Best Hiking in Missouri | Including With Waterfalls

Best hiking in Missouri is easy and hard to find. It’s extremely hard to decide where to go since the state has so many trails to choose from! 

Known for being a hikers paradise, the state of Missouri boasts an abundance of stunning scenery, wildlife, and gorgeous rivers that will entice even the laziest hikers.

The Show-Me-State’s national forests, state parks, and protected wilderness had me falling head over heels. I think it may be time for me to explore some of the best hiking trails in Missouri.  

Best Hiking Trails in Missouri with Waterfalls

Calling all water babies, Missouri has over fourteen stunning waterfalls to win you over. Grab your hiking shoes and explore the lush forests and rocky cliffs on your way to the falls of your choice.

Lost Valley Trail | Arkansas

Eden Falls on the Lost Valley trail in winter. Ponca, Arkansas Buffalo National River - Best Hiking Trails in Missouri with Waterfalls

Eden Falls on the Lost Valley trail in winter. Ponca, Arkansas Buffalo National River

The Lost Valley Trail spans over 10.5 Miles in Chesterfield, Missouri. While the area is best known for its excellent mountain biking trails, it also has a fantastic hiking trail for exploring on foot. 

The trail weaves through the forest and rock formations to give hikers stunning views of waterfalls, old farmhouses, and natural springs. Don’t forget to look for the pond, haunted hallow, and old cemetery. Since the trail is a loop, it is perfect for those who want to fully explore the area without backtracking. 

Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park Trail | Middle Brook

Johnson's Shut-ins, Black River, Missouri - Best Hiking Trails in Missouri with Waterfalls

Johnson’s Shut-ins, Black River, Missouri

Next on the list is Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park Trail, which makes nature accessible with its impressive ADA paved section of the trail. However, after the paved half, in the beginning, the path becomes more challenging to navigate.

With rugged terrain that follows a natural path into the rocky woods. The park is famous as a summer vacation spot in Missouri, but the trail is a great visit any time of the year. Visitors can camp in the park and swim in the shut-ins as well.


Recommended reading:
Hiking In Branson MO – 10 Best Hikes In And Around Branson MO


Hercules Glade Wilderness | Rolla

Colorfull beautiful waterfall with amazing nature piece of paradise - Hercules Glade Wilderness - Best Backpacking Trails in Missouri

Spanning nearly 32 Miles, the trail is part of the twelve thousand acres Hercules Glade Wilderness within the Mark Twain National Forest. The stunning spot is definitely one of the best to hike in Missouri for those who want to see waterfalls.

The area is often referred to as one of the most stunning wilderness areas in the country and boasts everything from forests of cedar and oak to spectacular views from picturesque hills. However, it is the breathtaking hardwoods, grasslands, and idyllic waterfalls that truly stole my heart.

For animal lovers, the area is also overflowing with wildlife. Since there are only three ways to enter the area, this is the perfect place to visit if you need some solitude to reconnect with the wild.

Pickle Springs Natural Area | Genevieve

Double Arches at Pickle Springs Natural area in Missouri.Best Hiking Trails in Missouri with Waterfalls

Double Arches at Pickle Springs Natural area in Missouri.

If you’re looking to explore somewhere truly magical, the Pickle Springs Natural Area should be at the top of your bucket list.

From its unusual rock formations and magical waterfalls that appear when the weather is wet to the extraordinary plants and animals, it has everything a nature lover wants. 

The trail in the Pickle Springs Natural Area is a 1.9-mile loop that is moderately difficult. The park is considered a National Natural Landmark, so it should be no surprise that the trail is well maintained even though it does have many challenging and steep climbs.

Please note that you may not swim, sailboard, skateboard, or remove any water, rocks, or plants from the area unless it is specifically stated.

Best Hiking In Missouri: Ozarks | Arkansas

To experience the best hiking in Missouri, one has to explore the Ozarks. The Ozarks, also known as the Ozark Mountains or the Ozark Plateau, covers five states: Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Illinois.

However, they have been divided into four smaller sections: the Springfield Plateau, Boston Mountains, Salem Plateau, and St. Francois Mountains. The St. Francois Mountains make up the Missouri section of the Ozarks.

Nestled in southeast Missouri, the mountain range boasts one of the oldest sites of exposed igneous rock in North America. Needless to say, this makes for very picturesque hiking trails.


Recommended reading:
Hiking in Portland Maine – 12 Amazing Places to Hike in Portland Maine


Mina Sauk Falls Trail

A view of the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, from Minnie Sauk Falls, on the Ozark Trail - Hiking in Missouri Ozarks

A view of the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, from Minnie Sauk Falls, on the Ozark Trail

When planning to hike the Missouri section of the Ozarks, one cannot skip the Mina Sauk Falls Trail.  The trail leads straight to the tallest waterfall in the state: Mina Sauk Falls.

