State Park #25: Castlewood State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

We stayed in Arnold between state park visits, so we were able to hit Castlewood State Park relatively early in the morning. I knew Castlewood was a pretty popular park given its proximity to St. Louis, but oh boy was it busy that day. We found a parking spot, but had to pass a series of cars parked on the side of the road on the way there from regular Saturday morning walking/running/hiking groups.

We started on the Riverscene Trail, but a lot of the trails at Castlewood intersect, so we think we shifted onto another trail at some point during the morning. The trails are generally nice and maintained, mostly because it receives such high traffic from the locals. This particular trail, as the name suggests, runs along the Meramec River for the first portion of it, but then it goes up the hill using wooden steps and a railing. Once you’re at the top, it shifts back to a light gravel.

There were some good rest spots along the way, especially those overlooking the river. It really was a beautiful morning and the temperatures were warming, but it was pretty comfortable at the time.

The biggest issue was all the people! A lot of young families with small kids and large dogs on lengthy leashes. Usually the mom would be trying to get her 3 kids, all of which under 5, to keep moving while the dad would have two labs or German shepherds or huskies on 6 ft leashes getting wrapped around trees. There were multiple sets of these people!

Look, we get that it’s good to get your kids outdoors and go for a family walk, but is a narrow trail with a whole lot of other people trying to hike the best place to go? Gotta be a better option…

Eventually, things thinned out a bit and we were able to escape all the young families. We ultimately ended up hiking 2.4 miles in a little over an hour. I think the kids weren’t all that happy to be hiking that far that early in the morning, but alas, they survived.

Hiking is really all Castlewood has to offer, to be honest. There’s some fishing and picnic options, but no camping available. It’s nice to have it there, so close to St. Louis for people to enjoy the outdoors, but it’s pretty busy on a Saturday morning!

….there was a nice view, though. 🙂

State Park #24: Don Robinson State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

We were knocking off 5 parks the weekend we visited Don Robinson State Park, and it was the third park that day that we hit, so suffice to say, the kids weren’t in the mood to do anything strenuous at this one. Still, we needed to check it off the list, so a stop was necessary!

Don Robinson State Park, like many State Parks in Missouri, stems from donated land collected by an individual (i.e. Don Robinson…..) that has been made available to the public for use. It’s close to St. Louis, so it generally attracts its citizens to the area for its hiking trails and camping. It’s actually one of the newest State Parks in Missouri, being established in 2017 after Robinson passed away in 2012. He began collecting more than 800 acres in Jefferson County, and he began living there in 1978.

There are two main trails in the park: the Sandstone Canyon Trail (3.9 mi), and the LaBarque Hills Trail (2.4 mi). I’ll let you get which one we did……

The park follows along the LaBarque Creek watershed, so it provides fishing opportunities with pretty clean water before it dumps into the Meramec River (which is decidedly muddier). The trails are likely very pretty during the Summer and Fall, but at this time of year, with trees only beginning to bud within the last month, there wasn’t much vegetation to help identify species or get a sense of the diversity of the plant landscape.

On the other hand, no bugs or spider webs, so ideal for going on a hike! The kids were not enthusiastic about it, but they handled the 2.4 miles pretty well. We were pretty to head to our hotel and grab dinner by the time we wrapped up, though.

It’s good to have a few longer trails like this available, though. A lot of State Parks we visit don’t have anything approaching 4 miles, so having some choices for longer hikes is good, especially in proximity to the greater St. Louis region. We didn’t really check out the camping options, as water was still shut off until the beginning of April, so it’s hard to get a sense of what camping is like there.

Don Robinson State Park is limited to picnicing, hiking, and camping, largely because it’s a pretty new park, so there hasn’t been much development. Still, as I said earlier, it’s good to have options near St. Louis, and this one seems pretty good!

State Park #23: Route 66 State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

The list of State Parks we hit on our last round of visits included some where we knew what the expectation was, but Route 66 State Park was kind of a wild card: Was it an old timey diner? Was it some preserved roadway from the original Route 66? Was there even a playground at this thing, or camping? On its face, it just seemed radically different from the other State Parks we’ve been visiting.

