Explore these 10 great natural attractions in and around St. Louis

Meramac Caverns is a fascintating places to visit that is near St. Louis. (Photo by Mark Stachiew)

St. Louis has plenty of urban attractions for the visitor, but if you’re looking to get outside and breathe some fresh air, the city and the surrounding region boast a remarkable number of attractions that are sure to delight you. Here are 10 worth exploring:

Paddle the Mississippi in a voyageur canoe

The mighty Mississippi River runs right through St. Louis, but because of how the city developed over time, not much of it is accessible to the public. Since 2002, Big Muddy Adventures has been helping visitors and locals reconnect with this historic waterway with guided paddling expeditions in hand-built freighter canoes that resemble those used by the voyageurs who plied these waters during the fur-trading era. It’s the perfect way to learn why St. Louis is where it is and how it came to be the city it is today.

Get up close to some of the world’s most endangered wolves

St. Louis lays claim to many famous people, but those of a certain generation will certainly remember Marlin Perkins of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. The star of this Sunday-night staple of American television and his wife Carol went on to establish the Endangered Wolf Center which is located a short drive from the city in Eureka. To this day, the staff of the centre work tirelessly to help expand the populations of critically endangered wolf species like the red wolf and the Mexican wolf. Visitors are welcome to tour the centre to learn about the work they do and see some of the beautiful animals they house.

Walk across a bridge that was part of Route 66

The St. Louis region is blessed with an abundance of beautiful green spaces, but like wild spaces everywhere, these habitats are fragmented. The Great Rivers Greenway project aims to correct that by building trails and paths that connect them in order to make them more accessible to the public. To date, there is a network of 135 miles of trails that lovers of the outdoors are free to explore. The non-profit’s goal is to increase the size of the network to 600 miles. One of the most scenic spots to visit is the mile-long Old Chain of Rocks Bridge that was once part of historic Route 66. From the span you can spot the skyline of St. Louis in the distance, including the iconic St. Louis Arch.

Count the birds at one of America’s birding hotspots

Whether you’re a casual birdwatcher or a more serious birder, the Audubon Center at Riverlands should not be missed. Sitting on land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers adjacent to the Mississippi River and the Great Rivers confluence, this sprawling habitat is a magnet for many species of birds. Many can be found there year-round, but because the greenspace sits along a major migration flyway, species from far and wide stop here to rest during their long journeys.

Admire the wildflower garden at Shaw Nature Reserve

An extension of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Shaw Nature Reserve offers visitors a chance to experience Missouri’s rich biological heritage. Dedicated to native habitat management and restoration, the Nature Reserve offers 14 miles of hiking trails through a diversity of Ozark Border landscapes, including floodplain forest, upland woods, dolomite glades, tallgrass prairie, oak-hickory woodlands and savannas, and wetlands. One of the highlights is their delightful wildflower garden where you can admire native blossoms and learn how to plant local flowers in your own garden.

Explore the caverns where the outlaw Jesse James hid from the law

With its proximity to the former Route 66, Meramac Caverns has long been a popular stop for tourists looking for a cool diversion on a hot summer day. It also happens to be where the infamous outlaw Jesse James once hid out from lawmen looking to arrest him and his brother for a robbery. You’ll learn the story as you tour this vast underground cave complex that exudes an other-worldly beauty with its incredible displays of stalactites and stalagmites. When you’re done spelunking, they also offer an exciting zipline tour and rafting trips on the nearby Meramac River.

Visit a park where the elk and the bison play

Once used as a spot to test and store ammunition during the Second World War, this land was eventually converted into a wildlife management area where herds of elk and bison were established. During the 1950s, the animals were destroyed, but one lone bull elk survived, giving rise to the park’s current name, Lone Elk Park. Today, numerous elk, bison, wild turkey, waterfowl and deer thrive on the park’s 546 acres. It also boasts several beautiful trails including some that are part of The 30/30 Hikes Program which designates 30 trails all over the St. Louis County area that take approximately 30 minutes to complete.

Talk to exotic birds at the World Bird Sanctuary

The non-profit World Bird Sanctuary is primarily a raptor rehabilitation centre where injured hawks, eagles and owls are nursed back to health and reintroduced to the wild. It also houses several other more exotic birds, some of which are critically endangered and part of international breeding efforts to keep them from going extinct. Visitors are welcome to tour their premises and get up close with the many beautiful and curious birds they house.

Smell the corpse flower bloom at Missouri Botanical Garden

The Missouri Botanical Garden is one of the oldest botanical institutions in the United States. Founded in 1859, it spans 79 acres and offers a variety of beautifully curated gardens, conservatories and educational facilities. One of its highlights is the Climatron, a geodesic dome conservatory that recreates a tropical rainforest environment. If you’re lucky, the corpse flower will be in bloom. Native to Indonesia, this impressively large flower is known for the intense, foul odour which mimics rotting flesh to attract pollinators such as flies

Established in 1876, Forest Park is a green oasis in the city, hosting numerous events and activities year-round like the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival. A beloved destination for both locals and visitors, the park also houses the Saint Louis Zoo, Art Museum, Science Center, History Museum and the Muny Amphitheatre. The park features picturesque landscapes with lakes, forests and trails, providing ample opportunities for outdoor recreation. Other landmarks to look out for include the Jewel Box greenhouse and the World’s Fair Pavilion.

DON’T MISS: Surprising St. Louis is a city filled with unforgettable attractions

Mark Stachiew

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