Columbia is where I went to school for four blurry years. It may not be anywhere near the international destination that other cities in America are but it is pretty close to my heart nonetheless. One of the most underrated things about this university town is just how much there is to do outside of tailgating, day-drinking, and getting wasted at Piano.
Living with the track and cross-country kids for the better part of my time in CoMO, I was no doubt familiar with all of the running trails and outdoors regions of the city. Although I could never even be bothered to try and keep up with them, my dog Milo and I went on adventures galore regardless. For being in a region of the U.S. not particularly known for the great outdoors, Columbia is a pretty neat nature town. We can call it the neat outdoors or something.
One of the closest parks in the city to the University of Missouri, this is one of the most easily accessible and largest outdoor areas within the city limits of Columbia. Miles and miles of paved and gravel trail make it a perfect spot for a long run or a serene stroll. The bridges over the rivers make for stunning photo ops, as do the dense canopies above. The trail is mostly covered by wilderness above, making it a cool hike even on the hottest days.
The main attraction at Capen Park are the bluffs where you can catch an unobstructed view of the sunrise. You’ll often see people gathering here around sunset as well, although the actual sunset is covered by the woods behind you. Rock climbers will often be trying to scale the bluffs and dogs will likely be frolicking through the stream below. As far as outdoors areas in CoMO goes, this is one of my favorites. It helps that it’s less than a 5 minute drive from my apartment.
About 20-30 minutes outside of Columbia, depending on where you live, the Pinnacles are a bit more out of the way but well worth the drive. The long string of bluffs makes for a challenging adventure that requires focus and footwork. The view once you get the top is beautiful, giving you unobstructed panoramic views of the endless forests, the stream below, and the bluffs stretching out on both sides.
Beyond the iconic Pinnacles, the park also has trails, caves, and other outdoors adventures. I went here with my biology major friend once and learned that this whole section of the country used to be underwater. He took me to the stream behind the bluffs and showed me numerous fossils ingrained into the rocks and cliffs.
Although the trail does get muddy, there are trails within the park that go on for miles and miles, making for a perfect run or long walk. Most of the park is wooded, meaning that even on hot days, you can keep cool.
This is Columbia’s most famous trail, and by far the longest and most diverse. It was actually ranked second in the nation in 2015 when voters selected the best urban trails in the country. Pretty high praise for a relatively unheard of city in the middle of Missouri, hey? The entire trail stretches out for 240 miles, all the way from St. Charles to Sedalia. The Columbia portion of the trail goes on for about 9 miles, and is paved nicely with for all types of activities.
Devil’s Ice Box
Located at Rock Bridge State Park, Devil’s Ice Box is a lengthy cave system that you can follow pretty deep. It is one of the cooler, and more unique spots in Columbia to visit. The state park also features trails that run along creeks, through caves, and is very easily accessible throughout thanks to wooded and paved paths throughout most of the park.
Also located at Rock Bridge State Park, the Sinkhole Trail is a long trail popular among runners, cyclists, and dog-walkers. It is mostly just a forested path but there is a cool sinkhole towards the end of the trail that is covered in graffiti and art.
Going to school at Mizzou, I knew that politically, we were among one of the most divided schools in the country. Considering the mix of students coming from urban and rural backgrounds, that was inevitable. If I could explain Mizzou to someone, I would just tell them to go check this sinkhole out. Half of the graffiti is Bible verses. The other half are the complete opposite. Sprinkle in a little bit of “Legalize Ranch” and “Drop Acid” and you basically have a microcosm of what Mizzou stands for as a school.
Stephens Lake Park
Stephens Lake is one of the more central parks in Columbia. It is also one of the more developed outdoor areas within the city limits. The trail around the lake is completely paved, as are the areas stretching up over the hills towards the neighboring golf course. It is a perfect spot for a run and was my personal favorite place to take my dog on a walk. Since he was the goodest and most cutest boye you could imagine, he was also the ideal wingman on a nice day.
Stephens Lake is rounded out by a beach, an amphitheatre, fishing spots, and wide open areas where they even hold festivals like Art in the Park and Roots, Blues and BBQ. I also consider it be the best flat-ish sunset spot in all of Columbia.
I didn’t really need to include it on this list because everyone knows about it, but I needed to find an appropriate spot to squeeze in this picture of my dog Milo. Here you go.
Gans Creek Trail
This is one of the longer trails you’ll find in Columbia. The forested path through the woods near Rock Bridge State Park stretch out for over 6 miles. At the trailhead, it states that it can take over six hours to complete this hike. Considering that I got severely lost and covered in mud when I attempted it, that seems like it could be pretty accurate. Although you can run some stretches of it, I consider it more of a walking trail. It isn’t great for dogs either, since it can get pretty narrow and difficult in some stretches.
However, it is also one of the most secluded trails I’ve found in Columbia. I’ve only ever encountered one other person the several times I was here. With miles and miles of empty trailhead, it is pretty hard to run into someone here. You also won’t have signal in some stretches so just to be safe, let people know you’re going to be hiking here and what time you expect to be done.
High Ridge Trail
If you’re looking for something a little shorter than Gans Creek Trail, then High Ridge Trail across the street might be more of your thing. This is one of my favorite places to run, as it is not paved or graveled or wooded whatsoever. The grass is easy on the feet and there are various stretches of incline and decline throughout. Once you’ve wrapped up the grassy areas of the hike, you’ll find yourself in the forested area. It is a beautiful and challenging place to go for a hike.
Good ol’ CoMO.
Thanks for the read, and as always, catch me on the ‘gram for some of my more epic adventures around the world.
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Miss being a mountain man in Peru 🇵🇪 for all the love Peru gets, the north gets mad overlooked compared to Cusco and the rest of the south. Even for me, it was only on my third trip to Peru that I ever went north of Lima. And I wouldn’t have explored so much of the north had it not been for Dave. Remember Dave? The retired Alaskan dude driving an Army vehicle throughout South America? I’ve had to mute him on Facebook bc of his coronavirus conspiracy theories but anyway, I hitched a ride with him from Ecuador to Peru, enchanted by the prospect of traveling through South America in such a dope rig. Unfortunately, that thing guzzled gas and gas in Peru was not cheap. I abandoned ship in Chachapoyas two days later 😂 And there I was, deep in the Amazonas region of Peru. A country that seemed frustratingly over-touristy in the south was nearly devoid of travelers in the north. To weave my way down back to Lima, I ended up exploring much more of the north than I ever expected. Check out some of my posts on my blog if you’re looking for some Northern Peru itineraries and destinations for when this is all over 🤙🏽🏔