In many ways, it was pretty different, though we were pretty surprised at how interesting it ended up being! The State Park does commemorate the beginning of the Route 66 path through Missouri, from St. Louis down toward Springfield, however it’s located at this site in particular because it’s actually the site of Times Beach, MO.

In short, back in the early 20th Century, the Meramec River was a popular weekend destination for the air conditioning-less citizens of metro St. Louis, so a lot of little “resort towns” started springing up along its banks. Times Beach was one such resort town, one where a local newspaper advertised $67.50 lots of land upon which little houses could be placed. Neat, right?

Well, some dude decided to coat the gravel roads with oil to knock down the dust back in 1971, but he took the cheap route and acquired the oil from a local pharmaceutical company that made Agent Orange, and sprayed it on the roads of Times Beach. The waste oil ended up containing dioxin, a well-known carcinogen, among other things. It was so bad that the EPA and CDC got involved and declared it a “Superfund” site, so the entire town was razed to the ground and incinerated. As in, the houses, and the roads, had to be incinerated and then buried in mounds that are still on the site. Crazy!

What’s left of the town is there, and some leftover paths that look like they used to be roads, but it’s been paved over as a nice walking and biking space along the river. There wasn’t any camping, but they had fishing, boating, horseback riding, a few picnic areas, and a playground.

The visitor center was pretty good, including exhibits regarding Times Beach, but most of it was Route 66-centric. The bad part is that the visitor center is on the other side of the river from Times Beach, and the only way to actually get across is to take I-44…but the exits aren’t set up correctly, so if you start at the visitor center, you need to take westbound I-44, get off at the next exit, then hop back on eastbound I-44 and get off at a different exit, go under I-44, and then you’re at Times Beach. Frustrating.

There’s an old bridge that they’re hoping to have reach by 2026. The funding to fix it dried up, so all that’s left are the metal girders, waiting to be covered by a walking path or other roadway. Once that’s done, it’ll be quite a bit better!

We enjoyed this one more than we thought we would! Honestly, we spent most of our time at the visitor center, and then just drove around Times Beach. Calvin got out and ran around a bit, but other than that, we didn’t really get out of the car. A neat place to visit, but we probably got as much out of it as we wanted to!

State Park #22: Robertsville State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

In our effort to try and visit all the State Parks before the kids graduate, we’ve had to try and block off some times where we could hit multiple parks in the same trip. Luckily, this Spring presented an opportunity around Easter where we could head over toward St. Louis to visit 5 parks around the Meramec River. Obviously, we weren’t going to be able to visit every aspect of each of these parks, and camping wasn’t a good option as running water wasn’t turned on yet in the parks, but with some hiking and visitor center stops, we figured we would get the high points of each one.

Robertsville State Park was the first on the list. The park gets its name from Edward James Roberts, a landowner from the mid-1800s from whom the property originated. In the early 1900s, multiple “resort towns” popped up along the Meramec River to attract the St. Louis to the region, and this area was among them.

Today, the park has hiking trails, fishing, a boat ramp into the Meramec, and camping. We picked up lunch on the way in that morning and ate alongside the river. Personally, I think the river was a bit more muddy than I’d want anything to do with. It may be fine for fishing, but the boat ramp was coated in mud. Based on pictures from the early-1900s, it sure seems like the river has looked like that for generations, but I suspect agricultural run-off hasn’t done it any favors.

Point being, I’m not sure how much swimming I’d want to do in it….

Hiking, on the other hand, was pretty good. It turns out this time of year is perfect for hiking, as there aren’t any bugs yet and there isn’t (much) poison ivy to worry about! We did a 0.9 mile loop on the Spice Bush Trail, which wasn’t particularly challenging, but at least gave us a taste of the terrain. The Lost Hill Trail is about 2.6 miles, so we went with the shorter one for this visit so we could hit a longer one later in the day, elsewhere.

Calvin still felt the need to rest on this Boy Scout’s Eagle Scout project, though.

We didn’t hang around all that long, aside from a brief hike and eating lunch. The area was nice, though: not very crowded, beautiful weather, and a good opportunity to explore a bit.

A brief aside, though: on the way in, we stopped by the McBaine Great Burr Oak, a 400-year-old tree that’s right along the Katy Trail. It isn’t part of a State Park, but it’s something the rest of the family hadn’t seen before (I biked past it last year), so it seemed like a good opportunity to visit while we were on our adventure!

