We asked, you answered. Based on 18,000+ responses, here are your favorite outdoor events, destinations, businesses, and people.
Best Regional Park (national/state)
Winner: Hawn State Park
For the second consecutive year, this “hidden gem” in Ste. Genevieve County collected more votes than any other national/state park in our poll. The 4,956 acres here are home to three state-designated natural areas — Pickle Creek, LaMotte Sandstone Barrens, and Botkins Pine Woods — and offer some of the best hiking in Missouri. Hawn attracts rock hounds with its rare formations, as well as ecology buffs with its multitude of birds, native plants, and varied environments, from prairies to high bluffs to clear-water creeks. Amenities include campsites (basic, electric, and walk-in), a picnic area, and a kids’ playground.
Runners-up: Mark Twain National Forest, Elephant Rocks State Park, Katy Trail State Park
Hall of Fame: Castlewood State Park
Best Regional Park (county/city)
Winner: Greensfelder County Park
Another repeat winner, this 1,700-acre park in west St. Louis County added more trail mileage to its rugged, forested hills in 2021 thanks to the volunteer efforts of Gateway Off-Road Cyclists. Greensfelder is a favorite of mountain bikers, hikers, runners, and equestrians (the latter have their own on-site facilities) and features a nature center, four reservable shelters, multiple picnic areas, and year-round campsites and restrooms. Cruise Loop Road in fall to admire the changing colors, or better yet, hike or ride up to the Beulah Trail overlook for the best panorama in Wildwood.
Runners-up: Tower Grove Park, Creve Coeur County Park, Cliff Cave County Park
Hall of Fame: Forest Park
Best Greenway/Hard Surface Trail
Winner: Katy Trail
It’s hard to overstate the impact this 8-foot-wide, crushed limestone path has had on the Show-Me State, which it spans. The 240-mile trail (280 if you count the Rock Island Spur) draws cyclists and hikers from around the world to experience the majestic river bluffs, farmland and pastures, and small towns it borders — not to mention Missouri’s bucolic wine country. The Katy, formally known as Katy Trail State Park, has 26 trailheads that make trip-planning and route navigation easy. In addition, it hosts numerous annual bike rides, celebrations, and other programs and events.
Runners-up: Madison County Transit (MCT) Trails, Al Foster Trail, Mississippi Greenway (Riverfront Trail)
Hall of Fame: Gravois Greenway (Grant’s Trail)
Best Hiking/Running Trail
Winner: Ozark Trail (OT)
The Ozarks, in a word, are splendid — and there’s no better way to see them at their most wildly beautiful than on their namesake trail. Bring your boots or running shoes and take a trip ranging from just a few miles to 400. The OT is segmented into mostly linked sections, from which you can explore mountains (Taum Sauk), waterfalls (Mina Sauk Falls), spring-fed waters (Current River), inspiring lookouts (Lover’s Leap), and more. Work is ongoing to link the entire backcountry path and establish a trailhead in Pacific, Missouri, which would eventually connect with greenways leading all the way to downtown St. Louis.
Runners-up: Lewis & Clark Trail, Chubb Trail, Castlewood State Park
Best Mountain Biking Trail
Winner: Mineshaft (Shepherd Mountain Bike Park)
When Shepherd Mountain Bike Park opened last year in Ironton, Missouri, it changed the landscape of mountain biking in Missouri. (It’s a pun!) Now, rather than driving five hours to Midwest hotspots like Bentonville or Eureka Springs, Arkansas, St. Louisans could hop just 90 minutes south to shred gnarly, gravity-fed trails and be back home in time for dinner. The park’s Mineshaft gets the nod for top trail; the intermediate (blue) route starts mellow but turns technical, rocky, and steep as you head down, emptying into a jump line at the bottom. Strap in, and be sure to wear your full-face helmet.
Runners-up: Green Rock/Declue Trail (Greensfelder County Park), Spring Valley Trail (Cliff Cave County Park), Bootlegger Trail (Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park)
Hall of Fame: Bluff View/Zombie
Winner: Arcadia Valley Outdoors
Established in 2021, this brand-new campground on the backside of Shepherd Mountain in Ironton, Missouri, wants to connect people all over the Midwest with the outdoor adventure opportunities many previously thought only existed in the Rockies or Smoky mountains. The venue currently offers 12 unique campsites that are built into the environment rather than adjacent to it. See page 18 for our full story on the campground and the ambitions of its founders.
Runners-up: Hawn State Park, Council Bluff Recreation Area, Klondike Park
Best Paddling Spot
Winner: Current River
The first body of water in America to become a National Riverway, the Current has never looked back. The 184-mile river is known around the country for its inviting canoe camping opportunities and scenic Karst topography. And because it’s spring-fed, paddlers can enjoy the many surrounding sinkholes, caves, and bluffs year-round (the average water temperature stays around 58 degrees). The Current is a class I, occasionally a class II river, with an average gradient of 4.4 feet, meaning both new and veteran paddlers can appreciate the comfortable speed and serenity of this easy-going waterway.
