On the first Saturday of June each year, the American Hiking Society encourages people to discover the healthy fun of spending time hiking, biking and horseback riding.
National Trails Day falls on June 2 this year, and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) bends over backwards to make it easy to celebrate the occasion. Conservation areas (CAs) have trails that range from short, wheelchair-accessible loops to more than 30 miles of interconnected loops and spurs. In all, CAs have more than 700 miles of foot, bicycle and equestrian trails on 136 CAs and 10 nature and education centers statewide. This includes 45 areas for horseback riding and 52 areas that allow cycling.
At their most basic, conservation-area trails consist of parking lots and trail markers on trees. Other CAs have facilities such as nature centers, self-guided interpretive trails, shooting ranges, scenic overlooks, fishing lakes, stream-fishing and boating accesses, campsites and privies. Some trails traverse unique landscapes that are part of the Missouri Natural Area system.
You can find a trail near you by contacting the nearest MDC office or use MDC’s conservation-area database (mdc.mo.gov/node/3392) to search for trails by type or by county and access area maps and area regulations.
MDC also sells Conservation Trails: A guide to Missouri’s Department of Conservation Trails. This 101-page book provides detailed information about 41 of the agency’s best trails, including maps and facility information, points of historical and geological interest and notes about plants and wildlife you may encounter. It is available at www.mdcnatureshop.com or at conservation nature centers for $5 plus tax and, if ordered online, shipping. Get a 15-percent discount with a Conservation Heritage Card.
Hiking is permitted on all designated trails. Horseback riding and cycling are limited to trails specially designated for these activities. However, public roads open to vehicular traffic are open to horseback riding and bicycling on CAs unless otherwise posted.
When hiking or riding a trail, follow these tips to help ensure a safe experience.
- Get a map and familiarize yourself with the CA you want to visit.
- Tell someone about your plans, including when you expect to return.
- Check weather conditions and avoid inclement weather.
- Dress appropriately.
- Learn to recognize possible plant and animal hazards such as poison ivy and ticks.
- Follow all area regulations.
- Leave only footprints and take only photographs.