Everything you’ll need to know about hiking, biking, and kayaking in Mid-Missouri. 


Paul Laemmli

Paul Laemmli

Avid Hiker

In 2013, I helped lead a backpacking trip with my church’s annual Youth Trail Hike program. I hated it. I couldn’t sleep, my gear was heavy and cumbersome, and my cell phone didn’t have any service. Two years later, I got bit by the hiking bug, and I’ve since logged over 1,000 miles of trail in and around Mid-Missouri.

Trail time can help us simplify, decompress, and remember our place as part of this beautiful planet we call home. Be sure to check out these spots as you hike your way through Missouri. 

Local Hikes

Runge Conservation Nature Center (330 Commerce Dr.) 
The Runge has various easy loops totaling 1.8 miles and is a beautiful in-city escape.

Binder Lake Trails (5840 Rainbow Dr.)
While there are plenty of side trails to weave in and out from, Binder Lake’s easy 1.3 mile red trail, 2.9 mile southwest loop, and moderate 4.3 mile northwest loop are among the top favorites. 

Greenway Trail (For map visit jcparks.com)
This trail varies from easy to moderate throughout its more than 12 miles of concrete path throughout Jefferson City. Located in town, this trail is great for a lunch break
stroll or a hike. 

Frog Hollow (via Edgewood Nature Trail)
Looking for a trail a little less busy? Frog Hollow is an easy, lightly trafficked 3 mile loop located on the west side of Jefferson City.

Travel Hikes

Three Creeks Conservation Area (3901-4145 E. Deer Park Rd., Columbia)
Enjoy more than 7 miles of easy to moderate interconnecting trails through three scenic creeks: Turkey Creek, Bass Creek, and Bonne Femme Creek. 

Rock Bridge State Park (5901 South Highway 163, Columbia)
These 10 trails ranging from slightly more than 1 mile to 7.7 miles are easy to moderately difficult. Check out Gans Creek for a longer challenge with impeccable scenery!

Osage Bluff Scenic Trail (38.41223, -92.10923, Westphalia)
On this easy 1.9 mile loop at Painted Rock Conservation Area, make sure to see the indigenous historic sites as well as the beautiful Osage River views.

Clifty Creek (38.03058, -91.98185, Dixon)
Moderately difficult, this 2.7 mile loop features a natural bridge and a peaceful rural setting.

Ha Ha Tonka (1491 Missouri D, Camdenton)
This park offers various easy trails that are less than 2 miles, or you can try the 6.7 mile loop known as Turkey Pen Hollow Trail. These trails feature castle ruins, a natural bridge, caves, and Missouri’s 12th largest spring.

Lake of the Ozarks State Park (403 RT-134, Kaiser) 
Enjoy various trails from easy to moderate difficulty with options for overnight backpack camping. 

Ozark Trail (37.57264, -90.72821) 
With 370 miles of moderate to difficult trails through the Mark Twain National Forest in southeast Missouri, this particular trail is just more than 12 miles and rated as difficult. It is also adjacent to several state parks and resorts, and overnight backpack camping is permitted throughout MTNF.


Base weight: How much your loaded pack weighs without food and water.

Big 4: Typically your four heaviest items, like your pack, tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad.

Blaze: Often specifically colored plastic markers for your designated trail.

Bushwhack: Hiking off of an officially marked trail.

Camel Up: Drinking extra water before hikes or while at water sources.

Glade: Rocky bluff or mountain top overlooks. They make the perfect scenic place to take a break!

Hollow: Low-lying bottomlands. They are often good for water sources.

Rock Cairns: Rocks stacked by hikers in lieu of a blaze. They are often used in tree-void areas.

Section Hike: Hiking a trail segment of an extended trail system.

Thru Hike: Hiking an extended trail system in one multi-day trip.

Trail Magic: Often unexpected blessings of sustenance.

Trail Angel: The provider of trail magic.

