Before summer ends, take a few days to explore our trails and parks.
Photos by Robert Hemmelgarn and Amy Schroeder
Nestled in the heart of Missouri, Jefferson City offers miles and acres of parks, trails, and conservation areas. Whether it’s hiking, biking, walking, or just enjoying the great outdoors, you can find something in JCMO no matter your age or fitness level.
Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry
“Jefferson City is a wonderful place to live and play, and we’re proud to be a part of that,” says Amy Schroeder, community relations manager for Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry. “Parks and Recreation serves a vital role in providing opportunities for physical and mental health and wellness through programming and open spaces. The trail network in Jefferson City reflects our mission to serve our community as well as our visitors.”
Parks and Recreation has 1,400 acres of open space that allows everyone to benefit from the local parks and recreational opportunities in Jefferson City. With 18 miles of hiking and biking trails, locals and visitors can find trails of varying difficulty that meet their needs. One of the larger trails in Jefferson City, the 16 mile Greenway Trail, provides pedestrians with a different method of transportation and is accessible for people of all capabilities.
“A trail experience unique to Jefferson City is the Missouri River pedestrian bridge,” says Schroeder. “It connects downtown Jefferson City at Clay Street Bike Plaza to North Jefferson Recreation Area at the Noren River Access leading to the Katy Trail. Along with being a fun ride, it’s an excellent spot for train watching.”
If you’re looking for a hidden gem, head over to Frog Hollow Nature Trail. This three-mile mountain biking and hiking trail near West Edgewood Greenway offers a varied landscape from meadow to forest to creek bed. “You notice something new every time you use the trail,” says Schroeder.
Binder Park is the largest park in Jefferson City. Binder offers a variety of different activity options, including softball or sand volleyball courts, two disc golf courses, 18 miles of mountain bike or hiking trails, two outdoor rental shelters, RV campground, an RC flying field, a festival area, fishing, and boating. When combined with Joseph C. Miller Park, the grounds cover 750 acres.
“We hear from out-of-town guests that the trails at Binder are top notch,” Schroeder says. “All credit goes to Osage Regional Trail Association. This volunteer group plays an integral role in the quality of our mountain bike and hiking trails by providing resources to develop and maintain the mountain bike trail system.” Parks and Recreation also works closely with other organizations in the area, like the Missouri Department of Conservation; Parks, Recreation and Forestry was recently awarded an MDC Tree Resource Improvement and Maintenance grant to assist parks staff with tree inventory and forestry education.
The department’s top priority for improvement is to complete the greenway loop from West Edgewood parking lot along Frog Hollow Creek, connecting back on West Edgewood Drive near Tree Valley Lane. Schroeder says future priorities for expansions will be outlined in the park master plan, which is currently being drafted.
“I absolutely love that Jefferson City has big city conveniences while maintaining small town hospitality,” Schroeder says. “Our parks are an extension of this sentiment. An 18-hole golf course, ice arena, two swimming pools, and many special events in our facilities and parks give entertainment opportunities for all ages and abilities. Just as we enjoy providing these activities and events, we’re equally passionate about providing a simple park experience. Things like fishing with your grandpa, swinging at the playground, reading on a park bench — it’s all about making memories.”
City of Jefferson Parks, Recreation and Forestry – List of City Parks
- Binder Park
- Joseph C. Miller Park
- Cole County Park
- West Edgewood Recreation Area
- Memorial Park
- Washington Park
- Oak Hills Golf Center
- McClung Park
- Community Park
- East Miller Park
- Ellis-Porter Riverside Park
- Park Place
- Hickory Adams Park
- Rotary Centennial Park
- North Jefferson Recreation Area
- Greenway Trails
Fall is full of events: Catch Me If You Can and Prison Break, Evening at the Amphitheater, the Mayor’s Cup Regatta, etc.
Missouri Department of Conservation
Headquartered in Jefferson City, the Missouri Department of Conservation serves the entire state in sustaining healthy forests, fish, and wildlife. “The department works with landowners, municipalities, and businesses as well as other governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations to conserve Missouri’s forest, fish, and wildlife resources,” says Robert Hemmelgarn, media specialist for Missouri Department of Conservation.
MDC provides outdoor recreational and educational opportunities that help to conserve our state’s forests, fish, and wildlife. Long before this area was known as “Missouri,” these resources provided for the people who lived here. “Today, this connection to the outdoors remains a driving force in our way of life,” Hemmelgarn says. “By working diligently to sustain these resources, we can ensure that the stories and experiences our ancestors found in nature will survive for generations to come.”
MDC works with other agencies at the local and state level, including Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry. Through their partnership with parks and recreation, MDC maintains fisheries and infrastructure and several local lakes, including Binder Lake, McKay Park Lake, and Hough Park Lake.
Hemmelgarn says MDC is focused on its commitment to managing resources and maintaining infrastructure at existing conservation areas and facilities in Missouri, as opposed to expansion.
One of the most-treasured MDC areas in Jefferson City is Runge Conservation and Nature Center, which has recently undergone a large renovation. “In a single afternoon, you could walk through forests, prairies, wetlands, and glades — and even climb a fire watch tower,” says Hemmelgarn. “Then, you can step inside the nature center and come eye-to-eye with some of Missouri’s wild critters and encounter nature’s wonders through hands-on exhibits, an indoor wildlife viewing area, conservation movies, or peruse the nature library.” This free nature center offers visitors fun and educational events and exhibits that are geared toward all ages. Located just north of Highway 50 and west of Highway 179 and set on 97 acres, the conservation area offers five nature trails of diverse, Missouri-native plant and wildlife communities.
“If you haven’t visited the Runge Conservation Nature Center recently, I recommend going back,” Hemmelgarn says. “Exhibits are always changing at the nature center, but recent renovations there have brought a whole new world of forest habitat, aquariums and terrariums, new lighting, murals, and interactive learning environments for all ages.”
One area many might not know about or have yet to explore is the Painted Rock Conservation Area. Though it may be a little out of the way (west of Westphalia on Highway 133), this area’s bluff-top views are steeped in history. The area has turned up evidence of being occupied by Native Americans as early as 9,000 years ago.
Exploring a river in the Ozarks by canoe or kayak and leaving behind loud motors is an experience Hemmelgarn also recommends; it opens you up to encountering wildlife and nature in a whole new way. “Those quiet moments when the bass were biting at dusk or when the birds were waking up with the sun on a native glade or when frogs sang me to sleep on a gravel bar — those had a profound impact on me and continue to inform my worldview today,” says Hemmelgarn. “For me, working for the Missouri Department of Conservation means that my energy goes back into preserving those experiences for others. I’m grateful for the opportunity to give back to that cause however I can.
Missouri Department of Conservation
Find other areas to explore and discover nature near you with MDC’s online atlas. Find public fishing opportunities and river accesses and use MDC’s “MO Fishing” app that shows public boat ramps and underwater fish attracting structures.
Runge Conservation Nature Center – Building hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Thursday: 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Area Hours: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily (outdoor restrooms open all year when area is open).
Read more about Jefferson City businesses here.