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7 “Worth It” Hiking Trails in Columbia, MO

7 “Worth It” Hiking Trails in Columbia, MO

Golden sunlight streams through a thick, forested canopy. Leaves rustle in a sweeping chorus as a soft breeze stirs your hair. Shadows dance on the ground before you, and birds flit in and out of nearby branches. 

A backpack hangs from your shoulders as your feet tread over miles of grass and rock. You reach the top of a bluff and greet the swath of blue sky before you, treetops visible in all directions. 

This is the moment.

It’s the moment you know the trek here was worth it. 

You don’t have to travel far to find hiking trails with breathtaking views. There are plenty of gorgeous vistas near Williamsburg, MO. This article shares some of our favorite hiking trails in Columbia, MO—a short drive from Williamsburg.  

The Parks and Recreation directory of Columbia, MO, lists 48 trails of varying lengths and difficulties. Combine those trails with spots found at nearby Missouri State Parks and conservation areas, and you have a whole host of hiking trails to choose from in the area. 

Best Hiking Trails in Columbia, MO

Are you itching to hit the trail? Here are some of the best hiking trails in Columbia, MO, and the surrounding area. 

  1. Capen Park Trail
  2. MKT Nature & Fitness Trail
  3. Devil’s Icebox Trail
  4. Gans Creek Trail 
  5. Eagle Bluffs Overlook Trail 
  6. Bear Creek Trail 
  7. The Pinnacles

We’ve only highlighted a few of the hiking trails available. Got a favorite not mentioned? Snap a photo on the trail while wearing your favorite Crane’s gear and tag us on Instagram or Facebook.

1. Capen Park Trail 

1600 Capen Park Drive
Columbia, MO 65201
Nature Trail Miles: 0.5

Capen Park is a hidden gem inside the city of Columbia, located close to the University of Missouri. Rock climbers and hikers enjoy its 31.9 acres of wooded land, scenic bluffs and views overlooking Hinkson Creek. 

While it’s a short hike, the Capen Park Nature Trail to the bluffs is steep and can get muddy from time to time, making the trek more difficult after heavy rains. Once you are at the top, you’ll see that the view overlooking the creek is worth the steep journey up. There are several rock ledges where hikers can rest and take in the view on the bluffs. If a steep trail isn’t your style, there are also spots to access the creek and lowlands. 

Capen Park meets the Hinkson Creek Trail, which connects the MKT Trail and Grindstone Nature Area. Hinkson Creek Trail runs through the Grindstone Nature area, Capen Park and Hinkson Creek Recreation Area on the University of Missouri’s campus. If you’re looking for an all-day hike, try starting at Capen and joining one of the connecting trails. 

Crane’s Tip: Wake up early for an unobstructed view of the sunrise from the bluffs.

2. MKT Nature and Fitness Trail 

Flat Branch Access
101 S 4th St
Columbia, MO 65201
Stadium Boulevard Access
800 Stadium Blvd
Columbia, MO 65203
Forum Boulevard Access
2701 Forum Blvd
Columbia, MO 65203
Scott Boulevard Access
3800 Scott Blvd
Columbia, MO 65203
MKT Trail Miles: 8.9

The MKT Nature and Fitness Trail is a crushed limestone path perfect for hikers and bikers. It’s a well-traveled multi-use trail, so you won’t find seclusion here. However, you will find a generally flat and well-maintained path that winds through gorgeous wooded areas with lots of shade. During your hike, you’ll see several streams, prairies and other sites like the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Garden and wetlands at the Forum Nature Area. 

It’s a popular spot in Columbia, MO, built on an old railbed as part of the “rails-to-trails” movement in the 1970s. The Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad line, where the MKT Trail gets its name, was one of the first pilot projects for a railroad revitalization act that turned unused railways into public trails. 

The MKT Trail was nominated as the second-best urban trail in the United States by USA Today’s 2015 Reader’s Choice Best Urban Trail Winners

This hiking trail connects to the much longer Katy Trail, which continues for 240 miles and is considered the longest trail in the country. 

Crane’s Tip: Go early to see fewer people on the trail.  

3. Spring Brook Loop Trail via the Devil’s Icebox Trail

5901 South Highway 163
Columbia, MO 65203
Spring Brook Loop Trail Miles: 3.0
Devil’s Icebox Trail: 0.5 

At Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, the Devil’s Icebox Trail is a short wooden boardwalk trail with viewing platforms. This trail leads visitors to three exciting features: a natural bridge, the Devil’s Icebox and Connor’s Cave. The Devil’s Icebox is a double sinkhole entrance that overlooks an underground river. 

When descending the stairs to the Icebox, you will feel an extreme temperature drop! While Devil’s Icebox Cave is closed, you can explore 166 feet of Connor’s Cave so bring your headlamps and flashlights. These sites attract a lot of visitors, meaning these trails are usually busy. 

The Spring Brook Loop Trail includes a portion of the Devil’s Icebox Trail. It’s a forested trek with a creek crossing. You may also take off on the Deer Run Trail while traversing this loop. 

Crane’s Tip: Several trails branch out from the Devil’s Icebox Trail. If you plan to take the Spring Brook Loop Trail, wear proper footwear! You will be crossing a creek. 

4. Gans Creek Wild Area Trail

5901 South Highway 163
Columbia, MO 65203
Gans Creek Wild Area Trail Miles: 6.6

Our next favorite hiking trail at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park is the 6.6-mile Gans Creek Wild Area Trail. Unlike the trails mentioned above, the Gans Creek Trail leads you through secluded, scenic and shaded hills dotted with wildflowers and white oaks. 

