Last Saturday morning, Eric and I drove about an hour down to St. Francois, a Missouri State Park about 45 miles southwest of St. Louis. Our primary goal was to see the bluebells, which are in bloom for a short time every April.
Even though I've been to St. Francois several times, I manage to get confused every time about the parking. If you want to hike on the Swimming Deer trail, go into the campground and park in front of the shower house. This is the last trail head, so you'll pass two others on the way (which I know are very, very tempting, but just keep going). We ended up parking at the second trail head, then following a gravel road over to the one we wanted, which was okay, but unnecessary.
As soon as we got to our trail, we started seeing bluebells. The trail makes a loop, with half on the bluffs overlooking the river, and half along the riverbank. Eric was leading, so we did the trail in a counter-clockwise way. My default is to always go to the right - that way if I get lost, I can know that I went right the first time. His way took us up on the bluffs first, which was fine, just different.
We saw a fair amount of wildlife, including two deer, a turtle, and some frogs. The turtle didn't pull his head all the way in, even when Eric picked him up, which led me to wonder if bravery was a good quality for a turtle, or if this guy was doomed. He did, of course, survive his encounter with us.
Our hike was just under six miles, which was nearly too much for Hazel. She couldn't wait to get out of the car and get going, but after a couple miles, she was spent. Clearly, she needs more exercise.
St. Francois has some interesting rock formations. They remind me of rocks you'd see on the bottom of the ocean, and they're all over the place.
In addition to the bluebells, we saw lots of phlox, other spring wildflowers, and redbuds and dogwoods in bloom. It was a very pretty hike.
There are other attractions, too, including some huge, 250-year-old sycamore trees, a couple caves, an abandoned cabin, and wood bridges.
For being fairly close to St. Louis, St. Francois has a lot to offer, including camping, swimming and 17 miles of hiking trails. It's worth the drive any time of year, but especially when the bluebells are in bloom.