Gear & Tips

Don’t be afraid of the cold! Avoid pesky insects, undergrowth, and humidity by hiking in Missouri winters. Beat the chill with layered wool or synthetic clothing, and minimize perspiration by starting your hike cold. Hiking generates plenty of body heat that you can trap with layers as soon as you stop to rest. Wool and synthetics wick moisture away as you enjoy your hike. These materials also retain their insulation properties when wet — unlike cotton. Use a shuttle to conquer longer thru hikes, or utilize a ride offered by various resorts and outdoor adventure outfitters. At the beginning of your hike, schedule the shuttle to meet you at your destination. Leave your vehicle at the end and the shuttle will drive you to the start of your hike. This saves more time for hiking and allows you flexibility to hike at your own pace without having to worry about meeting your shuttle on time. The last shuttle I booked at Richard’s Canoe Rental charged a $60 base fee and $20 per passenger.

Trekking poles may feel excessive for that lunch-hour escape to the Runge Nature Center, but they can really help as the miles and pack weight increase. In addition to providing additional stability, trekking poles transfer 30% of weight from legs to arms. Communicate your plans with loved ones, and hike with a friend for safety. Even in the most remote wilderness, high ground often provides just enough phone service for a text or even a phone call. Consider a GPS device for navigation and communication where your cell phone signal gets spotty.

Food & Water

If you’re planning food for an overnight backpacking trip, taking enough food and water can seem daunting. In general, pack meals that cook with water heated on your stove. Oatmeal and instant mashed potatoes are common trail meal staples. Bring calorie and protein dense snacks that are easy to consume while walking. Weigh your food bag as you pack with a 2-pound-per-day target.

For most day hikes, a one liter bottle provides plenty of water — especially if you camel up beforehand. In many areas, water from streams and creeks is safe to drink if filtered properly. Hazards include giardia and consuming herbicides/pesticides from nearby agriculture. To avoid such hazards, draw moving water from smaller streams away from agricultural water runoff and filter all drinking water. Charcoal, UV, and chlorine dioxide are some of the many filtration options.


POV image of a mountain biker following another biker on a trail
David Bange

David Bange

Cycling Instructor

After capering around on a bike as a kid and using one to travel about campus during my college years, I hadn’t picked up a bike again until about 12 years ago, when my daughter was learning to ride. After riding an old mountain bike around for a year, a friend lent me a road bike and I’ve been riding it ever since, racking up more than 65,000 miles along the way. Fortunately, my cycling hobby and my work as the city engineer for the City of Jefferson often intertwine as the city looks to create more inclusive streets and expand its greenway trail system.

Saddle Up

Biking can be enjoyed by the entire family! Each trail below is free to the public as well as kid-friendly and pet-friendly. When bringing kids and pets along for the ride, please consider trail conditions and bring extra supplies to ensure everyone’s safety. 

Community bike ride, downtown Jefferson City.

Katy Trail State Park
Just a hop and a skip from the Capitol building (2.8 miles), the Katy Trail State Park is a wonderful traffic-free place to ride for the whole family and is of easy to moderate difficulty depending on how far you travel. This gravel trail was built on an old railroad line and offers some of the flattest riding in all of Jefferson City. Try it when the leaves are off the trees for great views of the rocky bluffs and the Missouri River. If breakfast or lunch are part of your plan, peddle the 10 miles up to Hartsburg and stop by Dotty’s Café. On your way back to town, swing by the pump track located along E. Fifth Street in North Jefferson City and let the young ones, or the young at heart, swoop up, over, and around its mini hills and curves. Both the Katy Trail and the pump track are free and available every day of the year, although the pump track will need to dry out for a day or two after it rains. 

Binder Park
Looking for a bit more off-road adventure? Look no further than the 15 miles of mountain bike trails at Binder Park. Just 8.7 miles from the Capitol, these trails offer fun for all ages. Ease through the newly constructed half-mile kids’ loop to the National Intercollegiate Cycling Association or experience the challenges of the yellow loop on the lake’s eastern side, which winds and twists its way through every hill and hollow and brings you within feet of the lake’s edge. 

Greenway Trail System
If you want to bring your ride in off the dirt but stay away from vehicles, try out the city’s Greenway Trail System. When Wears Creek and the East Greenway Branch join with Miller Street Bikeway, it forms a 10-mile-long path that passes within two blocks of the Capitol. Just drop down to Miller Street and follow the signs. The Greenway Trail is a great place for kids because it’s mostly flat and the paved surface makes pedaling easier. If you are on a bike, be courteous to folks walking on the trail by slowing down and announcing your presence before passing.