West Virginia Vacation – Part IV

The final leg of our Southeast-ish tour took us to Nashville, TN. The plan was to go to the Grand Ole Opry, but that was scheduled for Saturday night, when their regular radio broadcast is produced live a la Prairie Home Companion (RIP).

But first, we headed into Nashville, and oh boy, was it raining cats and dogs for most of that trip. In fact, most of the times I found myself driving, we went through a downpour of rain (that rarely actually hit Missouri, apparently…). So while we had grand plans to visit the Gilded Athena, among other sights, we ended up delayed due to weather and didn’t end up doing all that much.

It also took us…forever….to even get to our hotel, the Grand Hyatt Downtown. We were running multiple GPS systems in trying to figure this out, but long story short, Nashville decided to tear out a bridge that was directly in front of the hotel, and the hotel didn’t really warn us about how to handle this, so we ended up circling around quite a bit before we figured out where to unload, where to park, how to physically enter the hotel, and so on. It was a truly frustrating experience, compounded by the rain (not pictured above).

Ultimately, we figured out where we were going (it was a really nice hotel room, though, I’ll say that much…) and decided to venture downtown to see what was going on. We went to a restaurant that was pretty satisfying after so much frustration (note: Nashville is not in a dry county like Pigeon Forge is. Win.).

After that, we walked around and….um….there was a lot going on in Downtown Nashville that day. Seriously, it reminded us more of Bourbon Street in New Orleans with all the activity. I don’t know if the students were back in town partying at 2:00 pm on a Saturday, but there was a lot of “that” going on. It was a far cry from our experience the rest of the trip.

One thing Brooke looked up, that I was completely unaware of, was Goo Goo Clusters. Their store was set up such that you could buy the traditional Clusters (peanuts, caramel, nougat, chocolate), or you could design your own, or you could get different flavored bonbons (pictured above). It was a pretty neat, yet simple, experience, so both kids chose what they wanted in their personalized Cluster, then they could watch it being made in front of them. We also picked up a box of the original recipe version, as well as a bonbon mix. It was a good distraction!

We then hustled back to the hotel to clean up before the Opry performance. There were a lot of people there, but a neat thing is that they had a secondary stage outside (with some food trucks) with live music going on before the real thing began.

I didn’t have much of a connection to what, exactly, was going on with this, but Brooke was more aware of what Grand Ole Opry is. They’ve produced a radio show for years, and it’s now broadcast on Willy Nelson’s SiriusXM station live on Saturday nights. It’s mostly a traditional country music showcase featuring some regular musicians, as well as special guests that perform a 3 song set. It’s pretty steeped in tradition, as the original location was in an old church, the Ryman Auditorium, also in Nashville. The current Grand Ole Opry is a larger recreation of the Ryman, complete with church pews as the seating.

The concert was good! The music isn’t exactly my preference, but the kids haven’t been to all that many live performances like this, so it was a good experience for them. The girls having fun with their presumed bachelorette party behind us were also having a good time….much to our detriment…

The next morning, we took off for Marshall and made it home in good time! Overall, it was a good trip: perhaps not as memorable as what we did on the West Coast in 2022, but still, a nice time. We have decided to never take a vacation that close to school starting again, though, as that created more problems than we anticipated, and probably added to the stress we were trying to alleviate. Still, we’re glad we made the trip and knocked a few more National Parks off the list.

Spoiler Alert: we already have reservations for a house near Moab, UT next June. Onward, 2024!

West Virginia Vacation – Part III

The day we left West Virginia, we spent a lot of time on the road, but ultimately made it to Pigeon Forge in time for dinner. Our hotel happened to be next to a mini-golf course that had two 18-hole courses available, so after we ate, we checked out mini-golf (always a popular activity!).

We drove in on a Wednesday, leaving us with Thursday or Friday to hit Dollywood and Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Weather was supposed to be a little more on the rainy side, so we opted to hit Dollywood on Thursday and save Smoky Mountain for Friday.

