Finger Lakes Pump Track

The pump track at Finger Lakes State Park lets bikers gain speed to take curves at the end of the 87-foot track.

Missouri is notorious for its unpredictable weather — it could be sunny one day, followed by snow storms the next. In the time of COVID-19, it's especially important to take advantage of the occasional 60-degree winter day. Take a break from the pandemic blues and get outside with a day trip to one of mid-Missouri's many state parks to make the most of those odd, balmy winter days. 

Missouri state parks have remained open throughout the pandemic, though indoor areas such as museums, offices and visitors centers, have been closed since late November. The Missouri State Parks website encourages visitors to be proactive in protecting others by staying home if they're feeling sick, packing hand sanitizer and water, avoiding crowds of 10 or more people, keeping a distance of six feet or more from other visitors and choosing to visit a close-to-home state park.

Luckily, in Missouri, there's a park for every occasion. Here's what you need to know about the state parks within 90 minutes of Columbia — and why you should go to each.

To explore one of Missouri’s early industries

Visit Boone’s Lick State Historic Site. Located just a few miles from the Arrow Rock State Historic Site, this park explores Missouri’s early salt industry along a quarter-mile interactive trail. Visitors begin the hike at a pavilion featuring informational signs, which also line the trail and tell the story of the site’s salt manufacturing operation run by Daniel Boone’s sons. The trail also includes artifacts used in salt manufacturing, such as an original iron kettle.

To bust out the ATVs

Visit Finger Lakes State Park. In the 1960s, the land was the site of a coal strip mine. After the area had been mined, representatives from the Peabody Coal Co. donated it to the state park system. Today, the park hosts more than 70 miles of trails for ATVs and off-road motorcycles. The site also offers more traditional state park attractions such as fishing, canoeing and a trail for hiking and mountain biking.

To learn more about the Missouria tribe

Visit Annie and Abel Van Meter State Park. Although the site’s indoor museum, Missouri’s American Indian Cultural Center, is closed as a safety measure, the 300-acre natural area of the park includes trails leading to two Native American sites: the Old Fort earthwork and the Mound Field burial site. Other features include the Van Meter cemetery, fishing, picnic areas and a playground.

To view the Missouri and Osage rivers

Visit Clark’s Hill/Norton State Historic Site. Opened in 2004 to commemorate the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition passing through the area in June 1804, Clark’s Hill is named for the explorer, who wrote about the meeting of the Missouri and Osage rivers that he observed after climbing the hill. Today, both rivers are visible from Clark’s Hill, but changes in the landscape over the last 215 years have moved the junction point six miles downstream. Visitors can ascend the hill on a half-mile trail marked with informational signs that document the expedition’s passage through the area. The trail also includes the two Native American mounds noted in Clark’s journal — which guests are encouraged not to climb — and an overlook that gives visitors a similar perspective to what Clark had as he viewed the river bank.

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