Located on banks of the Mississippi River halfway between St. Louis and Memphis, the mid-sized town of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, has much to offer. Evolving from a trading post established by French soldier Jean D. Girardot to a frontier settlement founded by Louis Lorimier, the city of 39,600 residents has become a thriving community on the world’s only inland cape. The historic landmarks, flourishing arts scene, picturesque overlooks, multiple parks, miles of trails, and vibrant running and cycling communities all make “Cape” a terrific destination for a quick getaway filled with outdoor activities.
Reminiscent of an era when Cape Girardeau was a river boom town and the busiest port between St. Louis and Memphis, the Riverfront Park features a walking and biking trail along the length of the river wall and is the docking site for the impressive Mississippi River paddle boats. The flood wall displays murals that trace the history of the area and offer inspiring artwork. The park is a great place to catch the sunrise as you look out over the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge. When you notice the high-water marks on the floodgates, you will understand why the river is called the Mighty Mississippi.
The downtown area offers many options for walking tours, including historic landmark tours and filming sites for the movie “Gone Girl”. Most notable, however, are the walking ghost tours that begin at the historic Glenn House (featured on an episode of A&E’s “Ghosthunters”) and move on to explore the most haunted stretch of the Mississippi River.
Cape Girardeau’s historic downtown is also the site for the finish line of the Muddy River Marathon. In its inaugural year, the marathon brought racers from over 17 states and included race options for everyone from experienced runners to first-time racers. The relatively flat course highlights many landmarks in Cape Girardeau and uses roadways and paved trails, including the Cape LaCroix Recreation Trail.
Cape LaCroix Recreation Trail
The Cape LaCroix Recreation Trail provides a travel corridor through the city of Cape, from Shawnee Park on the south end of town all the way to the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center north of town. The paved trail winds through neighborhoods, parks, and wooded areas and is favorite for walkers, runners, cyclists, and even skateboarders. If you are lucky, you will see one of the iconic albino deer grazing along the trail.
Cape County Park
Just north of Cape Girardeau and situated on rolling hills, Cape County Park offers fishing ponds, a disc-golf course, and multiple play structures for kids, including Melaina’s Magical Playland, which is an inclusive playground built for kids of all abilities and special needs.
The Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center is also located in this park and showcases the cultural history and diverse natural resources of southeast Missouri. The Nature Center campus includes White Oak Trace, a 2-mile trail that takes hikers through rolling river hills with sinkholes, ravines, and deep hollows, offering several wildlife viewing and bird watching areas along the way. The trail eventually connects to the Cape LaCroix Recreation Trail. Both kids and adults will enjoy the Conservation Center with hands-on exhibits, a children’s play area, freshwater aquariums, and an exhibit gallery that houses Paul Corbin’s collection of Native American artifacts.
Mountain Bike Trails
For those who want more adrenaline in their outdoor experience, there are two mountain bike trails in the Cape Girardeau area.
Crossroads Hike and Bike Park offers a 2.5-mile outer loop with optional features in four separate sections of trail that riders can link together or session individually. Inside the outer loop, there are four enduro-style lines and four flow-style jump lines, providing options for a range of skill levels and riding preferences. Midwest Trail Builders Coalition continues to work on the trail, extending lines and adding new features, so you will likely find a new challenge each time you visit. During the holiday season, Crossroads Church hangs lights along a section of the outer trail, which makes for a fun family night hike.
Klaus Park is a 4.5-mile trail ideal for hikers, runners, and mountain bikers. This semi-technical, flowy single-track is the site for a local mountain bike race, Klaus Park Klash, and several trail running races. Because so much trail is packed into the park, this place is ideal for cheering on your favorite racer.
Trail of Tears State Park
Trail of Tears State Park is located at the site where Cherokee Indians crossed the Mississippi River during the winter of 1838 and 1839, with thousands losing their lives on the forced march. The visitor center provides information about park’s natural features and the sad history of the Trail of Tears.
The park also offers a range of activities for the outdoor enthusiast. For hikers and trail runners, there are three distinct trails with distances of 2 to 10 miles and four different trailheads offering semi-technical single-track with 150 to 200 feet/mile of elevation gain. Shepard Point Trail, a challenging, 3-mile, out-and-back trail, is a local favorite due to the impressive overlook of the Mississippi River, which is a welcome reward after all that climbing. This trail provides excellent training for events in more mountainous regions. The park is home to a variety of wildlife, so hikers and runners will likely spot deer, turkey, bald eagles, and more while exploring the trails.
For those who want less of a challenge, there are opportunities to fish in both the Mississippi River and Lake Boutin. Bring a kayak or paddleboard for an easy paddle around the lake, where you will likely see a variety of migratory waterfowl feeding along the water’s edge. Trail of Tears State Park also offers camping and multiple picnic sites. If you stay long enough to catch a sunset over the lake, you won’t regret it.
For those with a competitive spirit, Trail of Tears is a site for multiple races throughout the year, including a triathlon, trail running races with a range of distances, and even a kayak-trail running race.
Food and Drink
Cape Girardeau is home to a variety of restaurants, and the historic downtown area is becoming a craft beer destination, featuring three breweries located within blocks of each other, so it’s worth the stop after your outdoor adventure.
Ebb & Flow Fermentations specializes in hand-crafted beer that is seasonally influenced, leaning toward sours, mixed fermentation, and historic styles. They also offer locally sourced pub-style food, with a variety of sandwiches and small plates and a menu that changes throughout the year. Spend some time on the three-season patio and there’s a good chance you will catch some live music.
Many Good Things is the newest brewery in Cape Girardeau situated in a historic building on Water Street. (If you attended SEMO in the ’90s to early ’00s, you will remember it as Jeremiah’s.) MGT specializes in a variety of IPAs from West Coast to East Coast, to double and black styles. Their flagship beer is Juicy Juan.
Minglewood Brewery is located two blocks from the Mississippi River in a building built in 1891. It specializes in New England IPAs and unique, hand-made pizzas, where the spent grain from the mash is incorporated in the pizza dough. If you’re in town on a Sunday, you definitely want to do brunch on their patio.
Finally, for those who need a little caffeine to get moving, Red Banner Coffee Roasters offers hand-crafted beverages made with love by national award-winning baristas. Its menu changes seasonally, and you will probably realize after your first sip that you just tasted the best coffee you will ever experience.
Author: Missy Phegley is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.
Top Image: Trail of Tears State Park on Shepard Point Trail. (John Stringer)