm and elegance. As adapted for the stage, with great warmth and more than a touch of hilarity, the hearts of children and adults alike still soar when the slipper fits.

opens in a new windowWinter Farmer’s Market
Every Saturday, 9 AM – 12 PM at Parkade Plaza

You will find fresh vegetables & fruit, meat, farm fresh eggs, cheeses, honey, cut flowers, plants, artisan items & more. As a producer-only market, everything sold is offered by the farmers and artisans who help sustain our region. Live music, children’s activities, prepared food and more.

sledding at Stephens Lake Park in columbia mo

Sledding at opens in a new windowStephens Lake Park
The sled hill is open when there is a minimum of 4-6″ of snow on the ground

There is a hill for sledding on the east side of the lake, which can be accessed from the park entrance at 2001 Broadway. Park users can warm themselves with a bonfire during the winter sports season at the fire pit at Collins Shelter near the sled hill, and there is a heated restroom nearby open year round.

opens in a new windowEmpire Roller Rink
1305 Business Loop 70 E.

Escape the cold and skate with family or friends! Empire offers Adult Skate night, Pizza Night, Family Fun Fridays, Youth Skate, and more. You can find the hours here.

opens in a new windowPaint the Town
2703 E. Broadway

Have a blast painting with friends (and drinks, of course). You can check out the calendar, and pick out the perfect option for you. Even if you have never painted before, the folks at Paint the Town will walk you through the steps, and you’ll take home the perfect masterpiece.

opens in a new windowThe Blue Note and opens in a new windowRose Music Hall
17 N. 9th St. and 1013 Park Ave.

The Blue Note and Rose Music Hall (formerly Mojo’s) have gone through some recent changes – what better way to check them out than by going and listening to live music while you’re at it? Take a look at our opens in a new windowcalendar of events for information on who will be performing this month.

Forum 8

Upcoming Movies

There are a lot of great movies coming soon, and movie theaters provide warmth and snacks so it’s a win-win, right?

opens in a new windowForum 8 Theater – 1209 Forum Katy Pkwy
opens in a new windowRegal Stadium 14 – 2800 Goodwin Pointe Dr.
opens in a new windowRagtag Cinema – 10 Hitt St.

  • opens in a new windowTaken 3 (PG-13) – Ex-covert operative Bryan Mills reconciliation with his ex-wife is tragically cut short when she is brutally murdered. Consumed with rage, and framed for the crime, he goes on the run to evade the relentless pursuit of the CIA, FBI and the police. (January 9)
  • opens in a new windowSelma (PG-13) – Martin Luther King, Lyndon Baines Johnson and the civil rights marches that changed America. (January 9)
  • opens in a new windowAmerican Sniper (R) – Sniper and U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) saves many lives on battlefields in Iraq while striving to be a good husband and father to his loved ones back in America. (January 16)
  • opens in a new windowBlackhat (R) – A man is released from prison to help American and Chinese authorities pursue a mysterious cyber criminal. The dangerous search leads them from Chicago to Hong Kong. (January 16)
  • opens in a new windowPaddington (PG) – Paddington tells the story of the comic misadventures of a young Peruvian bear who travels to the city in search of a home. (January 16)
  • opens in a new windowThe Wedding Ringer (R) – Doug Harris is a groom-to-be with a problem: he has no best man. With less than two weeks to go until he marries the girl of his dreams, Doug is referred to Jimmy Callahan, owner and CEO of Best Man, Inc. (January 16)
  • opens in a new windowMortdecai – Charlie Mortdecai must traverse the globe armed only with his good looks and special charm in a race to recover a stolen painting rumored to contain the code to a lost bank account filled with Nazi gold. (January 23)
  • opens in a new windowStrange Magic – Fairies, goblins, imps and elves battle over a potion. (January 23)
  • opens in a new windowThe Boy Next Door (R) – A divorced woman falls in love with the young man who moves in to the street and finds he has a dark secret.

opens in a new windowTiger Bounce
Open 10 AM – 8 PM daily, 3601 Buttonwood

Tiger Bounce is Columbia’s only indoor inflatable children’s (12 and younger) entertainment center offering daily open admissions and private party reservations. If your kids want to get out of the house, head to Tiger Bounce and let them burn off their extra energy in the warmth.

opens in a new windowPS:Gallery Winter Exhibit 
Tues-Sat 11 AM – 6 PM, SUN 11 AM – 4 PM; 1025 E. Walnut St.

PS:Gallery is proud to present the Winter Exhibit 2014 sponsored by Landmark Bank and featuring works by Josh George, Ken Nichols, Joel Sager, and Michael Schwegmann.


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