The huge waterfall cascades over a series of ledges into the Taum Sauk Creek and measures over 132 feet.  The Mina Sauk Falls Trail is a 3.8-mile loop around the falls. 

Aside from the waterfall, the trail also takes hikers to Taum Sauk Mountain, which is the highest point in Missouri at a whopping 1,772 feet above sea level.

The trail itself is easily accessed from the parking area and is wheelchair-accessible until the Taum Sauk Mountain.  Unfortunately, it becomes more difficult after the mountain. Hiking back up the mountain after seeing the waterfalls is extremely difficult.

Mudlick Trail

Aerial view of St. Fracois Mountain range in Missouri - Hiking in Missouri Ozarks

Aerial view of St. Fracois Mountain range in Missouri

It’s time to hike one of the oldest mountainous areas in North America. The trail in question is part of the St. Francois Mountains within the Sam A. Baker State Park.

The Mudlick Trail, which is open throughout the year, is a challenging and very difficult hike spanning 17 miles of rugged land. Curling through the Mudlick Mountain Wild Area, the trail is perfect for experienced hikers looking for a true adventure. 

The trail is primarily used for hiking, horses, and backpacking and is dog friendly. About three miles into the trail, you will come across a campsite in Mudlick Hollow. One avid hiker reviewed the trail recently, saying:

“It’s pretty obvious where the well traveled path ends and where the road less traveled begins. Shortly after shelter #2 (from the camp store, so, “backwards” aka counter clockwise) the trail gets pretty dense-even in the late fall. However, it is rewarding and my wife and I love this stuff! So many different terrain features!”

Ozark Trail

Waterfall found in Dogwood Canyon Nature Park in Branson Missouri in the Ozarks - Hiking in Missouri Ozarks

Waterfall found in Dogwood Canyon Nature Park in Branson Missouri in the Ozarks

Besides the two specific trails I pointed out, there is still so much to see in the Ozarks. That’s where the Ozark Trail that covers over five hundred miles of the area comes into play.

The complete Ozark Trail is set to start in St. Louis and ends in Arkansas. However, many parts of the trail are still under construction. 

Once complete, the Ozark Trail will be a strong contender for the best hiking in Missouri trophy. The current plan will make it one of the most amazing long-distance hiking trails in America. 

Currently, the trail is broken up into thirteen sections. Imagine slowly wandering across the one-and-a-half billion-year-old mountains and experiencing nature in all its glory. From natural springs, sprawling glades, and endless forests, every part of the trail deserves a spot on your hiking must-visit list.


Recommended reading:
Ojai Hiking Trails For All Levels | 12 Amazing Trails To Experience


Best Backpacking Trails in Missouri

We’ve already covered some stunning options for backpackers in the Ozarks, but what about the rest of Missouri. I promise these trails are the answer to all your backpacking desires.

Meramec State Park | Sullivan

Summer afternoon at Meramec Spring Park in St. James, MO.

Summer afternoon at Meramec Spring Park in St. James, MO.

Boasting 13.85 miles of hiking trails, the Meramec State Park in Sullivan is my first pick. With seven trails, it caters to different hike lengths and difficulties with ease. 

Two of the seven are personal favorites because they offer an in-depth exploration of nature in the wilderness area. The first trail, called Natural Wonders Trail, is a short 1.2 miles that leads one through the caves and meadows to get to the forests. You will even cross a creek.

The next one everyone should try at least once is the Wilderness Trail that covers eight and a half miles. This trail focuses on the geological features of the area and perfectly showcases the rugged and remote areas in the park.

Natural Tunnel Trail | Lebanon

Water over the damn at Bennet Springs State Park Missouri

Water over the damn at Bennet Springs State Park Missouri

The Bennett Spring State Park boasts a whopping six hiking trails spanning 12.6 miles. However, the Natural Tunnel Trail is the one that seems to be a true hikers’ dream trail. 

Covering 7.5 miles of the park, it showcases the many wonders of Missouri’s intriguing nature. The path is accented by the 296 foot Bennet Spring Natural Tunnel.

The trail follows old footpaths and roads to take visitors to the natural tunnel. Since hiking in the area dates back as far as 1840, it’s no surprise that the current trail boasts multiple different terrains.

The trail is also great for history buffs as it passes by an old cemetery from the 1880s. Plant lovers will also love to take in all the intriguing foliage of the area. This is truly a hike with something for everyone.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park | Camdenton

Ha Ha Tonka State Park boasts fourteen trails of different lengths and difficulties. The park itself is known to quench the thirst of those suffering from wanderlust.