Runners-up: Meramec River, Creve Coeur Lake, St. Francis River
Best Rock Climbing Area
Winner: Elephant Rocks State Park
Located in Belleview, Missouri, the collection of pink granite boulders at Elephant Rocks resembles a pack of pachyderms, which, of course, lends the park its name. The boulder field sits on a 100-acre parcel and features 175+ problems. The large-grained, friction-forward stone has been described as vertical, sharp, and abrasive, differing from the Midwest’s more prevalent limestone and sandstone cliffs. Overall, Elephant Rocks sports a healthy variety of slabby beginner lines and more perplexing problems ranging in height from short traverses to keep-your-wits-about-you highballs.
Runners-up: Johnson Shut-Ins State Park, Robinson Bluff, Horseshoe Canyon Ranch
Hall of Fame: Jackson Falls
Best Zipline/Aerial Course
Winner: Go Ape Zip Line & Treetop Adventure
Strung through the trees in Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park in Maryland Heights, Missouri, Go Ape’s cobweb of zip line cables is interspersed with bridges, ladders, and swings, creating an obstacle course that will challenge anyone’s inner Spider-Man. The facility actually offers two options: the Treetop Adventure course (31 obstacles, highest platform 45 feet) and the Treetop Journey course (22 obstacles, highest platform 25 feet), the latter aimed at beginners and kids. The aerial adventure offers amazing views of the natural lake and surrounding woodlands — and an adrenaline-pumping good time.
Runners-up: Hidden Valley Ziptour, Grafton Zipline, Caveman Zipline at Meramec Caverns
Winner: Onondaga Cave
Onondaga Cave has been named a National Natural Landmark for good reason; you’ll rarely find a more remarkable display of speleothems, or cave formations, including towering stalactites, stalagmite columns, rhinestone dams, cave coral, soda straws, active flowstones, and draperies — plus an underground river with an interesting history. Seasonal tours follow a 0.9-mile path and are guided by trained naturalists. The park in which the subterranean wonder is located, Onondaga Cave State Park, also features Meramec River access, camping, scenic hiking trails, a lake, picnic sites, and a shelter.
Runners-up: Meramec Cavern, Bridal Cave, Green’s Cave
Best Swimming Hole
Winner: Johnson Shut-ins State Park
Shooting down a natural water slide and splashing into one of the pools at Johnson Shut-ins State Park in Middle Brook is a rite of passage for Missouri residents. (For the record, a shut-in is a rock structure formed as water carves through a narrow valley or canyon, leaving in its wake a series of rivulets, rapids, and plunge pools.) In this case, the Black River and the surrounding St. Francois Mountains provide the necessary conditions. A boardwalk/observation platform serves those who prefer to enjoy the sights without getting wet.
Runners-up: Black River K Bridge, Marble Creek, Millstream Conservation Area
Best Outdoor Town
Winner: Ironton, Missouri
The opening of Shepherd Mountain Bike Park may have jump-started the outdoor economy in this small southeast Missouri mining community, but the purpose-built trails are far from the only game in town. Ironton lies a stone’s throw from Elephant Rocks and Johnson Shut-ins state parks (both Readers’ Choice award winners), Tom Sauk Mountain, and Mark Twain National Forest. This means that world-class hiking, biking, paddling, and rock climbing are all in the offing. In addition, Ironton is adding more infrastructure for sports and leisure, including accommodations, restaurants, and shops designed with outdoor enthusiasts in mind.
Runners-up: Steelville, Missouri; Wildwood, Missouri; Eureka, Missouri
Hall of Fame: Bentonville, Arkansas
Best Cycling Event
Winner: Pedal the Cause
After going remote-only in 2020, Pedal the Cause returned in-person in 2021, with 3,672 participants signing up for cycling, spinning, or at-home virtual activities. Individuals and teams raised funds from April through October, resulting in a total donation of $4,180,536 to Siteman Cancer Center and Siteman Kids at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Since 2010, the event has supported 175 research projects and donated a total of $36,263,645. Funds go to the most promising research projects as determined by each institution with the goal of curing cancer — all cancers, for everyone.
Runners-up: Moonlight Ramble, Ride the Rivers Century, World Naked Bike Ride
Hall of Fame: Gateway Cup
Best Gravel Biking Event
Winner: Tour of Hermann Gravel Challenge
This challenging ride allows participants to tackle as many as five loops on the gravel roads surrounding picturesque Hermann, Missouri. The two-day event is for any experience level, including beginners, with riders able to take on as little as one loop or as many as all five. Day one features three different loops with a total of 98 miles and 6,320 feet of climbing; day two offers two different loops with a total of 99 miles and 4,920 feet of climbing. Finish all five loops in the allotted time to be entered into the Tour of Hermann Gravel Challenge Elite Club!
