Take a hike.
Jefferson County is dotted with great places for walks in the woods or along the water, and even when they are crowded, you can still find plenty of space and solitude.
The Valley View Glades Natural Area takes in more than 225 acres, so you can put a lot of people on that much property and still maintain your distance. The hiking trail provides access to – or at least a panoramic view of – almost every square foot of the scenery.
We explored it on a warm late winter day and found it fantastic, but its best days are yet to come. Spring will bring the first wildflowers and those little beauties will bloom through summer. Of course, the autumn colors will abound on the forested ridges that surround the glade and connect the valleys.
The trail is listed as 2.5 miles, but our Fitbit tracking devices gave us credit for more than three miles before we finished the loop. The greatest elevation changes are less than 200 feet, yet some areas are a bit steep or require long steps up or down.
Some loose rocks may be found at creek crossings, and exposed roots or stumble stones are not uncommon even on the flat parts of the trail. There are a lot of great vistas, but hikers should not get distracted and always be aware of their footing.
From the parking lot, the trail drops down about 50 feet before coming to an intersection that allows walking the loop in either direction. Also, at the junction is the first full view of the two largest glade areas.
The scene is unique in the world and less common than it once was in the area we now call Jefferson County. Similar topography can be found in a two- to five-mile-wide band from about Morse Mill near the Big River south and east into Ste. Genevieve County, but urban expansion from St. Louis has eliminated many of the natural areas.
The glades are characterized by thin soil with bedrock near the surface. In the case of these Jefferson County glades, the stones you see are called Jefferson City-Cotter dolomite and are estimated to be more than 400 million years old. Glades are also found in the Branson area of Missouri, where they are on steep slopes often called bald knobs.
Even though there are lots of big, old rocks at the surface, the landscape is delicate because of the thin soil available for plants. The exposed surfaces do not hold moisture well and through the heat of the summer drought can cause significant challenge. Some plants and animals have adapted to the unique circumstances.
Glades are dominated by long-stemmed grasses, and abundant wildflowers like black-eyed Susans and glade coneflowers provide color to the landscape. Fremont’s leather flower only appears in this area of Missouri.
The forest areas are mostly oak and hickory with other natives like flowering dogwoods and fragrant sumac. Eastern red cedar trees are often removed because they can overtake glade and prairie areas. Controlled burning is also used as a method to maintain the area’s native plants.
We chose the clockwise path, and at the bottom of the first valley we were rewarded with a great intermittent stream and small waterfall over a rock ledge. The hike goes back up hill and into the eastern edge of the glade that you can see from the trailhead. Another nice surprise is an additional glade to view and visit on the opposite side of the ridge.
Along the area’s eastern border, the trail follows an old service road for a nice flat stretch of walking before going back down and up a series of gullies to get back to the entrance.
We encountered quite a few people hiking in the opposite direction. Many had their dogs on leashes as required, and unlike a few other recent area hikes, I only saw paw prints as evidence that a pet has passed by. (Make sure you clean up after your animals when hiking.)
There were even a few people who were running on the trail. More power to them, but it was a good enough workout for me to just walk and climb the trail. Plus, it’s a lot easier to enjoy the scenery at the slower pace.
Valley View Glades Natural area is on Hwy. B about four miles west of Hillsboro and Hwy. 21.
John J. Winkelman is community engagement manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. If you have news for the Leader’s Outdoor News page, e-mail email@example.com and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.