This is the perfect place to indulge in the wonders nature has to offer. From breathtaking panoramic views to its gorgeous rock formations and glades, it’s easy to lose track of time while walking through the park.

There’s so much to see in the park that it will always feel like you need just a few more days. Remember to set aside time to hike the Colosseum Trail that cuts under a natural bridge, as well as the Turkey Pen Hollow Trail to see the sprawling meadows and rock formations. 

Then take a slow walk down Devil’s Kitchen Trail. After all, it’s just 1.25 miles long. Though short, the trail boasts remarkable sights like intriguing caves, otherworldly rock formations, and even a cave shelter that is the result of a sinkhole that the area was named after.


Recommended reading:
Hiking in Door County | 17 Amazing Hikes in Door County


Cedar Creek Trail | Rolla

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Diann Dennis (@diann.in.ozarks)

The thirty-six-mile cedar creek trail in Mark Twain National Forest is breathtaking. And the best part is you don’t have to hike it all at once if it’s your first time backpacking. 

The trail has multiple entry points to choose from, so you can do the trek in small sections or big chunks and start wherever you stop. This customizable route makes it perfect for even beginners.

One of the most scenic and popular sections of the loop is Smith Creek Loop which is just five miles long. The loop offers a stunning view of Cedar Creek crosses over the stunning Rutherford Bridge.

Rock Bridge State Park | Columbia

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park near Columbia, Missouri. Best Backpacking Trails in Missouri

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park near Columbia, Missouri.

Next on the best places to backpack in Missouri is Rock Bridge State Park. The park boasts a whopping 22.6 miles worth of trails. 

Choose from one of its eight gorgeous hiking trails to explore stunning Missouri outdoors. From forests and bluffs to prairies and caves, the trail has something for everyone.

It is one of the most idyllic areas in the state. The Devil’s Icebox Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park, even though it only covers half a mile. 

The path leads hikers to stunning sights like Rock Bridge, Devil’s Icebox, and Conner’s Cave. Visitors are allowed to explore the cave; however, make sure you bring proper shoes, a safety helmet, and a flashlight if you plan to explore it. 

For those on a mission to see the wildlife in the park, you may be more interested in the 3.7-mile Deer Run Trail. It is overflowing with deer, beaver, and muskrat.

Bell Mountain Loop Trail | Rolla

Landscape lovers, this best hiking in Missouri pick is for you! It’s time to go back to the Mark Twain National Forest. The jaw-dropping views while walking the 11.6 mile Bell Mountain Loop Trail promise to leave you feeling calm and happy.

This is a trail worth every step to get to the top. The lookout point offers a breathtaking view that stretches for miles and perfectly showcases the sprawling oak forest and hills.


Recommended reading:
Hiking Near Burlington VT: 20 Top Hikes Near Burlington


River Scene Trail Loop | Ballwin

View from the top of the bluffs at Castlewood State Park in Missouri. Best Hiking in Missouri. River Scene Trail Loop

View from the top of the bluffs at Castlewood State Park in Missouri

Once a party site for St. Louisans, the Castlewood State Park area is still extremely popular, however, for a completely different reason now.

The gorgeous hiking destination is one of the best in Missouri. The trail curls across the Meramec River bluffs to serve impeccable views of the area. 

The River Scene Trail Loop is exceptionally well maintained and easy to follow. A pro tip from locals in the area is that it is most beautiful to visit in the fall.

Best Short Hikes In Missouri

Lewis and Clark Trail | Boone Township

If you are not ready for a super long backpack hike just yet, why not opt for a short hike in Missouri. The 8.5 mile Lewis and Clark Trail in St. Charles recently caught my eye. 

With clear views of the Missouri River, the trail has become known as one of the best metro trails in the country with its path that cuts through a creek and along large limestone cliffs and bluffs.

Though short, the view is a true scenic masterpiece that will leave you feeling inspired to tackle more hikes. This is the perfect afternoon or weekend hike.

Lincoln Lakeside Trail | Troy

River landscape with colorful autumn trees reflected in the Cuivre river State Park near Troy, MO

Cuivre river State Park near Troy, MO

Peace and quiet sometimes seem like a myth in this day and age. As someone who struggles to tune out the world, there is only one solution to my dilemma: getting lost in nature. 

I eagerly search out places that boast uninterrupted tranquility, and the Lincoln Lakeside Trail offers exactly what I was looking for. It is one of the best hiking spots in Missouri, in my opinion.

The stunning yet short three-and-a-half-mile trail is tucked away inside the sprawling 6,400-acre Cuivre River State Park. If you are skilled, the pet-friendly trail is relatively easy and is still manageable for beginners. 