Runners-up: Cuban Gravel Crisis, Gritty Grassy Gravel Race, Pedaler’s Jamboree
Best Mountain Biking Event
Winner: Big Mountain Enduro: Ironton
The eyes of mountain biking fans around the world turned to Ironton, Missouri, last May when the Big Mountain Enduro (BME) series hosted its first race at Shepherd Mountain Bike Park. BME is North America’s premier enduro series, and the promoter brought the stoke (and the elite athletes) to some of the most steep and janky riding anywhere — plus two days of festivities at the downtown square. BME returns in 2022 with a two-day race featuring seven or eight stages and upwards of 5,000 feet of climbing and descending, along with an all-day party on top of the mountain.
Runners-up: BT Epic, Chubb Enduro, Greensfelder Challenge
Best Road Running Event (under 13.1 miles)
Winner: Macklind Mile
The beauty of this race from Big River Running Company is that everyone can do it. “Whether you’re an athlete trying to go fast, or you’re a kid or a grandma, it’s something for everyone,” said Big River Marketing Director Katie Helblig. The route is, as advertised, 1 mile in distance, downhill. It ends at the front door of Big River’s South City store with a celebration featuring live music, vendors, and food and drinks. “It’s a very family friendly event and a nice depiction of the South City community,” said Helbig. “And anyone can wrap their head around running or walking a mile.”
Runners-up: Hot Chocolate Run 15K/5K, The Great GO! Halloween Race, Frostbite Series
Best Road Running Event (13.1 miles or over)
Winner: MO’ Cowbell Marathon
Looking for a flat, fast marathon with great views along the route? The MO’ Cowbell Marathon starts and finishes in Frontier Park, bordered by the Missouri River on one side and historic Main Street St. Charles on the other. The course winds out toward New Town for a loop around the neighborhood there before heading back toward the park. The second half runs north along the Katy Trail for a down-and-back. Those not trained up for 26.2 can tackle the half marathon, half marathon relay, or 5k. A post-race party includes refreshments, music, vendors, and a kids’ zone.
Runners-up: St. Louis Track Club Half Marathon, Belleville Main Street Marathon, Bass Pro Conservation Marathon
Hall of Fame: GO! St. Louis Marathon
Best Trail Running Event
Winner: The Skippo
This popular trail race was named after local running legend Skip “Skippo” MacDowell, who has dedicated countless volunteer hours maintaining the paths at Castlewood State Park, where the event traditionally takes place. The race began in 2009 as a 20k that featured two loops on a fairly flat course — except, of course, for the infamous wood stairs. It was at MacDowell’s urging, wanting to involve as many runners as possible, that both 10k and 30k options were added, making The Skippo a weekend event, with races on both Saturday and Sunday. Join the fun for yourself this November.
Runners-up: Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run, Double Chubb, KT82 Trail Relay
Best Rock Climbing Event
Winner: 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell
Called the Burning Man of climbing competitions, at its heart, 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell is a grueling event where 450 climbers from around the world see who can top the most routes in one day. (For the less masochistic, there’s a 12-hour option.) The contest is a team format: one person belays while the other lead climbs. Points are awarded for each line cleaned — no falls and no leaning on the rope — with categories for all skill levels. The atmosphere is rock concert meets outdoor expo: music, food, beer, costumes, yard games, vendors, and parties all weekend long.
Runners-up: Holy Boulders Bouldering Competition, So iLL Showdown, Gateway Boulder Bash
Best Paddling Event
Winner: Missouri Whitewater Championship
Each March, paddlers from across the Midwest come to race on the St. Francis River in Millstream Gardens Conservation Area, just west of Fredericktown, Missouri. The Missouri Whitewater Championship takes advantage of the protrusion of igneous rock and notable river drop here to create a course challenging all abilities in slalom, downriver, and “boatercross” categories (the latter pits up to six kayakers against one another in a shared heat). This an action-packed, fun-filled contest, complete with a big pre-event group paddle and party, live commentary on race day, and a celebratory awards dinner at the conclusion.
Runners-up: Meramec Marathon, Paddle MO, Big Muddy Adventures Full Moon Float
Hall of Fame: Missouri River 340
Winner: St. Louis Triathlon
Triathlons are hard enough, why make them even more difficult? The St. Louis Triathlon strives to create a fun, safe, exciting event for racers and spectators. The race is based at beautiful Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park and features a swim with sighting buoys every 100 meters and professional lifeguards. The bike course boasts closed highway lanes, SAG vehicles, and long straightaways for PR-level speeds. The run takes place on a scenic out-and-back route with green trees and the lake as your backdrop. You’ll appreciate the custom finisher medal and spectacular swag as symbols of your epic achievement.
