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Imagine this as your backyard! Sandstone Canyon Trail, Don Robinson State Park 1/21/2017

February 9, 2017

don-robinson-state-park-16194986_10154967008769184_3694977687100909094_nIt was going to be a warm winter Saturday, and there was a new Missouri State Park that had recently opened up half an hour from our house. On the request of my gal to “spend some of her birthday in the forest”, we decided to go check out this newly developed Don Robinson State Park and see what was hiding in the hills and valleys in the upper Labarque Creek Watershed.

don-robinson-state-park-242How to get there:

Don Robinson State Park is in Cedar Hill, MO, about 30 minutes southwest of the St. Louis area. From the junction of Interstate 270 and Highway 30 (Gravois), take Highway 30 west for almost 17 miles. Make a right onto Gravois Road, then almost an immediate left onto South Byrnesville Road. After a mile and a half, turn left onto Byrnesville Road, and take that almost 3 and a half miles to 9268 Byrnesville Road and the entrance of Don Robinson State Park.

don-robinson-state-park-213There is currently only one trail at Don Robinson State Park, and it is the 4 mile Sandstone Canyon Trail. After finding a parking spot, we met up with some friends and then proceeded along the pavement to the beginning of the trail. If you go clockwise like we did, the trail takes you down the hill and soon enough along a tributary of Labarque Creek. It dips down below you and follows the canyon for quite a while before taking you back up into the hills, eventually around a ridge or two and back out again to the pavement.

don-robinson-state-park-193Why I like this trail:

The bottomlands along the creek between the hills offers a great example of how water and time shape a landscape. From rock faces to sand mounds within this canyon, you can clearly see how this meandering trickle of rainwater has been steadily carving its way through the area, persistently falling down the subtle slope of the land, patiently gathering the sediment and carrying it away as it brushes off the foothills on either side. A sculpture created by nature herself, immense and radiating, snaking along with a patience and expression that exists in a timeline beyond our own mortality. It is difficult to not be in awe when travelling through places like this. Give yourself some time and let it soak into you.

don-robinson-state-park-16114041_10154967007769184_2404091207264555342_nBefore this park was opened, I knew nothing of Don Robinson the man. Other than the name of a person who donated a bunch of land to us Missouri citizens, he was a mystery to me. Since visiting this former home of his, I have learned all I can and have come to strongly appreciate him for who he was and what he has left for us. Don Robinson was a St. Louis native, having graduated from University City High School and making his fortune selling a cleaning product called “Off”. Living with a constant sense of frugality and efficiency, if it could save him some cost, Don would probably do it. Over the years, the majority of his money had gone to buying up property, eventually amassing 843 acres of wooded hills in Jefferson County. Being a man who didn’t need for much, his life was spent in a two story stone floor cabin at the top of a hill at the end of a winding gravel driveway off of Sandcut Road. Overlooking the deep ravines of the surrounding forest, Don lived with a rustic simplicity until he died in March of 2012.

What you need to know:

This is a new park that opened within shouting distance of a major metropolitan area. I would think it is a safe assumption to expect it to be pretty busy over the course of the next year at least. With this influx of traffic, now matter how enthusiastic it may be, it comes with a cost.


Max and the birthday girl, playing in the sand.

First of all, parking is a challenge. There is a road into the park, which eventually meets up with a parking loop around the hill. This doesn’t afford for a lot of spaces, so you need to get there early…or you will be orbiting the hilltop with the other ten cars that are looking for a space as well.

Secondly, there is only one trail open at this point (of the two ultimately planned), and it has been getting much more foot traffic than can be naturally sustained. The dirt track in the shadier sections of the hillsides doesn’t get a chance to dry out, churned up by the footsteps of the multitude of hikers that have flocked to this new trail, so it is extremely muddy and slippery in some spots. I would not recommend this trail for anyone that doesn’t look forward to a challenge, and especially not to anyone with small children.

don-robinson-state-park-235This trail is listed as 4 miles, but both my kids had their GPS trackers on when we hiked it and they both ended up with almost 5 and a half miles by the end of it. Sure, we explored off trail here and there, but I know for a fact that it wasn’t an additional mile and a half. Expect to spend a good amount of time on this trail, refraining from asking “How much further?” You will get there…just five more minutes. Make sure to bring enough water and leave all your impatience at home.

don-robinson-state-park-16174947_10154967008684184_1708844805398052012_nSo THANK YOU! to Don Robinson. Certainly a character, as well as a man WITH character, by the way in which he seems to have conducted his days and his approach to the world. A genuine inspiration. I hope to one day be in my own cabin, surrounded by Missouri forests, living a life that will lead toward a legacy of conservation and advocacy for the nature that we are all a part of. He will go down in our state’s history as a saint for this gift, and we should appreciate the beauty that he saw fit to leave us every time we visit his backyard. He still lives there, atop that mountain. Go find him and say thank you, and let his story inspire how you live and what you want to be remembered for. Thank you, Don.


One of my favorite adventure partners, my daughter Sophie.










Google Maps Location:

  1. Brock permalink

    Here’s a video of a party at Don Robinson’s place circa 1988:

  2. lucinda permalink

    thanks gabe. i have walked here at d r state park. be sure to visit restaurant in des peres. it is a st louis theme museum restaurant. i donated a tube of “OFF”. look for it in a glass case. peace, lucinda

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