For my wife and I, having our kids love the outdoors was an absolute necessity. Luckily it has worked out nicely and our boys all love heading out for fun in the outdoors. The key is making sure you pick activities kids love but still provide you the enjoyment and relaxation you are looking for. Key things kids need to enjoy the outdoors: Water, Animals, Trains, Scavenger Hunts, and Rocks (from boulders to climb to pebbles to throw in water).
The Obvious Choices
Nobody needs us to tell them that The St. Louis Zoo is an awesome place to take kids. St. Louis is blessed with lots of great kid-oriented major attractions everyone already knows about. We are not at all saying these places aren’t incredibly wonderful, they are, but we are hoping to bring you some new and more adventurous options. So, here, in very brief form, are the more obvious choices around St. Louis where you should totally have already taken your kids and probably should do so again sometime soon…
- The City Museum – It’s a stretch to call this an “Outdoor” experience but it has “The Roof” and “Monstocity” and is definitely an adventure and definitely awesome. So if you haven’t been there with kids, go!
- St. Louis Zoo – Consistently one of the top rated Zoos in the country and, it’s FREE (well, funded by a tiny sales tax in the City and County and SOOO worth it).
- Forest Park – So much amazing stuff to explore
- City Garden – In the heart of downtown. Fountains to play in, man-made waterfall, and fun, interactive art in a wonderful setting.
- Grants Farm – Animals, trams, shows, goat feeding, free beer (kids love beer!), and more.
- The St. Louis Aquarium – Not technically outside but… It’s a bit on the small side but very well done.
- Children’s Garden at Missouri Botanical Garden (water play)
- Butterfly House (Butterflies, Plants, Carousel)
- Meramec Caverns – A cave, yes, but like, fancy and stuff. Lots of lighting, safety features, and cleanliness. You could go in your Sunday best and come out looking fresh as a daisy. Not something to be said of most caves. But still, COOL!
- Purina Farms (Animals)
Top 10 List of places to take young kids for outdoor adventures
10. Museum of Transportation (Activities: Trains | Drive Time: 30 minutes)
Boys love trains (I’m sure some girls do to). This place has lots of great old ones you can explore. A mini one you can ride. Train oriented games and toys. Trains, trains, trains!
9. Powder Valley (Activities: Animals, Nature Education, Hiking | Drive Time: 20 minutes)
Great visitors center with lots of cool animals, both living (bees, birds, turtles, fish) and dead (taxidermied, skulls, and pelts). Nice short hikes that kids enjoy. The longest hike, the 2.4 mile Hickory Ridge Loop, follows along a wonderful crystal clear creek that I’ve never seen without water flowing through it for about a half mile.
8. Pere Marquette State Park (Activities: Hiking, Bird-Watching, Scenic Drive, Living History | Drive Time: 1 hour)
Amazing overlooks of the Mississippi River valley without having to hike far, spectacular drive along Great River Road, great options for food and treats in Grafton. Learn More…
7. Mastodon State Historic Site (Activities: Wading, cool hikes | Drive Time: 30 minutes)
Kids imaginations explode when they learn about the pit of dinosaur bones discovered at Mastodon State Historic Site. Amazing to picture our area with Mastodons roaming the area. But, for most young kids, the real draw will be the crystal clear creek perfect for little people to explore, cool off, and enjoy. Learn More…
6. Red Bluff Campground (Activities: Wading, Swimming, Fishing, Hiking, Camping | Drive Time: 90 minutes)
Known for the towering Red Bluff that runs along the Huzzah Creek in the middle of the campground, Red Bluff campground is a perfect fit for families with young kids because the Huzzah is nice and shallow with a gentle current in most spots throughout this area which allows kids to explore to their hearts content. My kids build dams and paths and pools with the gravel. They catch crawdads and tadpoles. They float on rafts in the currents. They jump from rocks and rope swings. It’s a great place to spend a day. I recommend camping too as it is a lot of driving for a single day.
5. Hawn State Park (Activities: Hiking, Wading, Camping, Rock Formations | Drive Time: 75 minutes)
Kids love exploring Pickle Creek and River Aux Vases. The Pickle Creek trail is always wonderful but my boys also love exploring the area along the river and bluffs that’s near the campground. Learn More…
4. Castlewood (Activities: Hiking, Wading, Beginner Mountain Biking | Drive Time: 35 minutes)
One of the most popular parks in the St. Louis area and for good reason. So much to do at Castlewood. We love hiking along Kiefer Creek and then winding our way up to the bluffs overlooking the Meramec River. I introduced my boys to “Mountain Biking” on the River Scene trail at Castlewood that is flat, smooth, and easy but has fun dips and bumps to keep the kids entertained. You can swim in the Meramec here at a great beach (but do be reasonably cautious as you always should with kids and water) and wade and swim at Kiefer Creek.
3. Lone Elk State Park (Activities: See Bison and Elk | Drive Time: 25 minutes)
See majestic massive animals up close from your car and/or on foot in a very natural environment. This is a particularly nice option on cold and rainy days to get out of the house as you can see everything from your car.
2. Pickle Springs Natural Area (Activities: Hiking, Rock Scrambling, Creek Play | Drive Time: 80 minutes)
A fairly short hike but with so much to see. My kids love climbing around, through, and under the fantastic rock formations. They enjoy the many sites along the trail. It feels a bit like a different world once you enter “The Slot”. Learn More…
1. Wabash Frisco Pacific Railroad (Activities: Trains | Drive Time: 35 Minutes )
My boys adored everything about this place. Mini-trains that take you on a beautiful journey through woods along the Meramec River. This volunteer run operation in Glenco Missouri has so much to offer. Do note though it only runs on Sunday’s during the warmer months. Make sure to check their website to ensure they will be open. Learn More…
Add Ice Cream at the end to make it a positive experience – don’t use this as an incentive to keep going, just add it, unannounced at the end to make it positive.