In KC: Spacious parks, an inviting riverfront and nature centers
Mill Creek Park can be a tranquil spot to grab a bench and relax, just across J.C. Nichols Parkway from the Country Club Plaza. Or it can be a people-watching bonanza, with pick-up soccer games, volleyball tourneys and something called “friz,” a flying disc game on bicycles. This is the go-to choice for protesters with placards, and the picturesque J.C. Nichols Fountain attracts a warm-weather stream of bridal parties. One loop around the park path, which features exercise stations, is 1.2 miles.
For wider wide-open spaces, Loose Park is nearby, a few blocks south of the Plaza at Wornall Road and West 51st Street. The 75-acre swath of undulating meadows was formerly a golf course. A pond and fountain sit next to Wornall. The park’s loop paths are a little under 2 miles. Highlight: Laura Conyers Smith Municipal Rose Garden, begun in 1931 with recent updates, features 4,000 roses in 150 varieties.
One of the biggest municipal parks in the country, Swope Park, at East Meyer Boulevard and Swope Parkway, is more than twice the size of New York’s Central Park. Its 1,805 acres attract 2 million visitors a year, particularly to the Kansas City Zoo and Starlight Theatre. Also popular are the Swope Memorial Golf Course, a disc golf course and mountain biking trails.
Don’t leave without visiting Lakeside Nature Center, a wildlife rehabilitation and education center (eagles, vultures and owls, oh my) and the Thomas H. Swope Memorial, a 1918 colonnade and the hilltop resting place of Swope, who donated much of the land for the park. kcparks.org
Biking/walking/jogging: So you want to bike or jog along the Missouri River? Yeah, so do the rest of us, but our waterfront isn’t the friendliest. Still, the riverfront below the downtown bluff is way more inviting than just a few a years ago. Go to Second and Main streets in the River Market neighborhood and head north on Main to a pedestrian bridge, at the end of which is a river lookout and an elevator — really — down to the Riverfront Heritage Trail (kcrivertrails.org). That’s the site of the original Town of Kansas and from there a wide, paved path stretches east through Berkley Riverfront Park. Another option: Drive 10 miles north to the town of Parkville (parkvillemo.gov) and English Landing Park, with its 3 miles of trails that parallel the river.
The Trolley Track Trail is a hometown favorite. It’s a mostly crushed-stone path, about 6 miles, that winds past the University of Missouri-Kansas City and through several charming neighborhoods to the south, including Crestwood, Brookside and Waldo along Brookside Boulevard and Wornall Road. kcata.org/rider_guide
Farther south, a greenway trail system along Indian and Tomahawk creeks offers a woodsy, shaded journey through Kansas City, Leawood, Overland Park and Olathe. For a guide with trailhead parking, go to jcprd.com/parks_facilities.
If you’re downtown, you can grab a bicycle for rent at B-cycle stations from River Market to near the Plaza, with expansion to more neighborhoods this summer. A one-day pass is $7, plus a $2 fee every half-hour after the first 30 minutes. kansascity.bcycle.com
Hiking: For great nature hikes, stop at Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area and Nature Center, 1401 N.W. Park Road in Blue Springs. Pick one of the five trail options, from a half-mile paved trail to a 1.3-mile wood-chip trail through an area of woodlands, prairies, restored glades and ponds. More here.
Ernie Miller Nature Center, 909 N. Kansas 7 in Olathe, is also popular for hiking, offering primarily woodland trails. erniemiller.com
| Edward M. Eveld, The Kansas City Star
St. Louis: Leave walls behind at Forest Park, Missouri Botanical Garden or Creve Coeur Park
Spanning 1,371 acres, St. Louis’ Forest Park is home to many of the city’s biggest tourist attractions, including the zoo, Science Center, Art Museum, History Museum and the Muny theater.
You’ll also find the Jewel Box greenhouse, the Boathouse at Forest Park (a restaurant and boat rental facility) and the World’s Fair Pavilion. Fun activities include bike rentals and fishing (and, in wintertime, snow sledding on Art Hill and ice skating at Steinberg Skating Rink). forsestparkforever.org
The Missouri Botanical Garden, one of the nation’s oldest, is home to the Climatron, a geodesic dome that houses 14,000 tropical plants, the 14-acre Japanese Garden, the Children’s Garden, which includes a cave, slides and a treehouse, and much more.
This summer, the garden also features “Nature Connects,” an exhibit of Lego sculptures in the Climatron; the Whitaker Music Festival, an outdoor concert series on Wednesday nights; and the Japanese Festival, an annual cultural event on Labor Day weekend with Japanese food, taiko drummers and sumo wrestlers.
Garden admission is $8 for adults, free for children 12 and under (special exhibits may have an added ticket price); missouribotanicalgarden.org.
Creve Coeur Park in Maryland Heights offers a sand beach (volleyball anyone?), boat and bike rentals, zip-lining, picnics, walking trails and more. Kids will love the new Go Ape treetop adventure course that includes a skateboard zip line ($35-$55), stlouisco.com/ParksandRecreation/ParkPages/CreveCoeur
| Karen Deer and Jody Mitori, St. Louis Post-Dispatch