Every hiker in the St. Louis area knows Castlewood State Park in Ballwin is good for a quick local hike. Elephant Rocks State Park in Wildwood is a bit further afield but can be just as crowded.

So, what to do when you want to get away from the crowds or experience a new-to-you hike? A good guidebook puts a local expert in your day pack. Their authors have hiked every trail and can tell you where to go for the best fall colors, waterfalls, caves, and wildflowers. They’ll also give you insider tips and let you know what fun extra features to look for on your outing.

Here are some of the best guidebooks to help you find the hike for you and your group, whether you’re staying close to home or embarking on an epic road trip.

Best Hikes with Kids: St. Louis and Beyond
By Kathy Schrenk (2018)
Who doesn’t want to share their love of the outdoors with their kiddos? Whether you’re a new parent or you have grandkids or nieces and nephews, Best Hikes with Kids: St. Louis and Beyond will show you the top places to get them on the trail. All 85 hikes are under five miles, and there’s a hike for every age and stage, including the times when you need to keep your kids in a stroller in order to take them for a walk. The book is full of gorgeous color photographs, detailed maps, and parent-tested tips for a successful family experience in the outdoors. mountaineersbooks.org

60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: St. Louis
By Steve Henry (2010)
Henry’s guide, now in its third edition with a fourth coming next year, is one of the most popular among St. Louis hikers. It features many of the hikes in Best Hikes with Kids but goes further than you might want to with kids in tow. If you love to challenge yourself with a long hike but don’t feel like a long drive, this is the book for you. Check out the long loops at Babler and Cuivre River state parks or Bell Mountain Wilderness Area. And there are plenty of lesser-known and non-strenuous hikes scattered about the region. menasharidge.com

The Ozark Trail Guidebook
By Margo Carroll and Peggy Welch (2015)
Do you dream of thru-hiking an epic route but can’t get to the Appalachian or John Muir trail just yet? Well, there’s a lovingly maintained trail hundreds of miles long in our own backyard. With The Ozark Trail Guidebook you can get ready to tackle all 300-plus miles of the Ozark Trail in Missouri, plan an afternoon jaunt, or anything in between. The book is broken down into chapters based on the sections of the trail, such as the Courtois, Middle Fork, and Taum Sauk (location of the state’s high point and tallest waterfall). There are camping suggestions for thru-hikers as well as day-hike itineraries. ozarktrail.com/product/ozark-trail-guidebook/

20 Day Trips in and Around the Shawnee National Forest
By Larry and Donna Mahan (2013)
One doesn’t necessarily think Illinois as synonymous with outdoor adventures, but the southern tip of the state is full of exciting sites. 20 Day Trips in and Around the Shawnee National Forest puts together itineraries for hikers, bikers, and wildlife watchers. Beautiful color photos, helpful overview maps, and thorough driving directions to each location in Shawnee National Forest make a perfect guide for a full day of adventuring no matter which trip you choose. siupress.com

Best Easy Day Hikes Springfield, Illinois
By Johnny Molloy (2012)
This is a slim yet detailed volume covering rail-trails, forest excursions, and lake hikes around the Illinois state capital. Unsurprisingly, the hikes are mostly flat, but there are some hills here and there, mostly when the trails venture onto river bluffs or around reservoirs. Toss it in your bag next time you travel to or through Springfield. falcon.com 

Hiking Arkansas
By Janie and Wyatt Jones (2004)
This guide features 68 hikes total, including 17 in the Ozark Mountain Region bordering the Missouri Ozarks. One is a loop around the top of a mountain in the middle of a lake. Another promises natural arches and takes hikers along a sandstone ledge with waterfalls on both sides. Like most Falcon guides, it features detailed maps and driving directions and historical context for the broader regions and the specific parks. amazon.com 

America’s Best Day Hikes
By Derek Dellinger (2019)
This is more of a coffee-table book than a guide you’d carry in your day pack, but it’s gorgeous to look at in addition to detailing bucket-list hikes from across the country. There are iconic hikes in ultra-popular national parks like Yosemite and Grand Canyon but also hidden gems in less popular state and national parks and national forests. Whitaker Point in the Arkansas Ozarks is one of the 50 hikes. There are seven in the Southeast region and six in the Midwest. If you needed another reason to plan a road trip to the spectacular Black Hills of South Dakota or Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll find it here. countrymanpress.com

Author: Kathy Schrenk is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.
Photo: Lower Rock Creek in Fredericktown, Mo., by Steve Henry.