On the one hand, this ended up being a great decision! We didn’t realize it, but school was back in session for much of Tennessee and West Virginia. That, combined with some spotty showers that morning, meant that practically no one was at Dollywood. As I said at the time, had we paid for the “Lightning Lane” equivalent, I would have been asking for our money back, because we were able to walk up to any ride we wanted and, sometimes, be the only four people riding it.

We hit every roller coaster we could at least twice, if not more. Even some of the smaller ride, we hit multiple times. Mind you, I don’t have pictures of many of these rides because Dollywood had a locker system set up and wanted people to leave their phones, purses, etc. in those lockers. We ended up paying for a day pass that was actually pretty slick, as you could have a temporary “log in” system to the lockers at multiple locations. Once you registered at the new location, the previous one would “log out,” opening that locker up for someone else to use. Since it was raining, we had hats, rain jackets, etc. with us, so I usually just tossed my phone in there, leaving few options for pictures.

The rides were good, but in comparison to Disneyland, a bunch of these roller coasters were giving me a serious headache. Brooke and I felt more “jostled” by the rides at Dollywood, where some were smoother than others, but a few of them tossed my head back and forth to the point that it was uncomfortable. At Disney, at least there was a 30-40 minute lag between rides, but since no one was at Dollywood, it was closer to hopping off one ride and getting right back on it again with little break in between.

There were Silver Dollar City vibes in various places, such as candle making, metal working, etc. They even had a “Fire in the Hole” knock-off called Blazing Fury that was practically the identical ride, complete with someone saying “fire in the hole!” toward the end.

We avoided treats for the most of the day and saved it for an all-you-can-eat family-style meal at Aunt Granny’s Restaurant, which is considered to be one of the best theme park restaurants around. I can’t say the meal was cheap, but as Calvin’s face above suggests, there certainly was a lot of food. It was all very good, but we didn’t put away much of it.

We only ended up spending one day at Dollywood, and given our experience at Disney last year, one day sure didn’t sound like enough….however, since there was no one there, I think we were all satisfied with a day’s worth of a visit.

The next day was a Friday, so we hit up Smoky Mountain National Park. This day, unfortunately, was rather disappointing. There were simply too many people, meaning we were stuck in long lines of cars with few opportunities to pull over and do much. I had to hop out of the car to get a parking pass (that’s how they limit entry there, as opposed to how they do it at Yellowstone where there is a pass you have to purchase to get into the park in the first place.

It also ended up being somewhat rainy, which isn’t too surprising given the climate of the area. We had rain jackets with us, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but it limited how much outdoor time we actually wanted to spend in the park. We hiked a bit to see some old buildings that were still standing from before the National Park was there, and we saw some exhibits like a grain mill that was still semi-functional, but honestly, we kinda stuck to the car.

I think by the time we were hitting Friday, we were kinda done with seeing the sights. Brooke and I still like the park, but I don’t know that the kids really got much out of that day. There were simply too many cars (and people in them….) to feel like we could get out and do much. It’s saying something that the lines at Smoky Mountain were worse than the lines at Dollywood, but again, perhaps because we did it on a Friday, we invited the situation onto ourselves.

For our last evening in Pigeon Forge, we ended up struggling to find a place to eat within walking distance of the hotel. There were a lot more people out and lines were long everywhere, but we eventually found a place. We hit the second 18-hole mini-golf course next door to our hotel to end the day, though, so I think that made up for an otherwise disappointing day!

West Virginia Vacation – Part II

One of the plans for this vacation was for everyone to learn to play poker. The house we rented had a poker table, where the top of it flips over to expose cup holders and a felt table top. I picked up a few rolls of coins so we’d have something to use, and Brooke printed and laminated a few “cheat sheets” with which hands beat what. We didn’t end up playing a ton, but we got a few hours of entertainment out of it. Meg ultimately won, though she didn’t really bet all that often, so that’s my excuse…

Since we explored a bit on Sunday, we reserved Monday to mostly just hang around the property. There was an old logging road that went for a few miles up onto the mountain that Brooke and I checked out, but the heat, humidity, bugs, and elevation change made it rather unappealing to go hiking. If we were there in the Spring or Fall, though, I think we’d be able to kill a ton of time just walking around and exploring the area. It really was a beautiful place!

