One of the best ways to enjoy the outdoor beauty of the St. Louis region is on a bicycle. St. Louis has a growing number of trails for bicyclists of all ages and skill levels. These trails include everything from paved paths through urban parks to rugged terrain along the river bluffs. Here's where to find the best bike rides in St. Louis.
The Katy Trail is probably the most well-known bike trail in the state of Missouri. The trail begins near St. Louis and ends more than 200 miles to the west near Kansas City. The trail meanders its way across the state closely following the path of the Missouri River.
In the St. Louis area, there are several options for where to ride. The closest section of the trail is from St. Charles to Weldon Spring. This 16.5-mile stretch starts along the Missouri River in historic St. Charles and travels through the Weldon Spring Conservation Area.
Another popular option is the section of trail from Defiance to Augusta in St. Charles County. This eight-mile stretch is relatively flat and goes through the heart of Missouri Wine Country. You can bring your own bicycle or rent one for the day at Katy Bike Rental in Defiance.
Grant's Trail is an eight-mile path in south St. Louis County. It's one of the many "rails to trails" projects in the region which turned old railroad track routes into paved biking and walking trails. These trails are very flat with few hills.
The trail begins in Lemay near the Lodge at Grant's Trail. There's plenty of parking and restroom facilities making it a good starting location. From there, the trail goes through the suburban communities of Lakeshire and Crestwood ending just north of I-44.
Grant's Trail passes by several key attractions in the St. Louis including Grant's Farm with its Clydesdale Stables and animals from around the world. There's also the Ulysses S. Grant Historic Site, former home of the 18th U.S. President, and Whitecliff Park which offers a great place for a picnic lunch, wooded trails and scenic views.
The St. Louis Riverfront Trail is part of the Mississippi River Greenway stretching from the Gateway Arch to North Riverfront Park near the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. The 12.5-mile trail follows the path of the river and the levee wall that protects the city of St. Louis. The trail is mostly flat and very sunny.
In addition to seeing the barges on the Mighty Mississippi, riders will pass by several historic sites. The Eads Bridge was considered an engineering marvel when it was built in 1874. At that time, it was the longest arch bridge in the world at more than 6,400 feet. The Riverfront Trail also passes the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing which was Missouri's first nationally designated site on the Underground Railroad.
The trail ends at North Riverfront Park, just south of the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. The historic bridge is also open to bicyclists and pedestrians daily from 9 a.m. to dusk.
Forest Park is home to many of the city's most popular attractions like the St. Louis Zoo and The Muny, so it's no surprise the park's bike trail doesn't get as much attention. Still, riding a bike is a great way to experience one of the nation's best urban parks.
The main bike trail is about 7 miles long and follows the perimeter of the park. It is paved with an adjacent soft path for runners. There are also several smaller bike trails that cover more of the interior of the park. The main trail passes by the park's most beautiful locations including the Grand Basin, Kennedy Forest, and the World's Fair Pavilion.
Bicyclists can explore the park on their own, or sign up for a guided tour through City Cycling. The guided tours cover about 10 miles of mostly flat terrain. They feature 18 stops at the most historically and culturally significant sites in the park. Bicycles are provided for the tours which last up to three hours. The cost is $25 to $30 a person depending on the size of the tour group.
The Great River Road is one of the most scenic drives in St. Louis area. The road follows the western border of Illinois for 550 miles following the route of the Mississippi River. The 20-mile section of the road from Alton to Pere Marquette State Park also has a great bike trail, known as the Sam Vadalabene Trail, that runs parallel to the roadway.
The bike trail is paved and mostly flat. It passes through some of the most beautiful scenery on the Great River Road in Illinois. Bikers get an up-close view of the Mississippi River on one side and the high limestone river bluffs on the other. The trail is filled with bright wildflowers in the spring and colorful changing leaves in the fall.
The Sam Vadalabene Trail connects to several spots worth stopping for. The small town of Elsah, Illinois, is located at the halfway point of the 20-mile trek. Elsah is often called the "town that time forgot" because of its historic charm. The entire town was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Further up the trail is the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge which is a protected habitat for migratory birds, waterfowl and other threatened species.
Creve Coeur Lake Park in St. Louis County is a popular destination for local bicyclists. The park has several bike trails, both paved and unpaved, at various levels of difficulty. It's common to see both casual bikers going for a leisurely ride and serious athletes training for upcoming races.
One thing that most of the trails in the park have in common is a great view of the water. The Lakeview Loop Trail is a 3.8-mile paved path that closely follows the perimeter of Creve Coeur Lake. The Meadows Loop Trail and Mallard Lake Loop Trail also have great views. For a more rugged experience there is the Bootlegger's Run Trail. This earthen trail is more than four miles long and features elevation changes, tight turns, and several ravine crossings.
In addition to the bike trails, Creve Coeur Lake Park also has other nice amenities. There are a dozen picnic sites with bar-b-que pits available on a first-come, first served basis. There are also canoe, kayak, and paddleboat rentals for those who want to spend a little time on the water.
Madison County Transit manages a system of bike trails in the Metro East covering more than 100 miles. The Nature Trail is a 15-mile paved trail that starts in Granite City and ends in Edwardsville. Along the way, it intersects with several other MCT bike trails of varying lengths and difficulty.
The Nature Trail starts at Wilson Park in Granite City. From there it travels through old residential neighborhoods, across wetlands and farmland, and through wooded areas along the river bluffs. Along the way, riders will often see deer, turkeys, rabbits, and other wildlife.
The Nature Trail crosses paths with several other trails so riders can venture off and explore at their leisure. Popular options are the MCT Schoolhouse Trail with access to Horseshoe Lake State Park and the MCT Goshen Trail which has 10 tunnels and a 175-foot bridge.
Castlewood State Park in St. Louis County sits along the bluffs of the Meramec River. It has eight bike trails made of dirt, gravel and other natural surfaces. Several of the trials include a steep climb to the top of the river bluffs. Others travel through wooded areas and along the river bottom.
One of the most difficult trails the Cedar Bluff Loop which includes a climb to the highest elevation in the park. Along this 2.25-mile trail, there are also water crossings and inclines of more than ten percent. For an easier ride, there's the Al Foster Trail. It's a 4-mile gravel trail that follows an abandoned railroad route. It's wide and relatively flat for much of the ride.
Castlewood State Park is also a good spot for other kinds of outdoor activities. There are dozens of picnic sites with bar-b-que pits, a large playground area and a boat ramp for canoes, kayaks, and flat aluminum boats.