John Winkelman

John Winkelman

For several years I have written about the First Day Hikes at Missouri State Parks and through the national America’s State Parks organization. It is a great program with worthwhile goals and objectives: Getting people outdoors to enjoy fresh air and a bit of physical challenge to begin the new year.

But like everything else in 2020, this year’s hikes will be different. Technically this is the event for 2021, but to spread out some of the crowd, the First Day Hikes began on Dec. 30 and will conclude on Jan. 3.

Instead of guided hikes on Jan. 1, most locations in the country and all of the ones in Missouri are planning only self-guided hikes this year. Participants are asked to share the experience through social media.

Nine parks in Missouri are issuing challenges for hikers to take to the woods and are offering a $25 State Parks gift card in daily drawings. Hikers who post a photo or video on social media from one of the parks with the hashtag #MOFirstDayHikes and register at the website are entered into the drawing.

Although none of the state parks in Jefferson County are participating this year, four of the nine parks are in our neighboring counties.

In addition to the opportunity to hike any of the trails at Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park in Wildwood, the park’s Facebook page will share a virtual hike beginning at 11 a.m. on the 1.2-mile Hawthorn Trail loop in St. Louis County.

Hikers may choose any of the seven trails in the park to complete the challenge. The Amphitheater Trail is just two-tenths of a mile long. By contrast, the two-mile Dogwood Trail, because of its rugged course and historic site spurs, is estimated to take up to two hours to complete.     

The Virginia Day Nature Trail is 1.5 miles long and considered moderate. The trail head is located near the park’s visitor center. The 1.8-mile Woodbine Trail shares some of its length with the 6.1-mile Equestrian Trail and with the 1.7-mile paved Bicycle Trail, which offers the chance to get outdoors with strollers and for others with mobility challenges.

Hikers can complete the challenge hikes anytime between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. at Babler State Park.

In Franklin County, Robertsville State Park will offer its challenge hikes during the same hours on the 0.8-mile Spice Bush Trail or the 2.6-mile Lost Hill Trail. Both trails are rated as moderate and have natural surfaces. Because the trail heads are near each other, combining the trails in one hike is a convenient option.

At St. Francois State Park in Bonne Terre, the 2-8-mile Mooner’s Trail follows the narrow valley of Coonville Creek and its tributaries. The 3.1-mile Swimming Deer Trail travels along Big River for about a mile before climbing back up the ridge to return to the trail head.

The 3-mile loop of the Pike Run Trail offers an additional challenge of nature riddles and trivia to solve along the way. The full length of the Pike Run Trail is more than 10 miles, so make sure to find the kiosk at the trail head to start the 3-mile challenge trail. St. Francois State Park is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In Ste. Genevieve County, Hawn State Park offers all the challenges hikers could want in one day. The Overlook Trail is only about 100 yards long and paved for everyone to have access. The Pickle Creek Trail is a 0.7-mile linear trail, meaning that you go out and back on the same route. Its natural surface is rugged with big rocks to maneuver around and over along the creek side route.

The White Oak Trail, 3.8 miles long and rated as moderate, is a loop trail marked counter-clockwise with orange trail markers. Two connector trails lead to the park’s Whispering Pine Trail.

The 9.1-mile Whispering Pine Trail is considered one of the best hiking and backpacking trails in Missouri. This rugged, multi-loop trail has an estimated completion time of 9 hours and 30 minutes. Hawn is open in the winter from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (9 hours and 30 minutes) so you might want to save that trip for days that are longer than Jan. 1 or consider shortening the route through one of the connector trails.

Like many things in 2020, we have had to find ways to make the best of the situation, and this year’s First Day Hikes are trying something new while continuing an annual tradition.

John Winkelman is Marketing Manager for Liguori Publications near Barnhart, Mo., and the Associate Editor for Outdoor Guide Magazine. If you have story ideas to share for the Leader outdoor news page, e-mail, and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.