For the most challenging riding, cross the pedestrian bridge at the Greenway Trail parking lot off of W. Edgewood Drive and be astounded at how much fun can be packed into a 3.5 mile loop trail. The trails are open all year round, but consider the time it takes for them to dry after a rain before riding to help keep them in good shape and to limit erosion.

JC Loop
If the road is what you’re looking for, you’re in luck! When you are at the Capitol, you are on the JC Loop, which is a soon to be a completed loop around the western and southern parts of the city. But the best part is that from this loop, you can connect into more than 400 miles of paved county roads and even more miles of state lettered routes that have minimal traffic and lead to wonderful views of farm fields, forest, and some neat overlook opportunities down at the Missouri and Osage River. Highly recommended roads include Osage Bend Road, Route E, North and South Teal Bottom, and Route AA. But paved roads are not the only options, as there are miles and miles of gravel roads just waiting to be explored.

New Trails

One of the ways to find new places to ride is to join up with a friend or a group. If you would like to give that
a shot, a group rides at Binder Park Tuesday evenings and a road ride leaves from the Governor’s Mansion Wednesday evenings. For those who enjoy getting into cycling, the Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department organizes a community bike ride event every month. Be sure to check out their website for details. Now that you have gone digital, there are other ways to find places to ride. A number of apps, such as Strava, have heat maps that show the roads and trails that people ride on the most, giving you an idea of where to start when you’re planning your ride.

Community bike ride, Mokane Road.


Cadence: A measure of how fast you are turning the pedals. Generally, higher cadence requires more lung work while a lower cadence requires greater muscle work.

Derailleur: The mechanical devices that move the chain from one sprocket to the next. The front derailleur controls the sprockets by the pedals (chain rings) and the back controls the back wheel sprockets (cassette).

Shifting: The act of changing from one gear to another. Shifting gears can make it easier to pedal when going uphill or to go faster without increasing your cadence.

Brain Bucket: Another name for a helmet, as it protects your brain.

Saddle: The seat of the bike. They come in all shapes and sizes, from narrow to wide and padded.

Drops: The lower part of the curled handlebar.

Horns: Small extensions typically added to the ends of straight handlebars so you can change the position of your hands.

Watts: A measure of power similar to horsepower, but with much smaller increments. Many cycling apps will calculate your average wattage.

Pedals: Three main types are flat or platform, clipped, and clipless. Flats have a flat platform. Clipped are like flat ones, but include some sort of cage for the front of your shoe. Clipless uses a mechanism that mates with special shoes to connect your feet to the pedals.

Valve Stems (Schrader vs. Presta): Schrader valves are just like the ones on your car. Presta valves are smaller and typically found on road bikes. Adapters allow use of the same pump.

Types of Bikes

There are many types of bikes with new variations being created every year. The main categories are road, gravel, mountain, cruiser, and urban or commuter bikes. Fortunately, the names correspond to their designed purpose.

Gear & Tips

A well-fitting helmet is the best piece of defensive safety equipment that you have when riding your bike. The helmet should fit snugly on your head with the straps coming together just below your ears, and the buckle should be adjusted so that you can feel the helmet being pulled down on your head when you open your mouth really wide. Helmets vary widely in style and price. Get a helmet that you like and that is certified by the CPSC. A good helmet does not have to be expensive — usually the price goes up as the weight of the helmet goes down. Other defensive gear includes gloves, to help protect your hands both from the vibration of the handlebars and from abrasion if you were to crash. For mountain biking, pads on your elbows and knees are also a big plus. On the proactive side, you can get lights on the front and rear of your bike and brightly colored and reflective clothing or reflective bands, particularly for your lower legs. Folks who ride a lot will usually have padded shorts. The padding is called chamois, which comes from the name of a breed of sheep used in the days when the padding was made out of wool. These padded shorts provide additional comfort when seated on the saddle for a long time and help prevent chafing. These shorts are often snug-fitting spandex, but they can also be found in styles that look more like regular shorts and pants.


