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Biking, splashing or exploring: The top five spots around Columbia for summer fun

Friday, April 25, 2008 | 4:23 p.m. CDT; updated 3:22 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Blazin' the bike trails

1. MKT Trail

874-7460

This may be the best place for beginners and those who want to do trail biking.

The 8.9-mile route has several trailheads, which allows bikers to go as far as they wish.

2. Grindstone Nature Area

2011 S. Old 63

874-7460

This single-track trail is good for all levels of bikers, and it comes with a view. Riders who have low gears can try the limestone routes on the west side.

3. Cosmopolitan Park

Stadium Boulevard and Business Loop 70

874-7460

The 533-acre park has areas for mountain biking. The park also offers golf, soccer and volleyball.

4. Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

5901 Missouri 163

449-7402

A bit tougher than Cosmopolitan Park, Rock Bridge has seven trails for mountain biking, ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 miles.

5. Finger Lakes State Park

1505 E. Peabody Road

443-5315

Also for mountain bikers, the park is a bigger challenge. It has more than 70 miles of trails, and motocross is allowed.

— Gabriela Lessa


Splashing around and soaking up the sun

1. Inflatable canoes on the Meramec River

In the perfect match of agility and stability, an inflatable canoe allows you to move faster than a raft but with comfort.

These canoes are available to rent for $33 per person on a weekend or $22 per person during the week. They fit two adults or three children comfortably, and there are 5- or 10-mile float options.

Operated by Ozark Outdoors Riverfront Resort based in Leasburg, a two-hour drive from Columbia, riverfront campgrounds are easily accessible if you don’t want to float and drive back in the same day.

2. Kayaking on the Missouri River

If you are looking for picturesque scenery and a learning experience, this outing is for you. Mighty Mo Canoe Rental runs small-group river tours at 1 p.m. every Saturday. They take beginners and intermediate-level kayakers down the Missouri River to view the Manitou Bluffs and learn about Lewis and Clark and river history.

Based in Rocheport, only a 17-minute drive from Columbia, the adventure costs $35 per person. This includes kayak rental, tour guide and shuttle service back to Rocheport after a 6.6-mile paddle.

3. Floating with Bearcat Getaway

Three hours southwest of Columbia in Lesterville, the Black River is more a party invitation than a destination. Bearcat Getaway owns a half-mile of beachfront property where people can float on the river in tubes or rafts and listen to live music, eat barbecue and browse vendors.

A trip here is an all-day escape with no quiet hours until 2 a.m. A Saturday float and barbecue dinner costs $60 per couple. To camp overnight is $12 more.

4. Canoeing at Alley Springs

Take a half-day paddle from Alley Springs to Eminence on Jacks Fork River, three hours beyond Columbia. The $42 fee on Saturdays includes pick-up at local lodging or campsite and put-in plus take-out with a rented canoe from Harvey’s Alley Spring Canoe Rental.

Jacks Fork demands experienced paddling, but the clear water and quiet scenery are worth the drive.

5. Jet ski rental in Branson

For a day of fun in the sun, jet ski rental is an idea. Various vendors in Branson rent personal watercrafts for use on Table Rock Lake or Lake Taneycomo for $40 to $60 per day.

—Allison Bennett


Exploring the world below

1. Devil’s Ice box

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

If you want to stay close to home, Devil’s Icebox is as close as it gets. But this cave is not set up for traditional cave tours. A tour can cover anywhere from two miles to five miles round trip, and you should be prepared to carry your boat, rent head lamps and wear appropriate attire.

2. Jacob’s Cave

Gravois Mills

This cave has the largest geode in the world and is completely accessible for the disabled.

“It’s got about every kind of formation imaginable,” owner Frank Hurley said. “We can show you six different ice ages and three different earthquakes. It’s kind of like a history book.”

Gravois Mills is about one and a half hours from Columbia.

3. Bridal Cave

Camdenton

If you’re looking for an unusual place to get married, feel free to make a reservation for Bridal Cave.

But if you’re just up for a tour, plan to spend an hour.

It takes about an hour and 45 minutes to get to Camdenton.

4. Meramec Caverns

Stanton

Meramec Caverns is home to the largest commercial cave in Missouri. Tour the cave in the traditional manner, with lit walkways, or participate in a lantern tour.

Stanton is two hours from Columbia.

5. Mark Twain Cave

Hannibal

Mark Twain Cave is the oldest show cave in Missouri and was first shown in 1886.

This cave was a hideout for Jesse James, but it was also used during the Underground Railroad to help free slaves.

It takes two hours to get to Hannibal.

“The Mark Twain Cave is very unique because it’s a labyrinth or maze-pattern cave,” said guide John Rodgers.

— Brooke Fletcher


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