It’s easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for. In fact, many people routinely blow past the entrance without giving any thought to the natural oasis hiding in plain sight, most without even knowing it’s there.

You turn off the main road and immediately begin looking for signs that either aren’t there or aren’t easily visible. But, by luck or previous experience, you make the sharp left turn and begin a short, downward slope past a University of Missouri Surplus Property building and a large mound of compost material.

You park and take the short trail off the parking lot and, there, you either climb up a well-worn path in the limestone to reach the apex of your prize or head straight down toward the creek for a sense of scale. Once at the creek, you look up and see your prize: a 50-foot-tall limestone crag reaching toward a skyline of old-growth cedars.

You’ve made it.


A Hidden Gem

Located about a mile south of the University of Missouri campus in Columbia, Capen Park is a 32-acre idyll that, given its proximity to the city center and urban sprawl, surprisingly opens up into a world of its own. Once you find it.

To the untrained eye, it’s difficult to tell where the boundaries of Capen Park lie. Among a sea of green and hardwoods run Hinkson and Grindstone creeks, while the 199-acre Grindstone Nature Area and a portion of the Greenbelt Land Trust surround the park.

The Grindstone Nature Trail snakes around the perimeter of the park and merges with a small portion of the extensive Hinkson Creek Trail, connecting Capen Park to the much larger Grindstone Nature Area. The latter offers an additional 6 miles of multi-use trails and 5 miles of dirt trails. This section of trail includes two bridges that are designed to rust and mimic the old railroad bridges along the Missouri River.

Given its convenient location, Capen Park is a popular destination for dog walkers, hikers, runners, and climbers. Don’t be surprised to find a party of people cooling off in the creeks during the warmer months.


Getting a Grip

For more than 60 years, the limestone crags of Capen Park have been a popular destination for mid-Missouri climbers. There are just over 40 routes that vary from slabby face climbs to overhanging roofs, providing a wide variety of experiences for climbers of varying skill levels.

The highest crag reaches 50 feet, with climbs rated as high as 5.11c. The most popular climbing routes at Capen include Mano Y Mano, Mister Easy, Swing Time, Rock Garden, Foot Loose, and Missouri Breaks, to name but a few. All routes at Capen range from 5.6 for beginners up to 5.11b/c for more advanced intermediate climbers.

View from the top of Capen Park Cliff.

A view from the top of Capen Park Cliff. (Columbia Parks & Recreation)

There are established anchors at the top of the cliff, but many climbers prefer to build natural anchors from the trees atop the cliff face, as Columbia Parks and Recreation does not maintain or inspect the fixed climbing anchors or hardware.

It’s also worth noting that the main wall is easily accessible, so climbers should be prepared to meet pedestrians along the trails below the rock face as well as on top of the crag.


Climbing Capen

For Silvia Stambaugh, a Columbia native and student enrolled at the University of Missouri, Capen Park provides an easy opportunity to get her feet off the ground. Stambaugh, who had always enjoyed hiking and camping, began climbing in earnest in 2021 on the indoor bouldering wall at the MizzouRec Complex. There, she met a group of equally stoked newer climbers, and they formed an immediate bond over their new obsession with the sport.

“Joining the Mizzou Climbing Club taught me a lot about climbing and provided me with lots of opportunities to really get involved with the local climbing community,” Stambaugh said. It also offered an avenue to get outside and start sport climbing.

Climbing at Capen Park in Columbia, Missouri

Silvia Stambaugh climbing at Capen Park.

“When I first started climbing, I went to Capen frequently due to its proximity to campus and because it’s beginner-friendly,” said Stambaugh. “Capen offers easy access to a number of climbing routes with lots of top rope setup options, so it provides a better sense of security for a newer climber.”

Now that Stambaugh, a senior majoring in Natural Sciences, has a few years of climbing under her belt, she has begun seeking out more challenges and different climbing spots around the state, but Capen Park is still a part of her regular climbing schedule.

“Capen was the first place I attempted to climb in the 5.11 range,” Stambaugh recalled. “That day I made more progress than I expected on the route, and it gave me more confidence to try harder things. Now, I typically climb at Capen when I’m more crunched for time and want to get a quicker outdoor session in.

“My friends and I have tried to regularly go to Capen on Tuesday and Thursday mornings before our classes and that works out great,” she continued. “We’ve had many lovely morning climbs at Capen that were great ways to start our day, even in the most stressful times of our semesters.”



If You Go

Capen Park is located at 1600 Capen Park Road, just south of Stadium Boulevard in Columbia, Missouri. From Stadium Boulevard, head south a half-mile on Rock Quarry Road and take the first left onto Capen Park Road.

The park is open year-round from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Admission is free.

For more information on Capen Park, visit

Author: Kyle Wayne Stewart is a contributor to Terrain Magazine.

Top Image: Capen Park Cliff. (Columbia Parks & Recreation)