Sam Stewart

Sam Stewart

Conservation Educator

When my wife and I first moved to central Missouri, one of my first discoveries was the reduction in clear, fast flowing, Ozark streams. Not to be deterred, I started searching to find an outlet for my paddling obsession. A little research led me to discover jewel lakes, winding water mazes, and hidden stream gems. I went to work exploring new local waters and found myself immersed in my favorite ways to connect with nature. 

When my wife and I first moved to central Missouri, one of my first discoveries was the reduction in clear, fast flowing, Ozark streams. Not to be deterred, I started searching to find an outlet for my paddling obsession. A little research led me to discover jewel lakes, winding water mazes, and hidden stream gems. I went to work exploring new local waters and found myself immersed in my favorite ways to connect with nature. 


Exploring is part of the fun, so do some internet research and look at satellite maps. This can help you find some hidden spots. To get you started, try these areas: 

Binder Lake (5840 Rainbow Dr.) 
This is a great place to paddle, and it’s right here in Jefferson City. The park has bathrooms, camping, and a play area for children. The small boat launch makes it easy to get your kayak in the water and practice your paddling strokes before you leave the cove. Watch for windy days, as there aren’t many trees to break the wind. Don’t miss paddling around the old tree trunks still rising above the lake’s surface. 

Finger Lakes State Park (1505 Peabody Rd., Columbia) 
Just north of Columbia lies a maze of a lake. Formed from old quarry operations, the Finger Lakes area is a winding labyrinth of water trails marked with colored buoys. The park offers kayak rentals for $30 for the day, so it’s a great place to try out paddling. Make sure you take a map to find your way back to the boat ramp. There is camping and other amenities at the park that make it a great weekend destination. 

Gasconade River (38.4922611, -92.0126785) 
Winding lazily across the state, the Gasconade is one of our longest river systems. The headwaters are fueled by tributaries and springs creating hundreds of miles of river. Kayaking within the current brings added difficulty, so practice on flat water first, and watch for downed trees and other obstructions. Learning to read the river can help you navigate any obstacles. The lower stretches of the Gasconade are often occupied with jet boats that are best avoided in a kayak. The upper stretches of the Gasconade are beautiful. There are multiple boat ramps to the river, but the nearest to Jefferson City is the Mari-Osa State Wildlife Area access. 

While on the Water

Combine kayaking with other outdoor pursuits to add to the adventure. You can fly fish for bass on our lakes and streams, and fishing from a kayak gives you more options and a new perspective. Bird watching, swimming, and camping are also natural partners of paddling.

Gear & Tips

First, you’ll need a boat. Find a retailer who is knowledgeable about their products and lets you try them on the water. Outfitters like Ozark Mountain Trading Company and Everhart Outdoors are a couple of great options. When buying a kayak, price, type, transport, and storage are important points. Many manufacturers have nice boats as low as $300. Decide what works for your budget, then consider the type. Single-molded kayaks with a wide deck are often your best option. A single-molded kayak is formed from one piece of polymer, meaning there isn’t a seam down the side of the boat. This type of boat is less likely to warp and leak. A sit-on-top kayak is more comfortable to get in and out of, and having a wide deck will aid in stability. Well-formed keels (the grooves in the kayak’s bottom) help you go in a straight line as you paddle. Speaking of paddles, find one long enough to fully submerge the blade or the wide end of the paddle while performing a paddling stroke. A paddle that floats is handy. You can also bring along special footwear, clothing, dry bags, etc., but the most important part of your gear is your PFD — your personal flotation device. Purchasing a quality life jacket that is comfortable while paddling is key. Many modern paddling PFDs will have open sides to facilitate comfortable movement of the arms. Brands like NRS, Stohlquist, and Astral make a high-quality paddling PFD.

Shoring Up

At the end of a long day on the water, it’s nice to float and reflect on the beauty of a setting sun over the water and the wealth of opportunities our state offers for those who love the outdoors. Take the time this summer to give kayaking a try. With just a few strokes of the paddle, you’ll be on your way to exploring and connecting with nature! 


Use resources like Missouricanoe.org to find information on public access points and plan your float accordingly. 10 miles or less is a good length for a day float.