Trail Running in St. Louis

Destination Dirt logoThe St. Louis Arch, also known at The Gateway to the West sits right on top of the muddy Mississippi River. Don’t let the flat nature of this flowing body of water confuse you as to what the area has in store for you. The St. Louis area is loaded with miles upon miles of every type of trail imaginable. Paved, gravel, rolling prairie, smooth packed dirt, and gnarly technical single track is all within your grasps when you enter the largest city in the “Show-Me-State” of Missouri. Not only do the trails around the city offer variety, but they also ton of learning opportunities and a path through history.

The first place we’ll look at is Forest Park. Located just a few miles west of downtown you will find almost 1300 acres of park to explore. Through the park you will find many miles of winding blacktop and crushed limestone paths to explore the various venues throughout the park like the St. Louis Zoo, the St. Louis Science Center, the Art Museum along with many other attractions for this historical park that opened in 1876 and served as the site of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (better known at the Worlds Fair) in 1904.

Looking to get a little closer to nature? If so, then “Head West Young Man!” Just west of the city you start to work your way to the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. Chubb Trail is located in West Tyson Park and easily accessible from Exit 266 off of Interstate 44. The Chubb Trail is a trail runner’s delight. Chubb has of all sorts of variety, including sharp rocky footing on steep descents to winding dirt paths that hugs the banks of the Meramec River. The Chubb Trail is a 13 mile out-and-back that will take you from West Tyson Park to Lone Elk Park.

If you are feeling adventurous, you can even head into Lone Elk Park to cruise along some single track and run through the herd of Elk inside the park. You also have the option to jump onto some of the intersecting trails that Chubb connects with to cover even more ground, including the Castlewood Loop and the 3-mile Flint Quarry Loop. Chubb Trail is home to the St. Louis Ultrarunners Group (SLUGS) popular Double Chubb 50k/25k, which sold out in a little less than two weeks this year.

bluff to Meramec River

Heading down the bluff to the Meramec River.

Really want to test what the St. Louis area has to offer for technical trail running? Then head out to the Green Rock Trail. Green Rock is a 10 mile one-way singe track jaunt that will have you climbing and descending 2,000′ each while dancing around sharp limestone and bombing down steep downhills along the way. There are two trailheads, one off of Fox Creek Road and one in the Rockwoods Reservation.

Green Rock Trail is a favorite training ground for the SLUGS and is located next to Six Flags theme park. You can even hear the roller coasters in the background when you crest some of the tallest climbs. Come prepared. Ticks can be out in full force in the summer months so you’ll want to bring some bug repellent. Also, don’t take this trail lightly. Even the swiftest of the SLUGS are pleased to break the 4-hour mark when taking on the whole 20 miles.

Green Rock Trail Head Fox Creek

Green Rock Trail Head at Fox Creek.

For those looking to really get in some serious miles, you might want to think about a cross state trek by means of the Katy Trail. The Katy Trail is the nation’s longest Rails to Trails project. The trail starts in St. Charles, MO and finishes over 225 miles later in Clinton, MO, almost crossing the entire width of the state. The Katy Trail covers some of the route taken by Lewis and Clark as it follows along the Missouri River. There are many maps and resources available to help you navigate the trail as well as learn some history along the way.

Other Trail Systems
Since St. Louis sits right on the state line between Missouri and Illinois, it’s just a short drive to take advantage of some on the trails on the other side of the river in Madison County.

  • Madison County Trails – Over 85 miles of paved and pea gravel trails running through Madison County, Illinois are available to keep you moving and safely out of traffic.
  • SIUE Trail System – Located on the campus of Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, IL you can find lots of winding single track to keep you busy.
  • Silver Lake Nature Trail – Just off of Interstate 70 is 4.5 miles lollipop single track trail in Highland, Illinois.

Trail Resources

  • MoTrails – An excellent resource for lots of trails in Missouri. Check out the EastCentral Region section for info around St. Louis.
  • St. Louis Ultrarunners Group – A friendly group of folks with great knowledge of the area and always happy to show someone around.
  • Gateway Off Road Cyclists – A great group of mountain bike riders that take great pride in riding and maintaining the trails.

SLUG Ultramarathons

St. Louis is home to the St. Louis Ultrarunners Group, so finding an ultra or five is not hard to do. Along with the normal Fat Ass and Fun Runs that take place throughout the year, The SLUGS also put on:

Non-SLUG Ultramarathons

Non-Ultradistance Trail Races

Call for Input and Questions
We’d love for folks who have trail run in the St. Louis metro area to share their favorite local trails and trail running resources. We’d especially love to know the particulars of your favorite routes as well as any great trail systems that we did not include.

For those of you knew to trail running in St. Louis or who may be visiting the town, please share any questions you have and we’ll try to find an answer for you.

Travis Liles

resides in Portland, Oregon where he is a husband, father, and a technical specialist for a software company. In his spare time, he is exploring his new home in the Pacific Northwest, getting more vertical but still not living in the thin air, while producing "Trail Trials with Travis Liles" video gear reviews for iRunFar.

There are 6 comments

  1. Stephen J

    Another "Non-Slug" Ultra:

    The Columbia Track Club in Columbia, MO (about 2 hrs from St. Louis) hosts the RockBridge Revenge Trail race on Oct 10, 2010. There is a 7mi, 25k and 50k option this year.

    SLUG does a great job, I ran the Spirit of the Osage 50k a couple years ago…Great race!


  2. David Bennett

    Additional trails in the area:

    St. Charles County Parks manages several parks with single track trails:

    Also in St. Charles county there are a couple of excellent loop trails in the Weldon Spring Conservation Area, the Lewis and Clark (8 and 5 miles), and Lost Valley (10 miles with shorter options). These trails are within a couple miles of each other and the Katy Trail can be used as a connector between them.

    A new SLUG 50K race will soon be held at Lost Valley!

  3. Jeremy Slatton

    Here's my website which I've had up for a few years. Might be helpful to some: stl trail running.

    Great review! Thanks for shining the spotlight on STL!

  4. Stacy

    Really good feature, but it reflects typical Midwestern understatement. Take it from someone who has lived and run throughout the mountain west … and run much more broadly than that … and also lived in StL for four years … the trails in the St. Louis area are excellent. Much, much better than you probably think. Sure, there aren't really big summit vistas, but there are endless miles of really engaging, challenging ribbon through dense deciduous forest with occasional views from the limestone bluffs. The Berryman loop in particular definitely qualifies as worthy of the 'destination' label.

  5. Katie

    I just wanted to add to this article that many of the parks/trails mentioned are up for closure in St Louis County due to budget cuts. They include Greensfelder, which contains part of the Green Rock Trail, West Tyson and Lone Elk park, which both contain the Chubb Trail.

    In total, 23 of the county's 50 parks are facing closure/sale and over 100 jobs will be lost. There has been a huge public backlash towards this plan, so hopefully a way can be found to save the parks and employees.

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