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The Creation of a Tradition. Meramec State Park 5/30/2014 – 6/2/2014

June 2, 2014

2014-06-01 15.11.25So it was way past due to go on a long weekend camping trip with all four of our kids, and when asked where they wanted to go, they requested a campground by a river. It had been a handful of years since we had camped at Meramec State Park, so I made the reservation, and we started counting the days until we hit the road. When the day finally came, we packed up all our gear, loaded up the dogs, and headed down Interstate 44 to what I believe to be just about the most popular park in the Missouri State Park system.

How to get there:

2014-06-01 15.48.52From the St. Louis area at the interchange of Interstate 44 and 270, take 44 west for about 50 miles, to Sullivan, MO. Get off at exit 226 and make a left (south) on MO-185, cross over 44, and continue on 185 south for about 3 miles until you reach the park entrance, which will be on your right side.

Meramec State Park is an almost 7,000 acre forested area surrounding (in my estimation) almost 6 miles of the Meramec River. It was established by 9 years of dedicated work by the Civilian Conservation Corps, starting in 1933. It has two designated Missouri Natural Areas. The Meramec Upland Forest is 461 acres of mature and second growth trees, featuring Copper Hollow Spring, located around the northeast section of the Wilderness Trail. And then located behind the Visitor Center, part of which can be experienced along the Natural Wonders Trail in the west/central section of the park, is 831 acres of bottomland and slope forest which make up the Meramec Mosaic Natural Area.

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Without the CCC, this park wouldn’t be what it is.

For those of you that enjoy the hiking experience (like myself), this park features nearly 14 miles of established trails, including the 8.5 mile Wilderness Trail, which has 8 backpacking campsites along its route for those who want to make an overnight out of it.

The campground on its own could be a park unto itself. With over 200 campsites, 3 group sites, and all the facilities you could need, it is a favorite summer destination for many families. Along one edge is just over half a mile of the Meramec River, allowing for all sorts of opportunities for fishing, floating, and playing in its lively current.

2014-06-01 15.26.32About halfway through the park on the main road is the Fireside Store and Grill, which is located in the Meramec Lodge, built in 1933. They have a small museum about the Civilian Conservation Corps in the entrance, and just about any camp supplies or memorabilia you might want, to remember your trip when you are back at home. Through there, they run the Hickory Ridge Motel and the 19 little cabins that are tucked away in the hills in the park, for those who would like a more civilized version of “roughing it” on their weekend in the woods. They also offer a five mile float on the Meramec River, with your choice of a canoe, raft, or kayak. Check their website for pricing information.

2014-06-01 15.47.35At the entrance to the park is the Visitor Center. Within it there are displays and pictures and information about the animals that live within the park, and the history of the area (did you know that at one point they were going to dam up the Meramec River AT Meramec State Park, in order to make it a 23,000 acre lake?!?) I can’t emphasize it enough when I say, DO NOT visit this park without spending some time in there. I always learn something new, and that to me, is an important part of the whole experience.

What I like about this park:

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Fisher Cave

All the things there that you can spend your time doing! You can hike. You can float. You can lounge at the beach or play in the water. You can find a quiet spot to cast a line and spend your day pursuing something to fry up for dinner. You can hike another trail. You can have a picnic or a party or even a wedding at one of their many picnic areas and facilities. You can go on a tour of Fisher Cave. You can enjoy a scenic dinner up on top of the hill at the Fireside Grill. You can hike some more. You can check out the Visitor Center and learn stuff about the park and the Meramec River. You can sit by a campfire with your friends and family and pass the evening enjoying life in the woods.

And maybe that about covers it. Oh, and I like it because it is just about exactly an hour from my front door.

What you need to know:

2014-06-01 16.13.57Even though the campground is enormous, I would highly recommend using the State Park Reservation System, either online or over the phone, especially for a weekend trip.

This is not a “party it up” campground. It seemed like everyone for the most part was keeping it relaxed and comfortable into the evening, and as we sat by the fire with a cooler of beer past the quiet hours (remembering to respect the rules), I enjoyed a pleasant ambiance that floated on the breeze through the campground, with the smell of smoldering fires and moisture rising from the earth.

2014-06-01 14.54.36I remember camping at this park with friends as a teenager, and making a trip there every few years for the past twenty as my life expanded to include other relationships and my own children. As of late, I have been visiting to hike the trails every couple of months, because there is so much ground to cover and so much beauty to see. I can’t get enough of this park, and I would speculate that most of the people that camp there feel the same way. It has so much to offer for anyone that has an appreciation for the outdoors, and I am inspired by the thought that twenty years from now, my own teenage son will be sitting by a campfire there, maybe with a cooler of beer and his kids sleeping in a tent behind him, and he will look up at the same stars that I was gazing at just this past weekend.

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