You’ll cross several creeks on this trail, so be ready! Some of the streams can be shin-high. As you continue, you will have several opportunities to take in the view from overlooks like Coyote and Shooting Star Bluffs.

This trail isn’t for the faint of heart due to its changing elevation and length; however, it’s still an excellent choice for beginners looking for a moderate trail and a good workout. 

Crane’s Tip: Let someone know when you’ll be on this trail and bring plenty of snacks for an all-day adventure.  

5. Eagle Bluffs Overlook Trail

Star School Rd
Columbia, MO 65203
Eagle Bluffs Overlook Trail Miles: 2.2

Over 4,000 acres of wetlands and marshes along the Missouri River make up the Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area. The Department of Conservation and the City of Columbia worked together to restore these historic wetlands. Treated wastewater from the city is now used as the wetlands’ main water source. The Eagle Bluff Conservation area is open to fishing and hunting, and it’s a fantastic site for birdwatching. 

The Eagle Bluffs Overlook Trail is a part of the larger Katy Trail. This trail takes you to the top of Eagle Bluffs, where the overlook is a sight well worth the challenging climb. Once you get to the top, you have a lovely view of the Missouri River and Perche Creek. You may even spot majestic bald eagles soaring across the sky above you. 

Steep staircases lead you up to the bluff—it’s a total of about 160 steps. The sign at the trailhead says it’s a “strenuous climb,” so be prepared for the incline. 

Crane’s Tip: Don’t forget to bring your camera to document the view. Do it for the ‘gram! 

6. Bear Creek Trail 

Cosmo Park Trailhead
1615 Business Loop 70 W.
Columbia, MO 65203
Garth Ave. Trailhead
2799 North Garth Ave.
Columbia, MO 65203
Albert-Oakland Park Trailhead
1900 East Blue Ridge Rd.
Columbia, MO 65203
Bear Creek Trail Miles: 4.8

Bear Creek Trail is a moderate path that follows Bear Creek and connects Columbia’s larger parks—the Columbia Cosmopolitan Recreation Area and the Albert-Oakland Park. There are 11 access points between the two parks that can get you out on this trail.

Most of the trail is wide and flat limestone, perfect for walking, hiking and biking, but 450 feet of it is a boardwalk crossing Bear Creek. There are lots of spots along the trail where you can explore and get close to the creek. 

Crane’s Tip: Check out the side trails that jut out from Bear Creek Trail for more of a challenge or to get off the beaten path. 

7. Pinnacles Youth Park Trail 

850 E Pinnacles Rd
Sturgeon, Missouri 65284
Pinnacles Youth Park Trail Miles: 0.9

OK, so this one isn’t exactly in Columbia, but it’s only 15 minutes out from the city. 

Pinnacles Youth Park, owned by the Boy Scouts of America, is located north of Columbia, MO. The pinnacle of “the pinnacles” is the jagged 80-foot high limestone formations carved out by Rocky Fork Creek and Silver Fork Creek. 

When two rivers erode both sides of the rock, it forms a geological anomaly called a pinnacle. You can find similar pinnacles in places like California at Pinnacles National Park. In our state’s Pinnacles Youth Park, you’ll forget you’re in Missouri as you hit the trail and climb these unique rock formations. 

Some of the pinnacles have eroded all the way through, making it seem like the rock has windows or doors. The hiking trail is relatively easy before you make your way over the pinnacles. As you hit the pinnacles, the path becomes steep and narrow. You’ll have a clear view of the valley and creek below after you traverse to the top. 

Bonus: Boone County was covered in a shallow sea over 250 million years ago, leaving behind fossils of ancient creatures. If you look closely, you can find fossilized remains on your hike. 

Crane’s Tip: Watch for narrow trails as you near the edge of the peaks. You’ll want to focus on your footwork for this one. 

Your Go-to List for Day Hike Essentials 

You’ve picked a trail. Exciting! Now, what should you take with you? You may want to bring a simple daypack or nothing but good hiking boots for the shorter hiking trails listed in this article. What you need to pack along depends on the duration of your hike.

The American Hiking Association recommends these ten hiking essentials:

  1. Good hiking boots or shoes
  2. Map of the trail and compass
  3. Water bottle
  4. Snacks with protein 
  5. Men’s or women’s outerwear (Think: Rain jacket and layers.)
  6. First aid kit
  7. Pocket knife or multi-tool
  8. Sun protection (Sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, etc.)
  9. Shelter (Try a light space blanket.)
  10. Safety items (Bring a flashlight or whistle.)

If you take a short trail that’s usually busy, you don’t need a space blanket or items to help you light an emergency fire. When walking shorter trails or paved ones, you can stick to the basics: good boots or shoes, water, snacks, sun protection and a first aid kit. 

Long, strenuous hikes require you to bring more items in case of an emergency. If you plan to camp out on your hike, you’ll need to bring cooking and camping gear along. 

Always let someone know of your plans when you hike or camp. Leave a copy of your trail itinerary with that person and another copy in your car. 

When you’re ready to hit the trail, shop our selection of men’s and women’s clothing and hiking boots. We’ve got what you need for outdoor trails. 

For more hiking essentials, browse our selection of pocket knives, waterproof zip-bags and camping gear

Happy hiking! 

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