• How to plan a visit to Cuivre River State Park in Troy, Missouri
  • Cuivre River State Park offers camping, hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails
  • A scenic, Ozark-like oasis awaits visitors at Cuivre River State Park

About one hour northwest of St. Louis, in the Lincoln Hills, resides 6,394-acre Cuivre River State Park. Surrounded by flat farmland, this oasis of nature offers nearly 40 miles of dirt trails, primitive and modern camping, equestrian facilities, picnicking, water sports, wildlife observation, and prospects for on and off-road bicycling and running.

The park’s name is pronounced quiv·er (’kwivər), similar in sound to an archer’s portable case for holding arrows. It’s thought to have been named after the French Baron Georges Leopold Cuvier, a naturalist and paleontologist who studied flora and fauna in the area after the French acquired the territory west of the Mississippi River. On November 8, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed a letter transferring the Cuivre River Recreation Demonstration Area to the state, creating Cuivre River State Park.

“I remember going to Cuivre River State Park as a kid, probably about 15 years old. Me and my older brother would camp at a primitive campground up on a ridge near the horse camps, and we’d look out over the valley and it was really, really pretty. What I really like about the park are the wilder areas,” Mark Thompson reminisced of his childhood in the 1970s and 80s.

Areas Within the Park
There are three Natural Areas within Cuivre River State Park. According to Missouri State Parks, “the Missouri Natural Area System identifies and protects the highest quality remaining examples of the state’s natural plant and animal communities.”

There also are two Wild Areas within the park, which the Missouri State Parks defines as “large, undeveloped areas managed as wilderness for solitude and primitive recreation.”

Lake Lincoln has a swimming beach, a boat ramp, fishing, and a 4-mile lakeside hiking trail. The 55-acre lake is stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish, and white and black crappie.

“Lake Lincoln’s sandy shores give it a beachy feel, while the lake water and surrounding forests give it a naturey feel,” printed the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in July 2020.

In addition, the park has gravel bottom streams such as the Big Sugar Creek, which the Missouri Department of Natural Resources calls one of the “finest undisturbed streams left in northeastern Missouri.”

Fish in, hike along, or picnic beside the picturesque creeks, ponds, and natural springs.

Multi-Day Explorations
Anna Klipsch smiled when remembering her visit, “We camped in Cuivre River State Park on a rainy October night about three years ago. It was a beautiful campsite with a lot of space. We were in a primitive campsite near the Cuivre River. We had a bonfire. It was really nice.”

A wide range of camping opportunities exist in Cuivre River State Park. The main campground includes basic, electric, and sewer/electric/water sites that can be reserved in advance. The park also offers an equestrian campground, three group camps, family campsites, and primitive “backpack camps” scattered throughout. Backpackers must register with the visitor’s section, “pack it in/pack it out” etiquette applies, fires are allowed in designated fire rings, and dogs are allowed on trails while on leash.

Although the campgrounds are open year-round, the showers and running water may only be available April 15 through October 31. Missouri State Parks asks that you camp only in designated campsites.

Cuivre River camping

A range of camping opportunities are available at Cuivre River State Park.

There are a total of 12 trails for day hikers, with three of them allowing for primitive camping for backpackers. Two allow for mountain biking, and the 11.25-mile Cuivre River Trail — the longest in the park — welcomes horseback riding.

“We nearly had the trails to ourselves,” said visitor Vân Nguyen. “We saw only one other hiker all day. It was the first week of May, and the dogwoods were blooming, and small white and blue flowers lined the trail. If you hike the northern section [of the Lone Spring Trail], be sure to visit Shady 80 Lake. A great spot for lunch.”

Where the Wild Things Are
The spring months bring flowering trees and wildflowers, while the fall entertains with bursting autumn colors. For those who enjoy hiking and camping in the cold months, I’m told Cuivre River State Park is a winter wonderland when filled with snow. The park is a refuge from summer heat and humidity, though be warned that this is the season for ticks, mosquitos, chiggers, gnats, and spiders who like to build their webs across trails at head height.

“Cuivre River State Park is the largest contiguous tract of ground in the area and, as such, is an IBA [Important Bird Area]. The huge expanse of green space offers migrating warblers and other birds a wonderful habitat along their travels where they can be viewed by park visitors,” Cuivre River State Park Superintendent Jason Harrison told me. “The park offers unique prairie grasslands to eastern woodlands, where quail and woodcock to whitetail deer and the eastern wild turkey freely roam about.”

Cuivre River wild flowers

Wildflowers at Cuivre River State Park attract other wildlife.

Hikers, campers, and other park attendees have seen possum, fox, raccoons, and rabbits. Those looking to the sky have spotted blue jays, woodpeckers, many types of owls, hummingbirds, cardinals, bald eagles in the winter months, and a seemingly endless list of sparrow, wren, goose, duck, and hawk. Those with a keen eye to the ground report different types of frogs, toads, salamanders, snakes, and turtles.

Taking Your Sports Off-Road
Rebecca Ragland and her partner rode their bicycles both on and off-road in the park. Of the off-road ride, she said, “The experience was a good workout; pretty and fun. It was very hot, and the workout was challenging. Afterward, we went swimming. Be ready for a challenge and expect surprises.”

There are two mountain bike trails in the park, and many miles of paved road winding through the woods. Bike the Blackhawk Point Trail (5.75 miles), which is shared with hikers and is considered an easy to intermediate ride, according to MTB Project. The Old Schoolhouse Trail (3.85 miles), also shared with hikers, is considered by MTB Project to be a solid intermediate trail.

Hamilton Hollow Trail at Cuivre River State Park

Hamilton Hollow Trail at Cuivre River State Park.

Prefer running to riding? Cuivre River State Park is home to the popular Quivering Quads and Timber ‘N’ Trails off-road races hosted by Fleet Feet St. Louis, which take place in the spring and fall, respectively.

And there you have it. In an ocean of flat farmland, an oasis of Ozark-like nature is waiting for your discovery. Enjoy it alone or come with a group to experience all four seasons in one of Missouri’s diverse and unspoiled natural treasures.

Getting There

Cuivre River State Park
678 State Route 147, Troy, MO 63379

Directions: From the town of Troy, go east on East State Highway 47 for approximately 3 miles to MO-147. Turn north (left) on MO-147. The visitor’s center will be about 2 miles further on your left.

More Information: (636) 528-7247; mostateparks.com/park/cuivre-river-state-park

Author: Mogran Paar is a contributor to Terrain Magazine.
Top Image: Cuivre River State Park by Morgann Paar.