Summertime St. Louis: Free Parking. Get out there and explore the lush greenways of the St. Louis region.

May 20, 2009 at 4:00 am

The green spaces throughout the city and county are lush, welcome oases from unforgiving concrete. Parks simultaneously serve as sources of respite and entertainment: Nary a week goes by in the summer that doesn't see Forest Park hosting a concert or three, and Laumeier Sculpture Park is the perfect place for an afternoon of wondrous, whimsical art.

But many lesser-known parks dot the area. The county alone boasts some 12,000 acres of parkland, and many of its trails lay underused. But this year, the St. Louis County Parks Department hopes to get more shoes on the ground through its 30-30 Hikes program. The 30 trails that comprise the program offer hikes that are a doable, beautiful 30 minutes.

If all hikes are completed, 30-30 participants will have trekked some 55 picturesque miles. Find a link to a printable map of participating parks and trails that are taking part in the program at As a bit of inspiration, here are a few oft-overlooked places to explore in the city and county.

As Allenton Road winds up a hill, the looming, rickety wooden tracks of Six Flags' Screamin' Eagle roller coaster give way to the tall, sturdy trees of Greensfelder Park (4515 Hencken Road, Pacific). Visitors can choose from among eight different trails that range from one to ten miles, and from easy to difficult in challenge level. For an aerial test of nerves, there's an alpine tower that's ideal for team-building exercises (call 314-638-2100 for reservations).
Perfect for: Horseback riding. Greensfelder's trails are all equine friendly, plus lessons and boarding services are available (call 636-245-8135).

Take it easy on the gas pedal on your way into Lone Elk Park (1 Lone Elk Park Road, Valley Park), and drop a few bucks into a discreet donation box: Though it's free to enter, this park is worth paying for. Bison roam here, among these 500-plus acres of land, as do elk, ducks, Canada geese, white-tailed deer and more. You can watch the animals from the park's observation tower that's near the entrance, or view them from your vehicle as you slowly putter your way through the hilly, well-kempt grounds.
Perfect for: Science sleuths. In Lone Elk's visitors' center, there are "mystery boxes" that contain various natural elements you might encounter in the park. Blindly feel what's inside, and use touch to make your best guess of the boxes' contents.

Guests can almost still smell the fresh cuts of lumber that were used to construct Riverside Shelter and the other brand-new amenities at Cliff Cave Park (806 Cliff Cave Road). The park, located in Oakville, is a mixed bag of Missouri topography with its sinkholes, wetlands and forest. The most striking features, though, are the park's namesake opposites, its high cliff sides and deep, rambling caves (reservations are required for cave exploration; call 314-963-9211).
Perfect for: Large group outings (reserve Riverside Shelter by calling 314-615-4386), or an afternoon alone, book in hand, watching the barges trudge upriver.

Green, white and red reminders of the Hill's heritage are everywhere in and around Berra Park (Wilson and Sublette avenues) — on banners that are hoisted like proud sails; the tricolor's also wrapped around drinking fountains and light poles. Berra is on the outer edge of the Hill, but still smack in the middle of a neighborhood, so be a courteous parker (the kind eyes on the bust of Louis G. Berra are watching). Grab lunch at Gioia's Deli (1934 Macklind Avenue; 314-776-9410) adjacent to the park, walk across the street, and grab a seat at Berra's picnic tables or atop the peeling green bleachers. You might even catch a pickup baseball game in the ball field.
Perfect for: A charming step back in time. It's a good reminder for kids who've forgotten the simple joys that are found in old-school playgrounds, like squeaky swings, concrete tunnels and wobbly chain ladders.

At less than three acres, Fox Park is one of the city's smaller spaces, and appropriately enough, it's got an eye turned toward the little ones: There are squat basketball hoops, swings and mini playground equipment. Adjacent to it is the softball field at PAL (Police Association League) Memorial Park (2705 Shenandoah Avenue). The facility comes equipped with lights and a real-deal scoreboard. Official Cardinals logos are found here and there (the team contributed funds for the park's completion), which provides an extra helping of authenticity.
Perfect for: Little kids who've got big-league aspirations.

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