State Park #26: Edmund Babler 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.

Dr. Edmund Babler State Park was an interesting visit, similar in some ways to Route 66 State Park. Babler State Park was established in the 1930s after 88 acres were donated to the State in honor of a respected doctor in the St. Louis area. 800 more acres were added in the following years. Dr. Babler was an early supporter of the State Park system, so his family’s support and the era they found themselves in help improve the infrastructure beyond what we see at a lot of other parks.

In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps was actively fighting against The Great Depression. The CCC ended up building shelters and other infrastructure at multiple state parks (pictured below), so there are some similarities here compared with other sites we’ve visited.

The Visitor Center was pretty neat, though very obviously geared toward school groups coming from all over the St. Louis region. There were some insects, snakes, and amphibians available for viewing, so we killed some time before going on a very brief hike. It’s a neat space, though, and we had a nice conversation with some of the park hosts behind the desk.

Babler has more going on than Castlewood State Park did, which we visited earlier that morning. Babler features the aforementioned Visitor Center, some hiking, camping, open spaces for throwing frisbees, and basketball and tennis courts. Unlike Castlewood, we could actually kill some time at a place like this!

As I mentioned earlier, in some ways, Babler proved to be as interesting as Route 66, but mostly that’s because this park, apparently, was heavily segregated. African Americans weren’t allowed in the park for many years, and camping wasn’t originally allowed, so the State of Missouri had to buy additional land that wasn’t originally donated by the family in order to allow people to stay within the park overnight. Interesting history!

The hike we went on was a 1.6 mile loop that only took 38 minutes. Given the amount of time we spent at Castlewood, the kids weren’t interested in doing much more. The weather had warmed up a bit, and there were no leaves on the trees yet, so it got a bit toasty for late March when we were there.

Still, hiking in late March or early April is pretty good because there aren’t any bugs and you don’t have to deal with overgrown plants along the trails. It could be worse!

After the hike, we drove around the park to find a place to picnic. We noticed quite a few walkers and bikers along the road, as it has some decent rolling hills, but nothing too strenuous. Compared to Castlewood, the hiking and biking here was a revelation: if we lived around there, we would absolutely pick Babler over Castlewood, and those to parks are only a few minutes apart from one another. Castlewood has longer trails if an extended hike is desired, but heck, I’d rather just do the same loop multiple times at Babler so I didn’t have to deal with the crowds…

We finished off our State Park Extravaganza throwing a frisbee after lunch, using an open space near the basketball courts. There was also a large tent set up for an Easter Sunrise Service that was scheduled for the next day.

Babler was a good visit! It was a nice one to end the trip with!

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!

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!

State Park #2: St. Francois State Park, Revisited

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.

So yeah, we have actually been to St. Francois State Park before. Now, at the time, it was April 2013, so Meg was there, and technically so was Calvin! Still, we were in the area of Farmington, MO and figured we could stop in and count Calvin as having visited while outside of a uterus.

We had already gone to Hawn State Park and were heading to St. Joe State Park, so it seemed like a good opportunity to stop at a grocery store and pick up some lunch stuff. Then, we could eat there and check out one of the features of St. Francois that we didn’t take advantage of 10 years ago.

St. Francois is relatively large and also has hiking trails and plenty of shaded picnic tables, so it’s an ideal place for a stop. We didn’t look at the camp facilities this time, since we actually stayed there once.

Instead, we checked out the aptly named Big River, which was just down from the picnic area. We didn’t take our swimming stuff along, and frankly, there were a ton of people down there with rafts and inner tubes, some just floating by and others just hanging out on the sandbar.

Of course, the last time we were there, it was April and Meg was all bundled up in a coat, so we wouldn’t have gone to check out this river at the time. This time, though, would have been an ideal time to spend the afternoon playing in the water and taking in the sun!

However, like I said, it was pretty crowded with a lot of people, and many of them were very, very loud… There was even a birthday party complete with balloons and table cloths. So yeah, like many rivers in Missouri, they tend to attract plenty of locals looking for outdoor entertainment, so if you’re going to check out a place like this, know what you’re getting into. It won’t be a “private beach experience:” far from it!

Anyway, again, this is more of an “update” than another visit, so it still goes on the list as #2! I think this is the only one on the list that didn’t “fully” include Calvin, so we probably won’t have to post any more updates, but we’ll see!

State Park #19: Hawn 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.

Our schedule this Summer is quite full, but in the interest of eventually visiting all the State Parks in Missouri, we spent the weekend in Farmington, which happens to be located near a few different sites. One such location is Hawn State Park, which I’m pretty sure I’ve been to, but it would have been back in my Boy Scout days, as they have a pretty good group site. I don’t remember it being a park we visited often, because it isn’t particularly close to Columbia, but I definitely remember other Scouts in other troops talking about going there frequently.

