If you like to kayak or fish, play or relax, start with these spots.
Audubon Center at Riverlands
“The Spectacle of Birds” is a 12-minute film shown at the Riverlands visitor center, but it could be the theme of the avian refuge itself. Eagles, swans, egret and herons — among other winged creatures — find their sanctuary around the waters of Ellis Bay. Besides bird watching, the bay can also be used for kayaking, paddling, canoeing and fishing. Hikers have more than 8 miles of trails to explore.
Where 301 Riverlands Way, West Alton • When 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily • How much Free • More info 636-899-0090; riverlands.audubon.org
Castlewood State Park
The Meramec River cuts through Castlewood, making it a perfect locale for some beach time, St. Louis-style: fishing, rafting, canoeing or just enjoying the sun. (But beware of swimming there; the currents can be dangerous.) There’s plenty of shade, too, with eight tree-canopied trails amid the soaring white limestone bluffs. There are also picnic sites and playground areas to keep the little ones fed and active.
Where 1401 Kiefer Creek Road, Ballwin • When 7 a.m. to a half-hour past sunset daily • How much Free • More info 636-227-4433; mostateparks.com
Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park
The largest park in St. Louis County can boast about its namesake lake, of course, as well as 15 miles of paved and unpaved trails, playground areas, and soccer and softball fields. But in a park this big, it pays to explore a little further: During your next visit, look for the saucer-shaped Greensfelder Shelter, the dripping springs at the southeast end of the lake or the 219 thigh-burning concrete stairs.
Where Sailboat Cove is at 13725 Marine Avenue, Maryland Heights • When 8 a.m. to a half-hour past sunset daily • How much Free • More info 314-615-4386; stlouisco.com/parksandrecreation
Emmenegger Nature Park
Emmenegger has quite the past: It started as part of a “country” estate owned by the Lemp brewing family, was later used as an exotic animal breeding facility by the St. Louis Zoo and then became a swimming and tennis club. Now, it’s a mix of upland hardwoods and bottomland areas with plenty of birdwatching opportunities along the easier, paved pathway and the more arduous dirt-and-mulch trail.
Where 11991 Stoneywood Drive, Kirkwood • When 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily • How much Free • More info 314-301-1500; nature.mdc.mo.gov
After almost two years of work, Emerson Central Fields reopened in April, with four new soccer pitches, three rugby fields, a pavilion for concerts and gatherings, and a better-connected bike path. That slice of the park’s 1,300 acres is just the latest area to get a face-lift. Improved lighting is on the way at Aviation Fields and by 2022, there will be new playscapes, linked waterways and spruced-up signage.
Where Visitor center is at 5595 Grand Drive; park is loosely bound by Oakland Avenue, Skinker, Lindell and Kingshighway boulevards • When 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily • How much Free • More info 314-367-7275; forestparkforever.org
Lone Elk County Park
Even if you take a pass on hiking along the Chubb or White Bison trails at Lone Elk, just a drive through the 546-acre wildlife management area can often get you up close with bison, turkeys, elk and deer that like to nose their way across the road. Staff feed animals first thing in the morning, so arrive early for the best view.
Where 1 Lone Elk Park Road, St. Louis County • When 8 a.m. to a half-hour past sunset daily • How much Free • More info 314-615-4386; stlouisco.com/parksandrecreation
Pere Marquette State Park
Eight trails throughout the largest state park in Illinois will bring you up close to 230 species of birds as well as deer, beavers, river otters and turkeys. Of note is the 1.5-mile Goat Cliff Trail, which crosses underground springs and ends at an Indian burial mound. There are also bike and equestrian paths at Pere Marquette.
Where 13112 Visitor Center Lane, Grafton • When 5:30 a.m.-8 p.m. daily • How much Free • More info 618-786-3323; dnr.illinois.gov
“Conservation” sometimes seems like a buzzword these days, but Rockwoods has made conservation education and outdoor recreation its business since the reservation was established in 1938. Its 1,880 acres include terrain reminiscent of the Ozarks, remnants of limestone, clay and gravel quarries, and 13 miles of trails. Springs, caves and rock formations provide shelter for raccoons, possums, deer, songbirds and chipmunks.
Where 2751 Glencoe Road, Wildwood • When Education center is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday; grounds are open sunrise to half-hour past sunset daily • How much Free • More info 636-458-2236; mdc.mo.gov
Shaw Nature Reserve
The nature reserve is getting musical this summer, and not just with the sounds of birds, insects and wildlife. The Wildflower Concert Series returns for its second year, and the Chamber Music Series at Bascom House is making its debut. Saturdays at Shaw include guided hikes and “Lunch and Learns.” Native Plant School classes are offered throughout the season.
Where 307 Pinetum Loop Road, Gray Summit • When 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily • How much $3-$5; free for children 12 and younger • More info 636-451-3512; missouribotanicalgarden.org
The most popular attraction at this South County staple is the working animal farm. The stables, barns and enclosed pastures are home to horses, cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and goats. On Fridays, kids 12 and younger can tour the barns, take a hayride, get their face painted, make a candle or ride a pony. Not a bad way to start the weekend!
Where 6073 Wells Road, St. Louis County • When Animal farm is open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday to Saturday; park is open 8 a.m. to a half-hour past sunset daily • How much Free; Farm Fridays are $10 for children 12 and younger • More info 314-615-4386; stlouisco.com/parksandrecreation
Carondelet Park • 3900 Holly Hills Boulevard; 314-289-5300; stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/parks/
Cliff Cave County Park • 806 Cliff Cave Road; 314-615-4386; stlouisco.com/parksandrecreation
Edgar M. Queeny County Park • 550 Weidman Road; 314-615-4386; stlouisco.com/parksandrecreation
Jefferson Barracks County Park • 345 North Road; 314-615-8800; stlouisco.com/parksandrecreation; See some of the hidden gems of Jefferson Barracks here.
Simpson Park • 1234 Marshall Road, Valley Park; 314-615-4386; stlouisco.com/parksandrecreation
Tower Grove Park • 4256 Magnolia Avenue; 314-771-2679; towergrovepark.org; See some of the hidden gems in Tower Grove Park here.