Runners-up: Lake St. Louis Triathlon, New Town Triathlon, Chain of Rocks Duathlon
Best Multisport Event
Winner: Tough Mudder Missouri
Mud runs are a different animal than most multisport events in that you’re meant to resemble a pig in slop when you’re done. It’s all part of the experience, and Tough Mudder has you covered, so to speak, with its annual muck-fest in Wright City, Missouri. Choose from 15k (9+ miles, 30 obstacles), 10k (6+ miles, 20 obstacles), 5k (3+ miles, 13 obstacles) or kids (multiple distances, obstacles) categories. The course here features wooded trails, steep hills, and unyielding obstacles, combined with a beer-fueled after-party that you won’t want to miss. Just don’t forget to bring a change of clothes.
Runners-up: Castlewood 8-Hour Adventure Race, 3 Legged Monster Race, Current River Challenge
Best Outdoor Expo
Winner: Singletrack Mind Festival
For some, Labor Day weekend means burgers, beer, and family gatherings. For others, it means mountain bike racing, trail running, and partying until dawn. If you fall into the second group, put the Singletrack Mind Festival on your calendar for 2022. It takes place at Two Rivers Bike Park in Nixa, Missouri (just down the road from Springfield) and features a lot of action on the trails — cross country, enduro, crit, slopestyle, and trail run contests — plus a movie night, food trucks, live music, vendor village, and “beer that flows like wine.” Sign us up!
Runners-up: Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival, Festival of Nations, All Things Gravel Expo
Best Outdoor Guide/Instructor
Winner: Mike Clark (Big Muddy Adventures)
“Big Muddy” Mike Clark is one of the most accomplished canoeists and guides in America, having logged more than 20,000 miles of big river experience. In 2001, he completed his first of many long expeditions, a source-to-sea descent of the Mississippi River. Clark, a former teacher, founded experiential learning company Big Muddy Adventures the next year (see “Best Paddling Operator”). He has since introduced thousands of St. Louisans — including hundreds of school children — to the joy of paddling. With an encyclopedic knowledge of our waterways and a magnetic personality, it’s no surprise he tops our list.
Runners-up: Cody Jones (Wheels Up), Jackson DePew (St. Louis Mountain Bike Camps), Jay Thomas (Roots MTB)
Winner: Bob Dyer (Running Niche)
It takes one to know one, and Bob Dyer, co-owner of St. Louis’ Running Niche, knows runners. He has a 2:21:07 marathon to his credit and is certified in the Lydiard training method, which emphasizes the quantity and quality of base training rather than focusing on speed work or intervals. “Everybody is an individual,” said Dyer. “The way we coach, it’s about that person and where they are in their fitness journey.” He trains about 60 runners — all for free. “It’s something we do because we enjoy it and want people to get better, whatever better means for them,” Dyer said.
Runners-up: Eric Frazier (Frazier Strength & Endurance), Mark Spewak (Spewak Training), Sally Drake (MSE Endurance Coaching)
Best Regional Outdoor Athlete
Winner: Marie O’Leary
Mizzou track and cross country alum Marie O’Leary has been a runner since middle school, but it wasn’t until recently that she had a “breakthrough.” “I was inspired by a friend who ran the GO! St. Louis Marathon, and I thought I wanted to sign up for a marathon,” said the 30-year-old. She walked into Running Niche one day and started talking to co-owner Bob Dyer. He turned her on to the Lydiard training method, and O’Leary noticed immediate improvement in her times. Last October, she recorded a 2:46:49 at the Chicago Marathon, just shy of the women’s 2021 Olympic trials qualifying time (2:45). O’Leary hopes to break the barrier in 2022. “To compete in the Olympic trials would be such an honor,” she said.
Runners-up: Mike Barro, Eric Buckley, Annie Schwartz
Best Outdoor Store Employee
Winner: Perry Whitaker (Alpine Shop)
Anyone who has been to an Alpine Shop class likely has met Perry Whitaker. He’s been with the store since 2012 and, along with being a top salesperson, teaches first-aid, Leave No Trace, orienteering, paddling, and more. “Perry is the linchpin between our retail side and our programming side,” said Alpine Shop Marketing Director Todd Oswald. “He makes sure our customers get the training they need and the quality gear to go with it.” Whitaker also started the St. Louis Adventure Group (SLAG) on Meetup and is well known as a member of numerous outdoor organizations in eastern Missouri.
Runners-up: Jennifer Henderson (Running Niche), Joey Russell (Take A Hike Shop), Mike Weiss (Big Shark Bicycle Company)
Winner: Dr. Peter Raven (Missouri Botanical Garden)
For 40 years, Dr. Raven headed the Missouri Botanical Garden, and he was instrumental in it becoming a world-class center for botanical research, education, and horticultural display. He is now president emeritus of the institution and continues to be a leader in conservation and biodiversity. See page 20 for our interview with Dr. Raven about his new memoir Driven By Nature: A Personal Journey From Shanghai to Botany to Global Sustainability.