We used the hot tub a few times, mostly in the evenings. The owners rigged up a neat pulley system to lift the lid on the hot tub (that had previously been used to butcher deer, we think). This way, Calvin could get the lid off by himself without our assistance. They also had fencing around the top of the tub so that no one could fall off the porch if they were sitting on the side of the tub.

We did take a hammock along, though Brooke only used it once. Again, we had intended to mostly just hang around the property for at least one day, just getting some relaxation in. We had Wifi at the house that worked surprisingly well (no regular cell service, though), but you had to be pretty close to the house for it to work. It was nice to just hang out for a day without having to travel anywhere!

For our last day in West Virginia, we visited Shenandoah National Park. This park was…..weird…compared to what we’re used to seeing. For one, it’s really a series of plots of “park” along a two-lane road, where you can pull over sometimes, but mostly, you’re just driving through a forested area. There were some overlooks, but nowhere near as picturesque as Colorado or Utah. As in, the overlooks we’re used to seeing to pull over, get out and take pictures….there existed, but there weren’t a ton of them, and they were overlooking a land mass that didn’t look that different than the Ozark Mountains, so it was a bit less impressive than we were expecting.

Also, a huge storm blew through the previous day. We were at the house when it happened, so it was cool to watch it come through, but apparently a lot of other communities lost power when our house didn’t (incidentally, the owners lost power and checked in on us to make sure ours still worked…and it did!). Well, the Visitor Center we went to in Shenandoah was still without power, though they had a generator to keep a few things working. However, they a). couldn’t process credit cards, and b). their exhibit was shut down, so we could really only go in to ask a few questions, but not really learn much about anything there.

We had found a 4 mile loop trail that was supposed to pass by a waterfall that was relatively close to the Visitor Center, so we found it and got started on the one longer hike we did on the whole vacation. It was, indeed, a loop, and there were a decent number of people out there on it. I wouldn’t say it felt crowded, thankfully, and we were able to get a parking spot relatively easily. The loop wasn’t too bad, nor was the terrain, though the temperature did start to rise a bit. The kids were a bit tired (as evidenced by the image above), but Brooke and I were fine.

I would have liked to do more hiking if we had more time, but it ended up taking an hour and a half to get from the house we were staying at to Shenandoah, and the actual drive through Shenandoah added another hour…which means we were now an hour north of where we started, and we had to drive that full distance south to actually get back home. Anyway, it ended up being a longer driving day than I think we were initially thinking, but we’re still glad we did it so we can check it off the proverbial list.

While we were there, we also made sure the kids got to walk along the Appalachian Trail….for all of 100 feet. At least they can say they’ve been on the AT before!

After all that, we were ready to chill in the A/C for a bit! We still played more poker that night and got in the hot tub, as it was our last night in West Virginia. The kids were happy to just lay down and rest a bit, though, and the house provided plenty of space to spread out. It ended up being a good place to stay, getting us rested up before the next few days in Tennessee!

West Virginia Vacation – Part I

Since last year took us all the way to the West coast for our family vacation, this time, we opted to head in the other direction. The original plan would have had us make it all the way to the East coast to hit North Carolina, but Brooke and I already went to San Juan earlier in the year and we had the foundation of our house re-done, so we scaled back plans just a tad.

Calvin was in Columbia with my parents for the week at an art camp, so we loaded things up on a Friday and took off to pick him up before heading out. We had decided to stay in Evansville, IN for the night because that got us closer to our destination, but would also set us up to see Mammoth Cave that next morning. The drive to Evansville was mostly uneventful, and we found Turoni’s Pizza and Brewing for dinner, so at least I was happy. While we were there, a magician was going from table to table doing some tricks, so we got a kick out of the dinnertime entertainment!

The next morning, we had an appointment at Mammoth Cave, but only had about 2 hrs of driving to get from Evansville to get to the national park. There were multiple tour options available, but we stuck with a cave tour that would last long enough but not too long because we were still making the rest of the journey that afternoon. There were some cool lantern-light tours we could have done, but those take around 4 hours and we didn’t have that kind of time!

The facilities at Mammoth Cave were pretty good, with a big gift shop and ticket area. There was also a set of exhibits talking about geology and the various organisms one could find in the cave. Apparently, Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave system in the world, clocking in at 426 miles (and that number keeps changing as more areas are discovered).