Make sure you wear proper hiking boots, especially after it rains as the trail gets muddy. Then explore the rolling fields of wildflowers along the shoreline of Lake Lincoln.

The trail starts at the beach or the boat launch. Please keep in mind that the trail includes a set of stairs. Along the way, you will also come into contact with local wildlife such as ducks, turtles, and eagles.


Recommended reading:
Hiking Trails in Northern Kentucky | Complete Kentucky Hiking Guide


White Tail Trail | Parkville

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Mike Day (@mikedayphotography)

Another beautiful short hike worth trying is just outside Kansas City. The Parkville Nature Sanctuary boasts many gorgeous trails within the dense woods. 

Curling along the small river all the way to the waterfall, it is a stunning yet short walk known as the White Tail Trail. The loop is just three miles long and with partial ADA accessibility. The easy hike is perfect for those looking to unwind after a hard week at work. 

Klondike Park Trail | Augusta

landscape of a lake with a white sand shoreline on a cloudy day at Klondike Park in Augusta, MO

Klondike Park in Augusta, MO

If you’re looking for a well-maintained hiking trail that boasts impeccable scenery, then the Klondike Park Trail is the answer to your needs.

What was once a quarry has been turned into a breathtakingly gorgeous park overlooking the winding Missouri River. The trail also offers access to the renowned Katy Trail. Best of all, it is beginner-friendly since it is only 1.7-mile long.

Clifty Creek Natural Area Trail | Dixon

Rock arch, Clifty Creek Natural Area, Dixon, Missouri - Best Backpacking Trails in Missouri

Rock arch, Clifty Creek Natural Area, Dixon, Missouri

The combination of a natural bridge and a creek seems like something out of a fairytale, yet that is exactly what the Clifty Creek Nature Area Trail offers. Its stunning natural bridge sits forty feet above the creek bed.

Unfortunately, the gorgeous view requires you to trek the rugged two-and-a-half-mile loop trail. The hike is moderately strenuous as the area is quite rocky. 

Aside from the main attraction, it also boasts eye-catching foliage, stunning limestone rock formations, and a picturesque creek along the way.


Recommended reading:
Hiking In San Antonio | 15 Epic San Antonio Trails


Best Hiking Near St Louis

Buford Mountain

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Brittany Schallert (@bschall88)

If you’ve hit all the great spots within Missouri, it’s time to expand your horizons just outside the state. Close to St. Louis, near Bismarck, lies Buford Mountain.

A short 9.6-mile hike leads you up to the summit of the 1,740-foot mountain. Locals advise walking the trail in a counterclockwise manner to get the best out of the view it has to offer.

The peak is just 10 yards lower than the highest point in the state; Taum Sauk. It is the perfect backpacker’s trail for those looking for something relatively easy.

While exploring the trail, hikers also have access to the thick forests where you can enjoy the unique glade plants and animals. The view of the night sky, impressive sunrises, and romantic sunsets places make this hike a firm favorite in my books.

Shawnee National Forest | Illinois

Hiking trail leading to the Garden of the Gods overlooks. Shawnee National Forest, Illinois, USA

Hiking trail leading to the Garden of the Gods overlooks. Shawnee National Forest, Illinois, MO, USA

My final recommendation is to explore the Shawnee National Forest. In particular, its stunning 160-mile River to River Trail is beyond gorgeous. Though outside of Missouri, it is worth the extra traveling time to get there.

Hikers are advised to be extra cautious during hunting seasons and should wear bright orange clothing to avoid accidents. You will also need to pack a compass and a map of the area as it is pretty easy to get lost.

Please keep in mind that the streams in the forest are not safe to drink water from, so you will need to carry water with you. Also, be aware that the forest cuts into privately-owned land in some areas.

The hiking trails are also open to equestrians, and they have right of way. Hikers are asked to move off the trail and follow the rider’s instructions to avoid scaring their horse and avoid accidents.

This may seem like a lot of effort for a simple hike, but it is well worth it. Especially since there are a variety of trails to choose from, and some are even accessible for wheelchair users. You also have the choice between day trails and backpacking trails.

Conclusion | Best Hiking in Missouri

happy couple man and woman tourist at top of mountain at sunset outdoors during a hike in summer. Best Hiking in Missouri

After showcasing only the best hiking in Missouri, I’m sure by now I’ve convinced you to plan a trip soon. However, if you’re still a little unsure for some reason, remember that I haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to amazing hiking spots to see.

So grab your hiking boots, a compass and start planning out your next adventure. Missouri’s breathtaking outdoors are waiting. You can make it a family outing and take your pets along with you.