Runners-up: Jean Ponzi (KDHX Earthworms), Brian Waldrop (Missouri Stream Team), Kathie Brennan (Ozark Trail Association)
Best Sports Doctor/Physical Therapist
Winner: Dr. Lauren Hendrix (West County Spine & Joint)
St. Louis native Dr. Hendrix has decades of experience with runners. It started when she ran track and cross country for Marquette High School and continued at DePauw University in Indiana, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and psychology. She has since completed a master’s in sports rehabilitation and become certified to perform Graston Technique. Her most recent certification focuses on the needs of the female athlete through all stages of life. Dr. Hendrix still runs — look for her at area ultramarathons and triathlons — and she also serves as the assistant cross country coach at Marquette.
Runners-up: Vanda Wilder (SSM Health Physical Therapy), Ann Crowe (Precision Physical Therapy), Taylor Bushnell (Peak Sport & Spine Physical Therapy)
Best Regional Outdoor Photographer
Winner: Alex Noguera (Alex Noguera Photography)
Repeat winner Alex Noguera continues to do what drives his passion, which is encouraging people to enjoy outdoor recreation. His creative strategy? To use purposeful photography of events such as trail builds, mountain bike and trail running races, or even just folks outside having fun to increase awareness and appreciation of what we have in our backyard. “When you come to these outdoor events, people are always having a good time,” said Noguera. “I want to help get people away from technology and social media and connect with other people, or simply with the natural world.”
Runners-up: Marcus Janzow (Janzow Photography), Dan Singer (Dan Singer Photography), Rick Mayo (Mile 90 Photography)
Best Regional Social Media Influencer
Winner: Seth Gebel (Backyard Trail Builds)
When Missouri-bred mountain biker Seth Gebel visited Colorado in the mid-2010s, he returned with an idea: to begin building features like he saw out west and introduce area riders to the thrill of “sending it.” He started on his parents’ property, filming his exploits — the good, bad, and ugly. Fast forward to now, and Gebel’s Backyard Trail Builds YouTube channel boasts 178,000 followers and more than 16 million views. “Missouri riders don’t get much feature time,” he said. “I’d love to change that. For now though, I build every weekend and film for you all to watch.”
Runners-up: Justin Rausch (OneMTB), Mark Spewak (Spewak Training), Amy Marxkors (The Charlie Brennan Show with Amy Marxkors; The Amy Marxkors Show)
Best Running Store
Winner: Big River Running Company (South City)
The first independent running store in the City of St. Louis is actually the second Big River location. But that means nothing to the loyal patrons who have supported the shop since it opened in 2008. From its all-season Monday Night Group Run, to its Holiday Lights Run, to special events like the Macklind Mile, the success of this shop comes from its community feel, says Katie Helblig, marketing director for the company. “It’s a cozy, intimate space,” she said. “We’re very entrenched in the Macklind business district, and the neighborhood has really embraced that.”
Runners-up: Running Niche, Fleet Feet (South County), RunWell
Hall of Fame: Big River Running Company (West County)
Best Bike Shop
Winner: Big Shark Bicycle Company (Richmond Heights)
Housed in the old Hi-Fi-Fo-Fum building on Big Bend Boulevard (if you know, you know), Big Shark is a St. Louis cycling community cornerstone. This location took the mantle of flagship when the original Loop store closed in 2016, and it offers the same great products, diverse inventory, and professional service as the original. In addition, the cycling powerhouse produces more than 100 days of local events in running, walking, multisport, cyclocross, and recreational and competitive cycling. Big Shark also proudly sponsors and supports many of the area’s charity bike rides, clubs, and teams.
Runners-up: Ballwin Cycles, Maplewood Bicycle, The Cyclery & Fitness Center (Edwardsville)
Best Outdoor Store
Winner: REI St. Louis
While many of its instructional programs and guided trips have been curtailed due to COVID, REI’s customer-friendly service and convenience features still place it at the top of the heap — from its wide selection of quality gear from across the outdoor spectrum (including its own co-op label), to its in-store bike shop, to its gear repair services and flexible return policy. Big news for 2022 is that REI plans to open a second, 23,000-square-foot store in the Town & Country suburb of St. Louis this spring; stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.
Runners-up: Take A Hike Shop, Bass Pro Shops, Big Muddy Adventures Guide Shop
Hall of Fame: Alpine Shop (Kirkwood)
Best Rock Climbing Gym
Winner: Climb So iLL (St. Charles)
In 2020, the creative thinkers at Climb So iLL reopened an industrial building in St. Charles, Missouri, as a place where people could get a grip on the latest trends in climbing, as well as traditional options. Called the Steel Shop after the big white letters painted on its edifice, the 30,000-square-foot facility features a bouldering area, climbing walls stretching to 50 feet tall, and a whimsical Gravity Lab perfect for young climbers, team-building events, and parties. The location also features a yoga studio and fitness area, along with a menu of classes providing instruction in all of the above.