There were definitely impressive aspects about Mammoth Cave, among them the size of the open spaces. Of course, there were definitely areas that got pretty narrow, and I absolutely bumped my head a few times during the tour. We were a part of a relatively large tour group, so it felt kind of slow getting through aspects of it, but I don’t think we got the sense that there were a lot of stairs, or climbing over boulders, or anything like that. The tour lasted for an hour and a half, but I don’t think we left it feeling tired or anything. It was very hot and humid outside, though, so we were glad we were at least wearing jackets, because there were plenty of other folks in there that looked pretty cold!

If I’m going to make comparisons (which I do…), I would say that Mammoth Cave was unimpressive in the “rock formation” department. There were things to see, but really, it just felt like we were walking through big, open spaces under the ground. This picture above represents perhaps the only traditional rock formation that I’d expect to see in a cave in Missouri. I know that’s just representative of the geological differences between caves in Kentucky vs Missouri, but still, I was surprised that there weren’t more things to see like we saw at Meramec Caverns in 2020.

After we were done at Mammoth Cave, we booked it to our destination for the next few days in West Virginia, but we didn’t get there until well after the kids’ (or Brooke’s) bedtime. We were in Eastern Time by this point, but it was pretty close to midnight by the time we got there and got settled.

The next morning, we were able to survey our surroundings a bit better! Brooke found a few houses between Airbnb and Vrbo that were (on a map…) centrally located to various outdoorsy things in the Appalachian Mountains, and she let the kids determine which of the houses we would stay in.

Of course, when we let the kids make that kind of decision, they tend to make really weird choices, so I was a bit apprehensive about this decision, but once we got there, it was actually fine! The house was down a gravel road that went past a few other properties, and this house was at the end of that line. It had 6 bedrooms and, as you can see above, it had been added onto at least a few times over the years. The kids liked it because of the number of bedrooms, and it also came with a hot tub (pictured on the front porch above).

Still, the house was pretty far from most things. There was a grocery store “in town” a good 30 minutes away, but going anywhere from this house definitely had to take time, no matter what we did.

We couldn’t argue with the view, though! It was beautiful there! There was a small creek running past, as well as a few outbuildings that were dilapidated to the point that the owners said “uh, don’t go in there…”

Later that morning, we went to check out the “highest point in West Virginia,” that just so happened to be located relatively close to the house. It was something to get us out to see what the surrounding area looks like in the daytime, but that wouldn’t overwhelm us on the first day out there. Also, this particular “hike” was less than a mile long, so it wasn’t a huge ask of the kids.

There was an observation tower at the top of the “highest point in West Virginia,” so we climbed up there, but the tree line was actually relatively close to the top of the tower, so while we got a decent view, it wasn’t completely unobstructed. After that, we walked around a bit more on the trail that was up there, but there really wasn’t much else up there to see.

After that, we went to the closest town, Franklin, WV, to get lunch at one of the few restaurants in town, AGK Italian Restaurant & Pizzaria, which was right next to T&K Market so we could load up on groceries for the next few days. For the rest of Sunday, we mostly hung out around the house!

State Park #21: Thousand Hills State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

We were taking Meg up to Truman State for a 3-week “nerd camp” this weekend and drop-off was at 1:00 pm, so we figured we’d try to knock another state park off the list! Thousand Hills State Park was one of our old stomping grounds back in college when we went to Truman and we already had a handle on what there was to see there, so we decided a picnic lunch would suffice, given the amount of time we had available for the stop.

The main “claim to fame” for us was always the 573-acre lake, which is relatively large for a state park in Missouri. It was created in the 1950s and has served to provide boating and fishing opportunities for decades now. Its proximity to Kirksville, MO also makes it pretty accessible, if you want to go boating yet also want the access to groceries, restaurants, etc.

The thing I used to do, though, was hike and mountain bike around the lake. I don’t think I ever made it all the way around the lake, but I know people who did. It’s a 17 mile hike to get all the way around it, and depending on the time of year you go, you’re going to run into brush and over-growth along the way.

