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Each week, KCUR's Adventure! newsletter brings you a new way to explore the Kansas City region.

It's time to dust off those trail boots. Here are some of the best hiking places around Kansas City

Fall foliage along Cliff Drive, Kansas City, Missouri.
Eric L Bowers
Kansas City Parks and Rec
Fall foliage along Cliff Drive, Kansas City, Missouri.

No matter the season, there are ample opportunities for hiking and outdoor adventures across the Kansas City region.

This story was first published in KCUR's Creative Adventure newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

Name a better sensation than crunching leaves underfoot on a snappy cool morning.

Here are just a few notable spaces where you can experience Missouri nature in its finest season. It is the Show-Me State, right? We’re talking about leaf-peeping, cave hopping and hiking.

Peeping leaves on the Byway

You’ve heard of Cliff Drive, but have you strolled up and down it while the leaves are becoming more vibrant versions of themselves?

Located in George E. Kessler Park in historic Northeast Kansas City, Cliff Drive rolls from The Paseo and Independence Avenue to Gladstone Boulevard. While you’re up there, you may as well stop at The Colonnade, a Beaux Arts-style open-air structure built by Henry Wright in 1908.

Of course, Cliff Drive was once open to vehicles — now, giant stones at the entrances block a car’s path. Bikes, strollers, wheelchairs and your own two feet are totally welcome.

Without the danger of city traffic, you’re free to roam.

Along with warm-hued leaves, get a view of East Bottoms and the Christopher S. Bond Bridge from Cliff Drive. And if rock climbing is your thing, there’s a sport climbing spot to be found, and a parking lot atop one of the area’s limestone bluffs.

The coolest part of Cliff Drive? The large waterfall along the path, which flows from a natural spring.

Cliff Drive Scenic Byway: near 3299 Cliff Drive Access Rd., Kansas City, Missouri

Caves rule everything around me

The sprawling natural rock bridge that gives Columbia, Missouri's Rock Bridge Memorial State Park its name.
Terry Robinson
The sprawling natural rock bridge that gives Columbia, Missouri's Rock Bridge Memorial State Park its name.

Did you know that Missouri has over 6,400 caves?

Some of the most well-known ones include Ozark Caverns at Lake of the Ozarks State Park and Fisher Cave at Meramec State Park. If you’re driving from Kansas City, these enigmatic underground systems are three and four hours away, respectively.

But Columbia, Missouri, is only two hours east down I-70, and the hikes at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park are some of the most popular in the state. The park gets its name from a sprawling natural rock bridge, which you’ll come upon as you walk the winding dirt paths along an ever-widening stream.

Once past the rock bridge, which was “separated from the rest of the cave system when a portion of the cave roof collapsed,” you’ll follow a boardwalk up into the trees. From on high, you can peer down into a collapsed sinkhole: the Devil’s Icebox Cave.

Though the cave is currently closed to protect the endangered gray bats that roost there, tours will likely begin again soon, allowing visitors to descend the steps leading into the sinkhole and stream. One distinct feature of the descent is the shock of cold air that hits you on the way down.

Until then, you can pick another trail to hike at Rock Bridge — there are tons to choose from, and they all cater to different experience levels. Gans Creek, for instance, is a 7.7-mile loop known for its blufftop views, calming pools of cool water and tall white oaks. Nature is healing!

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park: 5901 S. Hwy 163, Columbia, Missouri

Take a hike closer to home

Among the trees at the Parkville Nature Sanctuary, you’ll feel miles from Kansas City even if you're only 18 minutes away.
Laura Gilchrist
Among the trees at the Parkville Nature Sanctuary, you’ll feel miles from Kansas City even if you're only 18 minutes away.

Becoming one with nature proves difficult in a place as populous as Kansas City.

We do have some majorly beautiful green spaces — like Loose Park. We even have a dog park on top of a parking garage. (The downtown views there are good from a human perspective too.)

But when the temps duck below 80 degrees, you may want to escape the city’s hustle and bustle with a nearby walk in the woods.

One scenic place for a short hike is the Parkville Nature Sanctuary. Parking is plentiful, and the three miles of trails feel safe but not too busy. Out among the trees, you’ll feel miles away from anything industrial, though the 115-acre sanctuary is only 18 minutes from Kansas City.

Some trails, such as the Old Kate Trail and its waterfall (current waterfall count: two) are easily navigated by kids. Others, including the longer Whitetail Trail, are a tad harder. There’s also an ADA-approved trail, the Bluebird Trail, which stretches for less than a half-mile.

The sanctuary does not allow for pets or camping, but the on-site shelter can be reserved in three-hour increments. Come for the haunted trail in October.

Parkville Nature Sanctuary: 100 E. 12th St., Parkville, Missouri

Down on the Blue River

The lowland forest along the Blue River in south Kansas City goes on for miles.
Emily Standlee
The lowland forest along the Blue River in south Kansas City goes on for miles.

Another fun — and longer — set of trails near Kansas City is the Blue River Parkway Trail System.

It’s kind of a choose-your-own-adventure situation, as the lowland forest along the Blue River goes on for miles. You’ll find mushrooms, quiet glades, bike ramps built up in the dirt and slow-moving water to splash in. Pets are allowed on leashes.

Located south of town along Holmes Street, the massive parkway space is home to fishing lakes, a golf course, tennis courts and the Old Red Bridge, which is adorned with lovers’ padlocks. Just near the tennis courts is one of many trailheads, with a trail that wanders through the woods and down to the water.

Yet another trail — this one popular with mountain bikers — tops the cliffs on the other side of the Blue River. If you like to take photos and dig in the water for neat rocks, either trail works. But the one on the east side (near the tennis courts) is less rugged, and therefore your best bet.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to these winding paths.

Blue River Parkway Trail System: near 11500 Blue River Rd., Kansas City, Missouri

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Emily Standlee is a freelance writer at KCUR and a national award-winning essayist.
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