Runners-up: Upper Limits (St. Louis), Upper Limits (Maryland Heights), Climb So iLL (St. Louis)
Best Paddling Operator
Winner: Big Muddy Adventures
BMA, as it’s known for short, has been helping St. Louis residents and visitors experience our big rivers since 2002 — back when most people’s idea of canoeing was the ubiquitous Ozarks “float trip.” More than merely guided paddles on the Missouri and Mississippi, BMA goes the extra mile with overnight excursions; pedal/paddle adventures; educational youth programs; custom private outings; and monthly Full Moon and Rivertime Supper Club trips that feature gourmet campfire cooking. BMA recently opened a brick-and-mortar shop in the Central West End that sells an inventory heavily focused on water activities but also includes apparel and camping gear.
Runners-up: Paddle Stop New Haven, Bass’ River Resort, Alpine Shop
Best Midwest Outdoor Brand
Winner: Küat Racks
What began as a homemade bike carrier has evolved into a thriving company that creates high-end, innovative racks and accessories that have revolutionized the way we transport our outdoor gear. Headquartered in Springfield, Missouri, Küat started in 2008 with a single hitch-mounted bike rack model but now produces more than a dozen hitch, roof, and trunk racks for two-wheelers — along with kayak and ski/snowboard conveyances. Moreover, the company has become a leading outdoor lifestyle brand, pushing stylish aesthetics, supporting a competitive cycling team, and partnering with organizations dedicated to improving outdoor culture around the US.
Runners-up: So iLL, Alps Mountaineering, Qikcover
Best Outdoor Program/Summer Camp
Winner: Wheels Up
If you’ve been at a St. Louis-area park and have seen a bunch of blue-and-orange ramps, canopies, and cones along with mountain bikers practicing jumps, drops, and manuals, then you’ve seen Wheels Up. With more than 70 years of combined riding experience and trained by the Bike Instructor Certification Program (BICP), the instructors behind these youth and adult clinics pride themselves on providing the skills to help riders of all abilities accomplish their goals, whether learning to brake safely or learning to fly. Wheels Up also offers multi-day camps, private lessons, and special, themed events.
Runners-up: Missouri Interscholastic Cycling League, Upper Limits Rock Climbing Camps, Camp Ondessonk
Hall of Fame: St. Louis Mountain Bike Camps
Best Outdoor Nonprofit
As much as Trailnet likes to host fun events like the Bridge Birthday Bash and Ride the Rivers Century, there’s a serious side to its work: advocating for safer biking and walking paths in urban and suburban areas. For 33 years, the nonprofit has guided local municipalities on best practices for adding bike lanes, safe crossings, and devices for traffic calming. Trailnet is currently working on its Connecting St. Louis Plan, a vision to transform the City of St. Louis by connecting neighborhoods, cultural districts, and business centers with safe, equitable transportation options for all.
Runners-up: Gateway Off-Road Cyclists, Ozark Trail Association, Missouri Interscholastic Cycling League
Best Post-Adventure Eatery
Winner: Good News Brewing (Defiance)
It’s hard to bypass this roadhouse-style brewpub on a cruise of the Katy Trail through Defiance, Missouri. There’s a good chance you can hear live music on most weekends during the riding season — and a 100-percent chance of good food, beer, stories, and laughs. Hungry? Grab a wood-fired pizza (made right on site) or perhaps a salad or bistro box filled with fruits and veggies. If beer isn’t your beverage of choice, try a fresh-roasted coffee from Alpha & Omega. The location sometimes hosts private events and weddings, so call ahead before pedaling or hiking over.
Runners-up: Bike Stop Café, Schlafly Bottleworks, Big Chief Roadhouse
Winner: 4 Hands Brewing Company
Located just blocks from downtown St. Louis in the LaSalle Park neighborhood, this two-story taproom crafts 10 year-round beers and three hard seltzers, as well as a rotating lineup of seasonal beers and special releases, from peanut butter chocolate to imperial stout. Three of its brews — City Wide American Pale Ale, City Wide Pils, and State Wide Hazy Pale Ale — benefit our community by a portion of the proceeds going to local charity programs. To hold the munchies at bay, 4 Hands offers a limited food menu from local favorites Sidney Street Cafe and Peacemaker.
Runners-up: Urban Chestnut Brewing Company (The Grove), Schlafly Bottleworks, Melvin Brewing
Winner: Blumenhof Winery
This small, family-owned winery lies less than an hour from St. Louis in the historic village of Dutzow, Missouri’s oldest German settlement, founded in 1834. Three generations of the Blumenberg family have been involved in producing the award-winning wines here, which include Vidal Blanc, Cabernet, Muscat, and more. All of the wines are made from locally grown grapes, sourced from the family’s own vineyards and a select group of independent growers. Blumenhof sits atop the Missouri River bluffs overlooking the Katy Trail, with a large porch, patio, and picnic area ideal for relaxation and reflection.
