• Kathy Schrenk

We had a break from the winter weather last weekend, so our group and possibly everyone else in the metro area decided to get outside for a bit before the football-related festivities began. Cliff Cave County Park is a popular spot on the Mississippi River with trails for every ability level. It's location close to the city center and its accessibility features make it incredibly popular. The parking lots were crammed full by 11 a.m. on the 70-degree February day. We had a big group for our Meetup.com event with kids ages 3 to 15. And we had lots of company on the paved and dirt trails from humans and pups alike.

Cliff Cave was closed for a while in the last couple years for construction. The county built a new series of trails and a footbridge to link trails on both sides of the road leading to the park. I've heard some people complain about the changes, saying they've "ruined" the park. I have a different view, though: there are so many places to hike on dirt trails away from crowds for those who are able. Just within a short drive of Cliff Cave are two locations on the other side of the river (Stemler Cave and Valmeyer) plus Mastodon State Historic Site to the south just to name a few. (Of course you can pick up my book for dozens more ideas!) My point is that there aren't dozens of parks with trails through pretty woods accessible to people in wheelchairs or those who can't walk on uneven surfaces, not to mention parents with strollers. But there are for those who can hike on dirt trails.

Maybe our group would have enjoyed a more rugged wilderness experience. But we didn't quite have time before the Super Bowl activities. Mud was also a concern after all the rain so the paved trails were a nice option.

The park is very now different then the description in Best Hikes with Kids St. Louis. To be clear, there are still dirt trails on the bluff above the cave and across the road below the overlook. It's got something for everyone -- but expect to share the trail with lots of people if it's a pretty day.

  • Kathy Schrenk

I’m excited to announce #KidHikeStl2020

Every month I’ll be giving away a copy of “Best Hikes with Kids St Louis and Beyond.” To be entered, post a photo of your kids (or grandkids, nieces, nephews, etc) on a hike by the end of the month with the hashtag #KidHikeStl2020. If you go on 20 different hikes in the St Louis region in 2020, you’ll be entered to win a hiking gear package to be giving away in December. So get hiking!

  • Kathy Schrenk

I love winter hiking. Most of the time it doesn't get frigidly cold in the St. Louis area so you can hike almost every weekend. And kids seem to thrive in the cold -- we've all seen the crazies at the bus stop on winter mornings in shorts. They handle freezing temps much better than heat and humidity. Just take a few easy steps to help you and your kids safely enjoy a winter hike.

* It's not cold-related but my number-one safety tip for winter hiking is to bring a headlamp. Dark sneaks up real fast in December and January. Even if you think you'll be back well before dark, things happen -- missed junctions, a twisted ankle -- and you're a lot more likely to get back safely with a light source. Plus they make great stocking-stuffers!

* Layer up: Obviously this is a big one. The more layers, the better. Everyone should wear a light base layer (t shirt usually) a second layer like a zip up or pullover fleece and a third layer that's warm but not crazy-heavy. Most kids winter coats work well for this. I'm crazy about my Patagonia Nano Puff jacket, pictured below. I've worn it all winter every winter since I bought it eight years ago. It packs down to nothing and you can find lots of good deals on them online, including on eBay. (They make a kids' version, too.)

* Stay hydrated: You won't be sweating like you do in the summer, but you and your kiddo will still be exercising so make sure to bring plenty of water.

* Don't forget sun protection: Even when it's overcast and the sun in low in the sky, some of those damaging rays still get through. Wear sunscreen.

You don't really need this much coverage for most winter hikes. (This was me at the start of a hike on a 25-degree day. I needed to knock out a few more hikes to finish my book. I had shed many of these layers after about 10 minutes of hiking.)