John Winkelman

John Winkelman

Jefferson County residents have many local options for the annual First Day Hikes, and since the program is a national initiative the most adventurous among us can find places to go throughout the country.

The two hikes inside Jefferson County’s borders exemplify the diversity of possibilities. The event at Mastodon State Historic Site in Imperial is a veritable walk in the park compared to the more challenging trip to Don Robinson State Park for 2.5 miles on the Sandstone Canyon Trail.

At 9 a.m. on Jan. 1, a guided hike will begin at the picnic area at Mastodon off Seckman Road. Participants will follow the 0.8-mile Spring Branch Trail Loop through the wooded area looking at natural features and some remnants of old buildings. The walk stays in the mostly flat Rock Creek Valley the whole time.

One hour later at Don Robinson near Cedar Hill, hikers will begin a trek over the dirt path, rocky surfaces and uneven terrain with more than 200 feet of elevation change. Sturdy hiking boots are recommended at Don Robinson, while just about any old pair of shoes you don’t mind getting a little dirty would be OK at Mastodon.

Two other 10 a.m. events are planned and even though they are nearly an equal length of about one mile they also offer diverse features. At St. Joe State Park near Park Hills, hikers will go off the trail from the Harris Branch trailhead parking lot off Pimville Road to explore remains of the old lead mine structures near the historic Elvins community.

Meanwhile at Babler Memorial State Park north of Eureka hikers will follow the 1.25-mile Hawthorn Trail through multiple geologic features. The loop begins and ends at the Alta Shelter.

Depending on which morning hike you choose, there is a chance you could get your second First Day Hike at 1 p.m.

The closest of the afternoon options is a one-mile walk on the lower portion of the 1000 Steps Trail at Washington State Park. Following both natural and road surfaces interpretive staff will guide the hike and discuss cultural and natural features found in the park.

At Robertville State Park west of Pacific a nice little 0.8-mile hike will follow the Spice Bush Trail to explore the forest along the Meramec River bottomland.

For more of a challenge, the hike at St. Francois State Park in Bonne Terre is planned for the 3.15-mile Swimming Deer Trail. The event is expected to take about two hours and will travel the bottomland along Big River and climb the bluffs for some scenic overlooks.  

The longest hike in the region is planned at Hawn State Park in Ste. Genevieve County. The 4-mile Whispering Pines Trail travels to the highest points of the park through mixed hardwood and shortleaf pine woodlands.

Most of the hikes offer refreshments before or after the event, but it is recommended that hikers bring their own water. In case of extreme weather, the hikes could be canceled, but they will be held in cold conditions, so hikers are advised to dress appropriately for the conditions of the day.

Registration is not required for the hikes, but by checking in ahead of time or calling the park in advance, you could get notification in case the event is canceled.

For those looking for adventure a little further from home there are 31 total events in Missouri. Ha Ha Tonka State Park near Camdenton is one of the best places to visit any time of the year, and two segments of the Katy Trail will host hikes. The new Echo Bluff and Current River state parks are planning a challenge that includes a last-day hike, first-day hike and first-day float trip on the Current River.

Now in its ninth year, the America’s State Parks First Day Hikes provide a chance to welcome the new year by enjoying the outdoors, getting a little exercise and connecting with nature. Last year nearly 55,000 people hiked a collective 133,000 miles throughout the country on the guided hikes.

To find out more about hikes in Missouri visit mostateparks.org, and to check out First Day Hikes around the country go to stateparks.org.

John J. Winkelman is community engagement manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. If you have news for the Leader’s Outdoor News page, e-mail ogmjohnw@aol.com and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.

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