By Bailey Sims, E23 Reporter

As college students, stress is a daily occurrence in our lives. We often get so caught up in studying that we rarely spend time any time in the great outdoors. It is critical to make time amidst the chaos of our lives to get outside in the fresh air.

As a Colorado native, some of the nation’s best outdoor adventures were right in my backyard. I love to hike, hammock, and hang out outside, so I have searched Columbia, Missouri far and wide to find the best the city has to offer in order to fulfill my craving for exploring. I have compiled a list of six local places that I believe offer a wonderful escape from the classroom.

1. Stephens Lake Park

Stephens Lake Park

Stephens Lake Park is on Broadway, less than a mile from campus. It is a spacious green park that boasts an incredible lakefront boardwalk, various picnic shelters, many trails and even playgrounds.

The park also has free Wi-Fi, so instead of studying in Ellis Library, why not head outside and crack open the books below the beaming sun? Plus, the lake is open for swimming from May 1 to Sept. 30. There is a sand beach and a designated swimming area on the west side of the boardwalk. In a couple months, when it warms up, grab some friends and take a swim!

2. Katy Trail

Katy Trail

The Katy Trail is a well-known 30-mile trail that runs along the Missouri River. It brings tourists from around the state, so we are extremely lucky to be in such close proximity to it. The trail is suited for all skill levels and is primarily used for hiking and mountain biking. It also features beautiful views for your workout, with the rushing waters on one side and soaring cliffs on the other. Whether you are an avid runner or just want to get out and be active, the Katy Trail is a great pick!

3. Capen Park

Capen Park

Capen Park was one of the first places I ventured out to when I moved to Missouri, and now I frequent the park. It is very close to the MU campus, so the convenience factor makes it very appealing. I have walked there from my dorm, so you have no excuse not to check it out. It features towering bluffs and some awesome hiking trails. It is not a challenging hike at all, so you can easily enjoy the beauty. Below the bluffs, the rushing river is running. I love to set up my Eno hammock next to the river, but beware! It is easy to fall asleep to the sound of the flowing water. Every time I go, I see rock climbers on the bluffs, which is another highlight of the park. However, I’d only recommend doing that if you are an experienced climber. Finally, Capen Park has bridge connecting it to Grindstone Nature Area and the Hinkson Creek Trail, which are two other outdoor options for Columbians to explore.

4. Shelter Gardens

Shelter Gardens

The Shelter Gardens is a beautiful botanical garden, featuring a variety of flora and fauna. It is an award-winning five acre garden that features a “sensory garden” designed for the visually impaired, a replica one-room school house, a waterfall and reflecting pool and more. It is the perfect spot if you need to get away and relax. It boasts an impressive 300 varieties of trees and shrubs and 15,000 annuals and perennials.

5. The Pinnacles


The Pinnacles is a well-known attraction here in Columbia. Over 250 million years ago, a shallow sea covered Boone County and the bedrock has gradually been cut down with time. This process has led to the stunning and unique rock formations that we now see today. Visitors are able to hike and explore a variety of rock structures. Be careful though! The rocks can be dangerous in some spots, so take caution on your adventures.

6. Rock Bridge Memorial State Park/Devil’s Ice Box

Rock Bridge State Park

In my opinion, Rock Bridge Memorial State Park is the best outdoor destination that Columbia has to offer. It features some of the best hiking and biking trails in the state. The trails are very scenic and unique, and I feel like I always discover something new when I go. Rock Bridge is also another of my favorite hammocking locations. Furthermore, you can’t go there without checking out Devil’s Icebox, a large cave system with a rock bridge, sinkholes, a spring and an underground stream. The caves are such a unique natural phenomenon that is very fun to explore!

So tigers, as it warms up, get out there and explore all of the awesome outdoor adventures Columbia has to offer! Enjoy!