Ever feel like you’re living in a vacuum? Or a fishbowl? Or fighting your way through a mob scene in a horror movie? Let me tell you, I can relate. Been there and done that. But those feelings are easy to overcome. How? The answer is simple, inexpensive and no appointment is necessary: get out and commune with nature.
Missouri abounds with geographic areas that have not been largely altered by humans, or which endure despite human interference. These are great locations for calm, quiet relaxation, away from crowds and the pressure of civilization (although you probably won’t be alone).
Sometimes you just need to get away from it all. To help you accomplish that, here are eight suggestions for enjoying nature in Missouri.
1: Caves.Yes, I know, caves are not technically ‘outdoors’; but they are nature at its pristine best. Where else can you see living formations that are millions of years old and still growing? Missouri is known as “the cave state” for good reason: there are more than 6,100 known caves in Missouri.
2: Springs. Missouri is blessed with an abundance of springs. The Ozarks regions of Missouri contain one of the greatest concentrations of natural springs in the United States; more than 3,000 are recorded. The biggest, aptly named Big Spring, is one of the largest in the world, with an average daily discharge of 276 million gallons and a daily maximum flow of 840 million gallons.
3: Trails. Trails afford boundless opportunities to explore nature on foot, by ATV or bicycle, even on horseback. There are literally hundreds . . . no, thousands . . . spotted throughout Missouri. You’ll find them in city parks and in remote wilderness areas, along streams and atop bluffs, covering virtually any type of terrain you desire. The Katy Trail is the longest rails-to-trails walking and biking trail in the U.S.
4: Mark Twain National Forest. Limitless recreational activities, with nature all around you, are found in the 1.5 million acres of woodlands comprising the Mark Twain National Forest. Talk about getting away from the hustle and bustle, this is the place . . . perhaps I should say, these are the places.
5: Missouri State Parks. Our 51 State Parks preserve Missouri’s outstanding natural landscapes and cultural landmarks. Variety is the name of the game, with more than 200,000 acres throughout the state, ranging from deep forests to open glades, vast prairies to towering bluffs, streams and lakes to 840 miles of trails . . . and all of the recreational opportunities compatible with these resources.
6: Missouri Natural Areas. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) manages 169 designated Natural Areas, typically open from sunrise to sunset year-round. Natural areas are great places to discover nature, birds, plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, fishes, geology and other aspect of our state’s natural history.
7: National Wildlife Refuges. There are ten National Wildlife Refuges in Missouri, totaling more than 60,831 acres. They protect an amazing array of wetlands, prairies, rivers and forest habitat. One, the Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, includes a congressionally designated Wilderness Area.
8: Botanical Gardens. Closer to civilization, major botanical gardens maintain and display a vast variety of nature and plants. They are relaxing, soothing places to just take it easy. The Missouri Botanical Garden, in St. Louis, was founded in 1859; it is the nation’s oldest botanical garden in continuous operation. Powell Gardens, southeast of Kansas City, encompasses 915 acres of rolling hills, native plantings of grasses, trees, and wildflowers, seasonal display gardens, nature trails, lakes and ponds. The Missouri State Arboretum, on the campus of Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, contains more than 1,300 trees, representing more than 125 species.
There are many other outdoor and nature activities available in the Show-Me State. The important point is, get out and enjoy them. Quite often the best thing to do is to do nothing. All you need is a bottle of water, sunscreen and insect spray, some good walking shoes or hiking boots, and an active attitude aimed at . . . enjoying Missouri’s great outdoors.