Runners-up: Chaumette Vineyards & Winery, Chandler Hill Vineyards, Montelle Winery
Winner: Pinckney Bend Distillery
Named after a pioneer town that disappeared under the waters of the Missouri River in 1824, Pinckney Bend Distillery anchors downtown New Haven and its mix of quaint shops, eateries, and businesses. Its first spirit, Pinckney Bend American Gin, was produced in 2011. A year later, the beverage won a Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The Tasting Room was launched in 2013, with vodka and corn whiskey soon being added to the roster. Today, the distillery offers four types of gin, three whiskeys, and one vodka, all carefully batch-stilled using American-grown ingredients.
Runners-up: Still 630, Square One Brewery & Distillery, Black Shire Distillery
Best Coffee House
Winner: Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Co.
This St. Louis business opened its first café in the Demun neighborhood in 1994. It now operates eight locations in the Gateway City; one in Columbia, Missouri; and three in Atlanta. The secret, says the company, lies in producing quality in the cup and sharing it responsibly. Kaldi’s works hard to find sustainable solutions, whether that means using strawless lids or partnering with a local manufacturer of cup sleeves that plants a tree for every 7,000 it produces. In addition, Kaldi’s is committed to supporting local organizations like Pedal the Cause and the Gateway Resilience Fund.
Runners-up: Arcadia Valley Roasting Company, Rise Coffee House, Hartford Coffee Company
Best Farmers Market
Winner: Tower Grove Farmers’ Market
Where can you pick up some fresh dog food and get your knives sharpened while enjoying a honey scone on your way to picking up a bouquet of city-grown flowers? You can do all this and more at the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market (TGFM), which launched in 2006. Since that time, the market has gone from hosting 13 vendors a week to more than 60, making it a bustling community event and one of the largest farmers’ markets in the St. Louis region. The TGFM is currently offering winter markets on select Saturdays through March.
Runners-up: Soulard Farmers Market, Kirkwood Farmers Market, Ferguson Farmers Market
Readers’ Choice Hall of Fame
The Terrain Readers’ Choice Hall of Fame recognizes those who have won their respective categories for three consecutive years. Being inducted solidifies each vote-getter’s place as a perennial favorite in the Midwest outdoors and allows us to shine a light on other worthy people, places, and businesses.
Castlewood State Park
Best Regional Park (National/State)
In the early 1900s, it was a resort getaway for St. Louis city dwellers. Today, Castlewood State Park in Ballwin still draws big crowds, though most are more interested in outdoor recreation than sneaking a drink at one of the old (and long gone) speakeasys. The park boasts 26+ miles of trails for hiking, running, mountain biking, and equestrian use, some of which soar above the Meramec River on bluffs that offer an expansive view of the surrounding valley. Bring a lunch basket: the park has picnic sites, reservable shelters, a sand beach, and a playground for the kids.
Best Regional Park (County/City)
Voted the top city park in the country by the readers of USA Today, this 1,326-acre midtown oasis is a St. Louis treasure. With a sprawling, all-purpose landscape of woods, lakes, streams, trails, playscapes, and green spaces, Forest Park invites leisurely walks and intense workouts, quiet picnics and exciting outdoor events. It’s also home to numerous sports facilities and five major cultural institutions — plus access to canoeing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding on the Post-Dispatch Lake via Big Muddy Adventures at the Boathouse.
Gravois Greenway (Gant’s Trail)
Best Greenway/Hard Surface Trail
The already popular Gravois Greenway took on even greater prominence in 2020 when a 2-mile extension connected it to the River des Peres Greenway: This created 21.5 miles of continuous paved trail inking St. Louis City and County, seven municipalities, a MetroLink station, historic sites, neighborhoods, and businesses. More recently, a proposed expansion rom the current trailhead at Holmes and Leffingwell avenues would extend the trail into downtown Kirkwood and its boutiques, restaurants, bars, and farmer’s market.
Bluff View/Zombie Trail
Best Mountain Biking Trail
This 12-mile round-trip route weaves among timbered hills and ravines on both sides of paved Rock Hollow Trail in Wildwood, Missouri. Its highlights include a scenic overlook, several creek crossings, trickling waterfalls — one that you ride behind in a cave-like hollow — and gnarly rock formations scattered along the undulating single-track. A new directional downhill trail with sculpted dirt berms and jumps has quickly become a hot spot for local riders. You can thank Gateway Off-Road Cyclists (GORC) for its hard work in building and maintaining Bluff View/Zombie.
