It was a cool, sunny day in October, and my family and I were seated in an open-air railway car being chug-chug-chugged into a swathe of red and yellow trees by a miniature steam locomotive. The Meramec River bluffs soared high and rugged to the north; forested sloughs and flowing water to the south. As we stopped to reverse our 1-mile ramble, a fleet of bicyclists and runners skimmed past on the Al Foster Memorial Trail, no doubt on their way to one of the many landmarks the popular “spine” trail connects.
The Al Foster is the main recreational artery that runs through this scenically beautiful and diverse part of the Meramec River Valley. The result of a partnership between the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, St. Louis County Department of Parks and Recreation, Great Rivers Greenway and the City of Wildwood, it is named for Al Foster, a 20th-century journalist and historian who worked to preserve the Meramec River. The trail loosely follows the route of the old Pacific Railroad, the first to go west of St. Louis in 1851.
Today, the Al Foster exposes thousands of acres of public land to hikers, bikers, runners, fishermen and other enthusiasts, and connects to a number of notable outdoor assets, including the Bluff View, Stinging Nettle and Cedar Bluff trails, Glencoe City Park and Sherman Beach County Park. In fact, the path makes it possible for users to venture all the way from Castlewood State Park in Ballwin to Greensfelder County Park in Eureka with only a little creative routing and motivation necessary.
The Al Foster Memorial Trail currently measures 5.5 miles in length, with an overall elevation change of 206 feet. The trail is 8 feet wide and made mostly of crushed limestone, with some natural surface sections.
From the trailhead in Glencoe, users can take the trail 3 miles east to Sherman Beach, then another 2 miles east to Castlewood State Park. (The Al Foster technically ends just shy of Castlewood proper, but a short spur trail links the two.) The remaining .5 miles flows west of the trailhead and connects to the Hamilton Carr Trail, which extends to Rockwoods Reservation.
The Al Foster is open to bicyclists and pedestrians, and makes a great alternative when backwoods trails are too wet to use.
The Wabash, Frisco & Pacific miniature railway is located in close proximity to the Al Foster Trailhead in Glencoe. It is open every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. May through October (rain or shine). The ride is a 2-mile round trip lasting about 30 minutes and travels along the Meramec River. A $4 donation is asked per ticket. Children 3 and younger ride free.
A short walk north from the trailhead, Glencoe City Park has a playground, picnic tables and pavilion, restrooms and parking. (However, water is not available.) Rest and recuperate here after a run, ride or hike.
Not quite a mile east from the Al Foster Trailhead, the path intersects with Rock Hollow Trail (paved). Head north up the asphalt surface and you will no doubt see mountain bikers flitting in and around the wooded bluffs on both sides of the road. This is Zombie Trail, currently under development by Gateway Off-Road Cyclists but due to be completed this fall/winter. It offers 11+ miles of majestic, multi-purpose single-track packed with gorgeous scenery and rock outcroppings.
Continuing east from Rock Hollow Trail will take users to Sherman Beach County Park. There are no restrooms or running water, but a large gravel bar makes getting to the Meramec River easy. Parking and access to Stinging Nettle Trail are also available here.
According to the City of Wildwood, future Al Foster Trail connections are planned to Route 66 State Park to the south and beyond Castlewood State Park to the east. When completed, the Al Foster will become an official segment of the Ozark Trail, which will extend from the confluence of the Meramec and Mississippi rivers to the Arkansas/Missouri border.
Length: 5.5 miles
Surface: Crushed limestone
Usage: Running, walking and bicycling
Parking: Available at the Al Foster Memorial Trailhead in Glencoe or at Sherman Beach County Park in Wildwood
Amenities: Wabash, Frisco & Pacific miniature railway, picnic tables, restrooms and trash cans are available at the Al Foster Memorial Trailhead