If you look on the map, you’ll see there really isn’t a ton to do there, unless you like hiking and fishing. We were making our stop mostly as a way to check it off the list, so the plan wasn’t to stay all day or anything, so we picked a hiking trail that was maybe a mile or two long. We went along the Pickle Creek Trail, named because it follows the eponymous body of water. It’s actually a relatively long loop trail, so we went about as far as a fork and turned around.

We ended up going 1.8 mi, out and back, and while it wasn’t particularly strenuous, it was definitely pretty rocky and still involved some climbing over large-ish boulders (not quite Elephant Rocks-style, though). There’s actually a 10 mile stretch of trails in the park that’s available for backpacking, so if that’s what you’re after, it may be one of the better locations in Missouri that isn’t on the Ozark Trail system (at least, so far as I can tell).

The camp sites we saw seemed fine, though somewhat limited. There were people staying, including a decent number of folks in tents rather than campers. We were there in mid-June, and though it was a hot June for us this year, it wasn’t too bad that weekend. Honestly, I think the kids would have gotten relatively bored had we actually stayed there, so it was good to visit and not spend the entire weekend there. If they were more into fishing and hiking, that would be a different matter, obviously.

I can certainly see the appeal, though. It isn’t that far from St. Louis, and if you want to hit a 10 mile hiking trail, it’s a good option that’s close to a lot of services. You can also stay in Farmington, like we did, and head in for the day to get a good hike in and dip your toes in the water.

Last, but not least, this is the first weekend Meg had a phone. She used it to take ridiculous pictures. Like her father before her. 🙂

State Park #18: Bennett Spring 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.

Part of the benefit of this little “exercise,” highlighting state parks we’ve visited with the kids, is that there’s always one I’ve somehow missed that I should have mentioned before, and it turns out, Bennett Spring State Park is another such example. Thankfully, we didn’t visit this park that long ago, but it was still mid-August 2022, as we were heading on a float trip with the kids for the first time (which I also never blogged about. Oops.). As part of the trip, we hit Bennett Spring on the way down to go floating on the Niangua River and stay in a cabin for the night, which was a nice little getaway before school started.

Regardless, Bennett Spring State Park has a few things going on, but it’s primary “claim to fame” is the start of trout fishing each year. This year, over 1600 people showed up the weekend of March 1st to go fishing, so it ends up being a pretty big draw for that crowd.

Thankfully, those of us that don’t do much trout fishing still had a few other things to see. Bear in mind that we were heading down to go “glamping” in a cabin (with A/C, no less…because it was mid-August in Missouri…), so we didn’t have a ton of time to explore everything the park had to offer, but we did get to check out the interpretive center they had.

Honestly, we were pretty impressed by the extent of the exhibits! I don’t know if it was a combination of funding for making a destination for semi-local schools, or if it was an excuse to entertain kids while their parents went fishing, but there were tables set up in an open space for instructors to talk to kids about local flora and fauna; there were displays talking about springs across the Ozarks (pictured above, obvi), and a lot of cool models of animals and insects endemic to the region.

We ended up killing a remarkable amount of time checking out all of the exhibits in the area, especially the large insect models that Calvin was quite interested in. He’d already heard/read about some of the species we could find in the park, but seeing them enlarged to 1000x was pretty cool for him. Meg and Brooke mostly read through some of the signs, but still got a lot out of the nature center.

Again, we didn’t actually camp at the park, but there are quite a few options available, including tent camping, group sites, and cabins. A substantial amount of the focus is on fishing, so we suspect this park gets especially busy during the trout season, perhaps making it a little less “isolated” than some of the other state parks, depending on what your desire is. I could see it being more “busy” than we’d really want to deal with, but then again, you can’t argue with the fishing opportunities if that’s your thing.

There are a few hiking trails along the State Park, most of which are less than a mile long. They do have a 7.5 mi Natural Bridge trail that runs in a loop through the park, but after the drive down there, we weren’t going to get the kids to go along on that kind of thing. It didn’t seem all that hilly in the area, so I suspect the trails aren’t too bad for most people, but in mid-August in Missouri, the bugs and spiderwebs weren’t particularly fun, so I’d recommend hitting those earlier in the year than when we attended.

Bennett Spring seems alright, but it clearly has a focus on fishing! Maybe when the kids are more grown up and I decide to get into trout fishing, we’ll go back and check it out further. For what it was, it seemed pretty good!