The mountain bike trails, however, I definitely took advantage of back in college. When we drove through this time, we noticed that they’d really expanded a paved trail since we were last there, so they’ve made more cycling accessible to those that don’t really want to go down any bike trails.

They’ve also got a full marina and restaurant, the latter of which was considered relatively “fancy” back in our college days. When we were there, we didn’t see a ton of boats out, but there were definitely a few out enjoying the shockingly good early-July weather (seriously, it was in the low-70s. What?!).

To top it off, there were solar telescopes set up at the site we picked to eat lunch! They had 3 of them set up with different filters so allow you to look at the sun in different modes. We didn’t ask too many questions, as we were kind of on a schedule, but one of them showed the sun as it “normally” looks (i.e. yellow-orange), whereas another was set up to make it look “black and white,” so increased contrast. It was some pretty neat equipment they had set up for folks who were stopping by!

We didn’t view the campgrounds at all, though we did drive past a series of cabins that are available, overlooking the lake. Perhaps sometime, we’ll camp there, but for now, we spent enough time to knock it off the list!

State Park #20: St. Joe State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

Okay, so hear me out… Technically, we mostly visited Missouri Mines State Historic Site, which is not a State Park. However, we did hike into St. Joe State Park while we were there, and both sites are adjacent to one another, so it’s getting counted. Sue me.

The historic site is actually rather interesting! Apparently, Missouri was the biggest exporter of lead in the world for decades, and that area has a history with lead mining that goes back to the 1700s. After the Civil War, the St. Joseph Lead Company purchased the land and started the mine until the mine started to decline in output by the 1970s, when the company donated the land back to the State for use as a State Park. The buildings were left in disrepair for years until there was enough money budgeted to start the historic site.

So, the 8000+ acres around it became St. Joe State Park, whereas the 25 acre space that housed the mine and the mill itself became the Missouri Mines State Historic Site.

It’s clear that the historic site is very much a “work in progress.” They’ve got some artifacts and some dioramas on display, but you can’t really go down into the mine itself, for example, or walk through most of the buildings. I think that’s the ultimate goal, but many of the buildings are in such disrepair that safety is something of an issue.

It seemed decently well-attended around there (for reasons I’ll get to in a bit), so there were families walking around checking out what there was to see. Again, there were a mix of models and displays, but some of the more interesting aspects of it was the information about geology that was somewhat unique to this site, in comparison to other State Parks we’ve attended.

There weren’t a lot of interactive things to do, though, so for younger kids, there were some neat displays, but there was still a lot of reading. Other State Parks have an obvious “kids area” that have bugs, taxidermy specimens, or fish in water tanks. This place has….rocks….

…but some of those rocks looks really cool under UV light!

Again, there were a decent amount of people there, but part of that was connected to the market outside. They must do this most Saturdays, but it had something of a “Farmer’s Market” vibe, selling shirts, big rocks, and other crafts. One gentleman was selling geodes, so the kids got to pick one each and then he cracked it open in front of them. Pretty cool!

After that, we “hiked” on the paved trail that went into St. Joe State Park. We only went out for about 0.8 mi, total, so it barely qualifies, but again, technically we were hiking in the State Park, so I’m counting it.

The paved trail heads further into St. Joe State Park, and it’s mostly intended for cycling. It crosses a lot of ATV courses, which is apparently the “claim to fame” for the Park.

I didn’t take a ton of pictures, but you can imagine the scene. There’s a lake if you want to go boating; there’s a beach if you want to go swimming; and there’s a lot of dirt/sand if you want to ride your dirt bike or your four-wheeler. There were tons of Jeeps and other trucks with trailers in the parking lot.

Honestly, for that purpose, this Park is pretty cool! We don’t have that kind of equipment, but if we did, I suspect it’s a place we’d check out more thoroughly. However, kind of like St. Francois State Park, there were just a lot of people there, likely coming down from St. Louis or coming up from Ste. Genevieve. I suspect this place also attracts folks from southern Illinois, too. So, again, like, St. Francois, go into St. Joe State Park expecting to see tons of people, because they’re going to be unavoidable!

We drove through the campgrounds and looked at other facilities, but the lake and off-road vehicle area seems to be the big draw. I guess when I’m ready to take the Outback out to find some sand dunes, I know where to look!