Take a hike, Tigers: Visit trails and parks in Columbia

An abundance of outdoor leisure activities await residents of Columbia.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department manages 3,500 acres in 75 parks. These outdoor spaces provide a respite from the constant activity on the MU campus and the city’s downtown area.

Other green spaces can be found on the campus itself. Here are some popular parks that Columbia offers.

Peace Park

Located just outside the heart of downtown Columbia and steps from MU’s campus is a quaint park that is beloved by MU students and the local community. The small creek that runs through Peace Park sets a calming tone for its patrons. Peace Park is a go-to outdoor yoga spot in town and hosts Earth Day festivities along with other on-campus events.

The park has no official marking denoting its title but has a rich history for its namesake. During the protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s, Peace Park was the setting for demonstrations by students and staff in opposition to the war efforts.

A year after the Kent State University protest shooting, a peaceful march was organized at MU to commemorate the student lives that were lost. After the march, the community gathered in the park and set up a memorial of rocks in the shape of a peace sign as an homage to those who perished. Previously known as McAlester Park, it was renamed Peace Park in 1970, according to university archives.

This park is a nearby place for a picnic or to take a Shakespeare’s pizza and enjoy the weather. There are benches where a student can study, read or just take in the greenery.

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Stephens Lake Park

On Broadway, just beyond Boone Hospital Center, lies this sprawling green area with its signature lake at the center. A gathering place during all seasons, Stephens Lake draws people in with its multiple playgrounds, art installations, gardens, trails and picnic pavilions.

A small hammock village is open for those to set up their personal lounging apparatus. From May 1 to Sept. 30 every year, the park’s swimming beach and spraygrounds are open, free to the public.

This park is also home to the annual Roots N Blues music festival. During the winter months, the park’s hill on the east side is a renowned sledding destination for college students and families alike.

Two different trails run through Stephens Lake Park. The 0.6-mile loop around the inner lake is divided by a boardwalk that cuts across the lake and provides a canopy where patrons can fish or sit and enjoy the view. Surrounding the park is the 1.7-mile perimeter trail.

Various wooded areas, open fields and art pieces can be found along the trail. Both trails are open to cyclists, walkers and joggers.

MKT Trail

This 8.9-mile trail is a staple in the Columbia community. Originally a railroad track, the MKT connects to the state of Missouri’s Katy Trail, which links St. Charles in the St. Louis suburbs to Clinton just southeast of Kansas City.

The MKT entrance at Fourth and Cherry streets features Flat Branch Park, a small park with a playground, gazebo and sculptures.

This entrance is a short walk from the quad and sits near the dorms and Greek life houses on the west side of campus.

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Strolling along this trail you’ll find bridges over small creeks, spots to rest on benches and other trail offshoots.

On any given day, weather permitting, dozens of runners, bikers, families and more can be seen taking advantage of the trail’s benefits.

Freshman student Haley Bieser, a health sciences major from Cape Girardeau, is an avid user of this trail and often goes on runs with her friends there.

“I’m not a huge runner, but when I went it wasn’t bad because we had a super pretty trail to run on,” Bieser said.

Stephen Noha, a sophomore journalism student from Naperville, Illinois, also takes advantage of the trails in close proximity to campus. “I like the MKT trail because I like to walk around outside and take in nature, especially during the spring,” Noha said.

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

A quick car ride south of campus is this popular hiking destination. Eight different trails for biking, walking and horseback riding are available and cover a wide array of scenery.

The Devils Icebox Trail is easily one of the most popular hiking destinations in Columbia. Wooden stairs and viewing platforms take hikers down to an underground stream and natural rock tunnel to explore.

The cool, shaded rocks and changing elevation are a great escape on a hot Missouri day.

“Devils Icebox is my favorite place that I’ve been in Columbia so far,” Bieser said. “I think these places are so important and beneficial for students. It lets us get our minds off school work and stress and just get off campus for a while and get a change of scenery.”

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Dozens more outdoor spaces with recreation opportunities lie within the city limits. Columbia has no shortage of sport fields and courts, nature sanctuaries, lakes, ponds and trails for students to discover. Outdoor recreation is a vital component maintaining a healthy lifestyle in college.

“Spending time outside in the sun is healthy and it allows people to interact outside a school setting,” Noha said.


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About the Author: Tung Chi