Best Rock Climbing Area
Tucked in the Shawnee National Forest near the town of Simpson, Jackson Falls offers the most climbing routes in Illinois, and arguably the best. There are roughly 60 climbing areas along the sandstone bluffs here, each with multiple named routes on them (over 500 in all). Many ascend to 50+ feet high and range in difficulty from 5.6 to 5.13. Sport routes predominate, though there are some traditional routes and a few areas suitable for setting up a top rope. Excellent bouldering opportunities also exist, with the whole area sitting in a lovely glen with hike-in approaches and free camping.
Best Road Trip/Outdoor Town
Hands-down the best mountain biking destination in the Midwest. The key is trail access and relevancy — a fast-growing network of single-track with something for everyone to ride, much of it linking to greenways that take you right to the town square. Here, you can sample the diverse culinary scene, tour historic buildings, and visit world-class institutions like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Nearby communities Eureka Springs, Fayetteville, and Hot Springs offer even more miles of trails, as well as entry to the Upper Buffalo Wilderness and Ozark National Forest.
Best Road Cycling Event
St. Louis’ largest competitive cycling event takes place every Labor Day weekend, Friday through Monday, in four historic neighborhoods: Lafayette Square, Francis Park, The Hill, and Benton Park. Regardless of the location, this style of criterium bike racing is extraordinarily friendly to spectators. There’s no admission fee. You can stay as long as you like, taking in action at nine races a day. And because the cyclists are riding laps around a defined course, generally a mile or so long, you get to see them multiple times and can watch the race unfold in front of you. Enjoy food, drinks, vendors, and announcers doing play-by-play via loudspeaker.
GO! St. Louis Marathon & Family Fitness Weekend
Best Road Running Event (13.1 miles or over)
“Marathon” is right in the name, so naturally a 26.2-mile race is in the offing, but so are a half marathon, marathon relay, 10k, 5k, and children;s fun run. In all, the GO! St. Louis Marathon & Family Fitness Weekend attracts more than 25,000 people to downtown St. Louis and invites runners to tackle routes that encompass some of the city’s historic landmarks. Runners refuel with local favorites like Ted Drewes frozen custard and toasted Ravioli. Finishers take home a custom medal and (possibly) a Boston Marathon qualifier.
Missouri River 340
Best Paddling Event
Every year, people come from across the country to compete in the world’s longest nonstop paddle race. The Missouri River 340 (MR340) traverses an entire state, starting in Kansas City and ending in St. Charles a little over three and a half days later. Racers can sign up solo or as part of a team, in a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard. Podium contenders paddle day and night, but others approach the event with a more laid-back attitude and simply hope to finish in the allotted time and celebrate their amazing achievement at the after-party held at the Lewis and Clark Boat House and Museum.
Alpine Shop (Kirkwood)
Best Outdoor Store
Founded as a small climbing shop in 1973, Alpine Shop has grown into St. Louis’ leading independent resource for outdoor sports of all types. Its Kirkwood location offers new gear and apparel for backpacking, camping, kayaking, canoeing, and rock climbing — plus a full-service bike shop and ski/snowboard shop (including rentals) and a certified pedorthist able to do custom footwear fitting and modification on site. The store has a full schedule of events, including an off-road race series, and supports area organizations dedicated to the preservation of and access to our wild places.
Big River Running Company (West County)
Best Running Store
West County was the original Big River location, opened in 2006, and became a true flagship for the company in 2017 when it moved down the street to a large, free-standing building. The store features a 10- by 5-foot pixel screen for watching films and other programs, a cutting-edge Fit Center with treadmills and automated gait analysis, and beautiful fitting rooms and sculpted shoe walls. Big River offers free group runs, training teams, and clinics; hosts a series of popular races; collects and donates shoes for the less fortunate; and supports local charities through its Big River Gives Back program.
Hargrove Fly Fishing
Best Fly Fishing Store
From the potbelly stove in the middle of the room to the card table covered with fly-tying vices and spools of thread to the ever-present anglers trading tall tales, this is the kind of shop you might expect to find in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, but it just happens to be in Brentwood, Missouri. Notwithstanding the mountain town ambiance, it’s the staff that customers point to as the main attraction: friendly, knowledgeable, and trustworthy. The store offers casting and fly-tying classes and stocks an array of rods, flies, books, and accessories for the novice and expert angler alike.
St. Louis Mountain Bike Camps
Best Outdoor Program/Summer Camp
This homegrown business had one goal in mind when it started back in 2014: to make St. Louis a better place to grow up by getting more kids on bikes and enjoying the outdoors. Founder Mike Flieg credits the camps’ dynamic team of local instructors for providing quality experiences and education. Current programs include the popular Castlewood Summer Camp, Destination Camps/Trips, and Small Custom Camps lasting from two to five days. There’s also a Junior Enduro/Development Team for those kids “striving to be the best riders they can be.”
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.