St. Louis residents have a love for parks that goes back to the early 1800s. Some of the oldest parks in the nation were created here in 1812 — Gravois, Laclede and Mt. Pleasant Parks. Jackson Place Park was created in 1816 and the iconic Forest Park in 1874, among others.
To date, there are 105 public parks within the city of St. Louis’ borders and more than 40 others in the adjacent St. Louis County, not to mention 10 state parks in the greater St. Louis metro area. Seventy-eight percent of St. Louis residents enjoy walkable park access and the city ranks in the top 25 in the United States for park spending per capita — at $125 per resident. Approximately 80 percent of parkland in St. Louis is designated parkland, with the remaining acreage consisting of natural parkland. In short, it’s a park lover’s paradise.
Located at the base of the Gateway Arch, the CityArchRiver project is transforming the existing open space into a more visitor-friendly, multiuse outdoor space. The creation of walking and bicycle trails, play areas and entertainment spaces will impact both tourists and residents alike. In May of this year, residents celebrated the renovation with a community picnic that included a 2,016-foot-long picnic table and fireworks.
More than 500 acres larger than New York’s Central Park, Forest Park spans 1,370 acres and houses not only green spaces, but also the local zoo, history museum, science center and art museum. Forest Park opened in 1876 and today is visited by 12 million people annually. It was recently ranked the best urban park in the United States by USA Today.
The largest park in the county parks system, Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park is slightly larger than 2,000 acres. It contains the largest natural lake in Missouri, a golf course, tennis courts, athletic fields, an archery course and numerous facilities for walkers and picnicking. The park also contains a significant wetlands system and maintains habitat for a variety of waterfowl.
Directly across the Mississippi River from the St. Louis Arch, the Malcom W. Martin Memorial Park is a 34-acre park and home to the Mississippi River Overlook and the Gateway Geyser. The overlook is located on the west side of the park and provides a 40-foot-high view of the river and overlooks the arch and St. Louis skyline across the river. The Gateway Geyser is the tallest fountain in the United States and second tallest in the world, reaching 630 feet into the air.
In 2000, residents of the greater St. Louis area voted to create Great Rivers Greenway with the goal to connect parks with greenways throughout the area, providing trails to connect people and places. When complete, more than 600 miles of trails will give residents access to parks, neighborhoods, rivers and businesses across the region. Great Rivers Greenway has created an interactive web-based tool to help visitors find areas to explore based on individual interests like wildlife-watching, fishing, biking or finding a playground.
Art and Sculpture
Located within walking distance of the St. Louis Arch, this almost 3-acre park combines world-class sculpture and landscape design. There are 24 sculptures, three water features, rain gardens, native plants and green roofs.
Founded in 1968, this 105-acre facility is more museum than park. A walking trail winds through 60 large-scale sculptures. There is also an indoor gallery set in an early 1800s Tudor stone mansion. Guided tours are available.
Set along the winding Meramec River, this park is known for its hiking and mountain-biking trails. There is a host of wildlife viewing, fishing and outdoor recreation for those desiring a taste of adventure.
For those wanting an intimate look at local wildlife and a nice get-away from the hustle and bustle of the city, this is the place. Lone Elk Park is a 546-acre wildlife management area that contains a host of wildlife, most notably elk, bison and deer. Many view the park from their car, looking for wildlife, while others venture out on trails that range from a 3-mile loop to a 13-mile round-trip hike.
Located on the site of an old silica sand quarry, this 250-acre park has both paved and natural trails for hiking and biking. Camping facilities include both cabins and campsites.
Located northwest of downtown St. Louis, this 8,000-acre state park hosts a variety of recreational activities year-round, including horseback riding, hiking, fishing and more. Incredible views of the Illinois River and historic attractions like the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps-built lodge with guest rooms and cabins beckon visitors to stay a while.
Nestled near the junction of two major highways, the Powder Valley Conservation Area offers a rich taste of nature in a small 112-acre site. The beautiful oak history forest has wandering trails and the nature center combines information on backyard wildlife and conservation.
Managed by the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Shaw Nature Reserve is a 2,400-acre natural area utilized for research, education and habitat reconstruction. Located outside the city, the reserve was used in the 1920s as a refuge for plant specimens from the botanical gardens that were being threatened by air pollution in the city.
Shaw Park was established in 1935 and consists of 50 acres of rolling hills filled with recreation facilities and amenities. In 2010, the park built the Tree Top Playground in the north part of the park. The playground is completely fenced in and contains a tree house play structure, adaptive swings and ramps to ensure accessibility and musical instruments.
Created in 1968, this 200-acre park preserves the original estate of Fredrick Bates, Missouri’s second governor. Located in the park, the Faust Historical Village consists of several historical structures from the mid- to late-1800s. The 1920 St. Louis Carousel, also located in the park, offers rides on more than 60 hand-carved horses and deer. The Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House is also located in the park.
Paula Jacoby-Garrett is a freelance writer located in Las Vegas, Nevada.