Going off-road in Missouri state parks

CR Rae
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Finger Lakes State Park has 900 acres for off-road exploring.

The residents of Missouri certainly “show us” how to make recreational use of what was once a coal strip mine. Finger Lakes State Park in Columbia was built reclaiming the deep ravines and steep hills of the abandoned area. By creating almost a dozen finger-shaped lakes and more than 70 miles of wooded off-road vehicle trails, the park is one of the most popular places in the state.

Today this land has been converted into more than 900 acres for off-road vehicle and motorcycle enthusiasts to explore. It is not your typical state park but a fun, unique experience for those who dare to drive through the trees, up and down the hills and, especially, through the mud. A variety of trails are marked for riders to follow, but there are opportunities for those more adventurous to take off on their own through the woods as well.

The park also developed a special off-road vehicle area for enthusiasts younger than 12.

A motocross track is available for motorcycles and ATVs. It is closed during events but offers stadium seating, restrooms and loading ramps.

Mountain biking is a popular feature of the park. The Kelley Branch Mountain Bike Trail is a 2.75-mile loop through the woods. It is perfect for all skill levels. The trail is also used by hikers.

Just about anything on wheels can enjoy time on the park’s concrete pump track and skills course. The bumps (pumps) in the track create a place where cyclists can use and up and down motion to make the bike go forward without pedaling. This track is open to bikes of all sizes, non-motorized scooters, rollerblades, roller skates and skateboards and is good for all skill levels.

The park also offers the opportunity for relaxing kayaking, canoeing, fishing, swimming and more. The lakes have 4.5 miles of water trail divided into two sections, with a connector between the trails. The water trail, for the most part, is close to the shore along the narrow lakes and is smooth. The lakes are very calm. The trails are marked with colored buoys for paddlers. A swimming beach is also available during summer. Bring your own kayak or canoe as it is easy to launch, or rent one. A fishing license is required, but anglers may find bass, catfish, crappie and more. A handicapped-accessible fishing pier can be found by the boat ramp.

Paddlers may see beavers, racoons, otters and a variety of birds. Deer are seen throughout the park. Camping is available with basic and electric areas. A playground is available for younger children in season. Campsites can be reserved by calling 877-422-6766 or by visiting mostateparks.com.

For those interested in metal detecting, it is allowed at the park with a permit. The permits are free and can be acquired by emailing moparks@dnr.mo.gov.

The off-roading experience does not end at Finger Lakes State Park. St. Joe State Park outside Park Hills, created in a former lead mining area, offers off-roaders a bit of a different experience with wooded areas and acres of sand flats. A campground is close to the riding area. Other activities at the park including swimming, equestrian trails and hiking. The park is about 70 miles south of St. Louis.

Information and permits for both parks for camping and off-roading can be found at mostateparks.com.