Forest Park is a St. Louis classic offering shared-use paths, athletic fields, culture, history, and dining.
Exercise Friendly: 10/ 10 Family Friendly: 10/ 10 Special Features: Zoo and Museums
Three and a half years ago, I was sitting in my dorm room moping around and trying to figure out what to do with my spare time. I came to the conclusion that I would take my old boss’s advice and try pilates as a way to get more active and to try something new in the community. There was just one minor problem. The closest pilates studio was 5.1 miles away and I did not own a car. So, I hopped on my trusty bike and thought of it as a nice 10 mile bike ride with a pilates workout intercession. To my surprise and pleasure, I came upon a beautiful blacktop bike path running all the way along the edge of forest park in a nearly direct route to the studio. Also to my slight dismay, the hills provided quite the challenge to my untrained legs. But the views of lakes, trees, and rolling, grassy hills distracted me from all the effort I was putting forth. What I had originally seen as a quick route out of necessity transformed into the great idea to begin biking regularly in Forest Park.
I would like to introduce a series of posts called Your Guide to the Best St. Louis Parks. Saint Louis has a wealth of parks of varying size and purpose. From my experience, some parks are best for biking, some for running, some for open fields, some for hiking and nature, and some for just finding a bench and relaxing.
Writing this series is a great motivation for me to explore what Saint Louis has to offer in terms of parks. I have always enjoyed finding nature in and around the city because it is a great stress reliever for me personally. Transitioning to city life was challenging for me since I came from a semi-rural lifestyle. Technically I grew up in suburbia, but I did live on a small farm where the comfort of nature and outdoor activities were always literally a step away. Today, although I’ve taken a strong liking to city living, I still look to outdoor activities for recreation and relaxation.
I think it is obligatory for me to start by featuring Forest Park because of it’s historical significance and massive size and scope. Forest Park is 1300 acres and over 140 years old. If you seek culture, dining, a history lesson, exercise, or a nature retreat, Forest Park has it all.
The thing that I go to Forest Park most often for are the multi-use paths. There is a 5.56 mile long asphalt path perfect for biking, and a 5.66 mile long limestone path suited for running and walking that takes a similar route to the asphalt path. Whenever I get the chance, I ride my bike from my apartment to Forest Park and take the asphalt loop before heading back home. It is the perfect length for me and the path is hilly enough to make me feel like I got a great workout and scenic enough that I never get bored. If you are interested in other activities, there are also athletic fields, a golf course, a tennis center, and handball courts.
Cultural institutions include the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Saint Louis Science Center, the Missouri History Museum, the Muny (an outdoor theatre), and the Saint Louis Zoo. General admission is free to all of these places. The Art Museum has an impressive variety of art collections from varying time periods and art mediums. The Science Center has a lot of interactive exhibits and is a great place for a family outing because the kids could be entertained for hours. The History Museum has permanent and temporary exhibits. I have not had the chance to visit there yet but I will be making a visit soon because I am particularly interested in one of their temporary exhibits titled “Capturing the City: Photographs from the Streets of St. Louis, 1900–1930.” The Muny has performances during the summer, and the first performance of 2017 is “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The Saint Louis Zoo is a favorite of many St. Louisans. It has a circular layout so you are sure not to miss anything and it is quite large. The fact that it is free means that you can just go to see your favorite animal for ten minutes if you want and be on your way. Also, I recommend the zoo’s special winter event called “Wild Lights at the Zoo.” The time and planning invested into decking out the entire zoo with lights is really incredible. There are even bonfires, s’mores, and warm drinks if you need a warming up.
Speaking of winter activities, there is an ice rink called “Steinberg Skating Rink” open from mid-November to late-February. All day admission is $7 and skate rental is $6. Lessons are also offered and there is a cafe called “Snowflake Cafe” if you crave a snack or drink. Also, if there’s snow on the ground, Art Hill is a popular and fun place for sledding.
A warm-weather activity I recommend is spending some time at The Boathouse Restaurant located on the edge of Post-Dispatch Lake in the center of Forest Park. I went on a summer evening and the restaurant was full with a long wait so we sat in the bar and enjoyed a drink while we watched the sun set over the lake. It was a picturesque scene. Another activity involving the lake is paddleboat rental. You can do this at The Boathouse as well, and rental is on an hourly basis.
Some other things in Forest Park that I’ve checked out include the Jewel Box and the World’s Fair Pavilion. I could probably best describe the Jewel Box as the most elegant greenhouse around. Its tall vertical panes of sparkling glass allow the plants inside to thrive and the onlookers to enjoy an architectural beauty. The World’s Fair Pavilion was built with proceeds of the 1904 World’s Fair which was held in Saint Louis. It gives a great view of Forest Park due to its location on top of Government Hill.
Forest Park truly lives up to its reputation as one of the best urban parks in the country. While browsing the park website, forestparkforever.org, I found a quote by the founders of Forest Park that I feel represents the essence of the park well. "The rich and poor, the merchant and mechanic, the professional man and the day laborer, each with his family and lunch basket, can come and enjoy his own ... all without stint or hindrance ... and there will be no notice put up to 'Keep off the grass.'" I believe that the founders’ vision has prevailed. Still today, there really is something for everyone at Forest Park.