In the Spring of 2020, I decided (along with most of the rest of the world) that I needed to get out of my house. At the time the easiest and safest way to do that was to start walking. After a few weeks of walking around my neighborhood I decided it was time to start branching out. It was around that time that a friend of mine posted about the STL County Parks 30 in 30 Hikes Program. If you go to the county parks website, they outline 30 hikes that you can do in 30 minutes. I decided this seemed like a good way to get out of my neighborhood and it would give me a little bit of a challenge as well. A year later and with the help of some friends, I have finally finished the 30 in 30 Challenge. All last summer I kept saying that I wanted to write a blog and rate all the trails. A couple weeks ago Suzanne asked me if I’d write a blog for the website so of course I was in, and it gave me the push to finish up those last few trails I hadn’t gotten around to yet.
With everything in life there are some pros and cons to this program. Let’s start with the pros.
The program itself is pretty simple. There are 30 hikes outlined for you and all are supposed to take about 30 minutes to complete. This is perfect for people short on time, just starting to add walking to their fitness routine, or people just wanting to experience different parks throughout STL county. The parks are even broken up into 3 areas, North, South and West. At the trailhead at each park there is supposed to be a red punch, next to a 30 in 30 sign. You print out your punch card, punch it at each park and when you are finished you can turn your card into one of a few designated places and receive some unnamed but I’m sure fabulous prize. I have no intention of turning in my punch card so if anyone does, please let me know what fabulous prize I am missing out on.
I personally loved exploring the different parks. It was fun to realize that there is probably a park close to you that you didn’t know about or maybe you knew about it and just haven’t made the time to get there in a while. Some of the parks had beautiful views, some had unexpected wildlife. Honestly all the parks had something to offer. All the parks have ample parking and the only one that was kind of tricky to find was Champ Park, it’s just a little trail in the middle of a subdivision, not really a park.
Some of the cons are not so much with the parks but just with the way the program is set up. The actual 30-minute hikes often don’t follow a set trail and even though I did teach orienteering one year at 5th grade camp, I often found the directions hard to follow. So full disclosure I only followed the 30-minute hike map at a few of the parks. Most of the time I just made up my own walk. Mainly because I wanted to walk more than 30 minutes but sometimes it was because I just didn’t want to try to follow their directions. I’d say it’s about 50/50 on well-marked trails within the parks. If you want to do the trails that are listed in the 30 in 30 program, I recommend looking at the map they list and the trail maps in the actual park sites, this will save you some time driving around the bigger parks looking for the trailhead. A few parks either didn’t have the red punch or it was hidden somewhere. I finally gave up on the punch card, between not always finding the punch and forgetting it a few times, it just got to be a hassle. I also found it interesting that Lone Elk Park was listed as West, but Buder and Simpson Parks are both listed as South. You take the same exit off I-44 to get to Lone Elk and Buder. I think they did this so that they would have an equal number of parks in each region.
STL County updated its website last winter and I feel like this year the directions are a little clearer. Unger and Sioux Passage Parks are still on the list, but the trails are currently closed. I did get to both parks last year and they both needed some maintenance, so I’m glad the county is taking care of that. They are supposed to add two more trails sometime. There are 26 parks in the program. Four of the parks, Spanish Lake, Creve Coeur, Queeny and Jefferson Barracks have 2 different trails listed to get to the 30 hikes (currently 28).
When it comes to trying to rate the parks this is hard because everyone is looking for something different when it comes to a good hike. Personally, I enjoy hiking through the woods and views of rivers, but you might be looking for a paved trail around a lake. I am going to try to just list some of the highlights and a few downsides of some of the parks.
Wooded Trails (in no particular order): Champ Park, Ft. Belle Fontaine Park, Faust Park, Greensfelder, Lone Elk, Love Park, Queeny Park, West Tyson, Bee Tree, Laumeier
My favorite wooded trails:
Ft. Belle Fontaine: You get a view of the Mississippi River, and there are ruins of the old fort. It’s worth the trip just for the Grand Staircase.
West Tyson: If you do the Flint Quarry Trail instead of the Chubb Trail, when you get to the top of the hill there is a bench. You will want to take the time to rest for a bit and enjoy the beautiful view. Also, I went in the fall – Perfect!
Lone Elk: You get to see elk and deer when you are walking.
Bee Tree: Some more great views and again go in the fall.
Queeny: There are so many great trails to choose from.
Laumeier – Centrally located and I enjoy the sculptures.
Paved trails: Belle Fontaine, McDonnell, Spanish Lake, St. Vincent, Tilles, Buder, Officer Blake Snyder Memorial, Grant’s Trail, Jefferson Barracks, Lower Meramec, Simpson
My Favorite Paved Trails:
Jefferson Barracks: There is a lot to see here.
Belle Fontaine: Nice trail and it connects to the Greenway
Lower Meramec: This trail is part of the Meramec Greenway. It is a flat walk with great views of the river.
Officer Snyder: Another nice little park and the trail connects to the Greenway
Wooded and Paved:
Both Cliff Cave and Creve Coeur Parks have a paved section and a wooded section. For the 30 in 30 they suggest the paved trails. Also, there is no real trail at Suson Park, you just kind of make your way around the ponds. Of course I checked out the animals while I was there too.
My least favorite would have to be Tilles, and Buder. I just found them to be kind of boring.
The other two that I try to avoid are Grant’s Trail and Creve Coeur only because they seem to be everyone else’s favorites and I am not a fan of the crowds, or the constant worry of getting run over by a bike. If you are going to go to Grant’s Trail, I suggest walking the section that goes by Grant’s Farm so you can at least see the Clydesdales. If you go to Creve Coeur, go early!
My personal top parks from each region are Ft. Belle Fontaine (North) Cliff Cave (South) West Tyson (West). Of these 3 West Tyson is the most challenging but the views are worth it.
My Top 5 of all the Trails are:
- Cliff Cave Park
2. West Tyson Park
3. Greensfelder Park
4. Ft. Belle Fontaine Park
5. Bee Tree Park
Without a doubt, my overall favorite is Cliff Cave. This is somewhat surprising as I tend to prefer the “hiking in the woods” trails, but the views and the peacefulness of this park more than make up for the fact that it is a paved trail. There are two parking lots. I like to park in the top lot and take the paved trail down to the Mississippi River. If you do this DO NOT skip the overlook. This view is what it is all about. As you head toward the river you will cross a bridge and then you can go right, past the cave, to the river or left which will lead you to a wooded trail. Once you get to the river there is a loop around and then you head back up. There is also a lower parking lot so you could do the walk in reverse. I haven’t done the wooded trail yet, so I plan to get back to do that part soon. There have always been quite a few people there when I have been there as well, but it has never been overly crowded. I have only been there on the early side so it might be a little more crowded later in the day. My walking buddies and friends who completed the 30 in 30 in the past always mention Cliff Cave as a favorite.
I’m glad I found this program, which apparently has been around for many years. It showed me how fortunate we are to have so many great spaces for walking, hiking and bike riding right here in STL. I have already gone back to some of my favorites and now when people want to meet to walk, I have some great suggestions of places we can go. Completing this program also introduced me to the Greenways. I love the way that the Greenways are used to connect many of the STL County parks and many of these trails are actually part of the Greenway system. Next up I plan to try out some of the State Parks in the area. I’ve been to Castlewood but let me know some others I shouldn’t miss.
Here is the link to the STL County Parks 30 in 30 Hikes program.
If you give it a try let me know what your favorite park was.