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Travel: Top 5 outdoor destinations

Thursday, May 10, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:40 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Blake Gornowicz and Sarah McDannold fish at Little Dixie Pond in Columbia on March 31. They both participate in outdoor activities together.

Fishing for bass

Sarah McDannold, 26, is an MU student who was born and raised on a farm near New Hartford. Her first memories are of deer camp where she learned about hunting and conservation of animals.

She says you haven’t seen Missouri until you’ve: fished for bass. “They fight like the dickens so they’re really fun to fish.” She says the best places around Columbia for bass fishing are Ashland Lake and Thomas Hill Reservoir — it is stocked with hybrid striped bass, and it has a warm water inlet from the power plant so you can fish all year long.

She recommends: Bennett Spring, Meramec Caves, Onondaga Cave and Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area.

— Stephanie Twining

1. Katy Trail State Park

The nearly 200-mile trail winds through some of the most scenic areas of the state and offers something for everyone. Trail users include those out for a leisurely stroll and those training for marathons.

Call the Department of Natural Resources toll-free at (800) 334-6946.

2. Current and Jacks Fork rivers

For a leisurely float in a canoe, it’s hard to beat these spring-fed rivers, which are part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Along the Current River there are boat rentals and campsites. If you rent a canoe, just tell them how long you plan to float and they’ll pick you up down the river. Bill O’Donnell, a ranger with the National Park Service, recommends Jacks Fork for more adventurous floaters. To see an impressive cave opening that is accessible only by canoe, look for Jam Up Cave northeast of Mountain View and about seven miles downstream from where Missouri 17 crosses the river south of Summersville. Remember to check with the park service before heading out in a boat, because in the summer months the water level can be too low for passage.

To reach the point where the two rivers intersect, travel east on Missouri 106 from Eminence and take Route V north until you reach the boat rental and campsite.

Call Ozark National Scenic Riverways (573) 323-4236 or go to

3. Meramec Caverns

Explore the wonder of one of Missouri’s most famous caverns with a walking tour that lasts about 80 minutes and covers one mile of underground caves. Afterward, try one (or more) of 28 flavors of old-fashioned ice cream or take a round through the museum. Above ground, there is a campground, canoe rentals and The Cavern Queen, which departs on river tours every 30 minutes. Tours of the caves leave every 20-30 minutes. The caverns are open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Admission is $15 for adults, $8 for children ages 5 to 11, and free for children age 4 and younger. From Jefferson City, take U.S. 50 west to Missouri 19 south to Interstate 44 east. Take exit 230 toward Stanton and follow the signs to the caverns.

Go to, or call (800) 676-6105.

4. Thomas Hill Reservoir

This 4,950-acre reservoir was built to provide cooling water for the Associated Electric Cooperative power plant located on the lake’s south end. Warm water is discharged from the plant, therefore making this the perfect spot for fishing year round. The warm areas at Thomas Hill are the southeast Brush Creek Arm and the channel from the power plant. The water can remain in the 60s even on the coldest winter days and is a popular place for those hoping for a bite. Head out on a boat for the day and catch catfish or the lake’s speciality, hybrid striped bass. You can also send out your lines from the shore and easily catch crappie. The main entrance of the reservoir is about five miles west of Macon on U.S. 36. Go south on Route C to College Mound and about two miles west on Route T.

Call (660) 785-2420 or go to

5. Painted Rock Conservation Area

A top choice for a view of the state’s 1,490-acre Painted Rock Conservation Area is accessible from the Osage Bluff Scenic Trail. This 1.6-mile trail is easy to hike in an hour. Jim Low of the state Department of Conservation recommends packing a snack, a blanket and heading out to this spot to witness a picture-perfect sunset. The lands of the conservation area show evidence of occupation by American Indians 9,000 years ago. A burial cairn, located along Osage Bluff Scenic Trail, was constructed between 500 and 1,500 years ago. In addition to acres of oak and hickory trees, the area also encompasses a 5-acre lake and the Osage River for fishing.

Painted Rock Conservation Area is in Osage County, seven miles southwest of Westphalia on Missouri 133.

Call (573) 884-6861 or go to

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