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Explore Pinnacles Youth Park in Missouri

This is an excerpt from Hiking Missouri - 2nd Edition by Kevin Lohraff.

  • Come for a hiking experience with the flavor of the Rockies. You won't just see these rugged, craggy, and scenic rock pinnacles-you'll hike on top of them!
  • Zoom out and zoom in. Stand on top of the pinnacles for sweeping, majestic views and then get on your hands and knees to view the intricate, embedded fossils.
  • See what a little stream can do to rocks. You'll find cliffs, arches, pinnacles, and a shelter bluff-all on one trail.

Area Information

We are familiar with river bluffs. An amorphous mass of rock is embedded in the surrounding landscape on one side and steeply carved on the other by moving water over time. But what happens when a bluff is carved on both sides? The pinnacles were formed as Silver Fork Creek doubled back on itself and pinched a mass of limestone between its channels. Another stream, Kelly Creek, became crowded in the process and added its erosional effects on the limestone. The results are peaks and points known as pinnacles. What is left of the original ridge is a geological grandpa 75 feet high and 1,000 feet long. Its craggy crest is only a few feet wide in spots, and erosional forces continue to enlarge two windows in its side, forming natural arches. Although these features may not be long in the world geologically, they'll likely be there when you arrive.

The Pinnacles Youth Park is owned by the Boone County Pinnacles Youth Foundation, which was established in 1965 to serve area youth. The area is managed by the foundation's board of directors, which consists of representatives from local youth agencies such as the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and the 4-H program. Because of its significant geological features, the Pinnacles is designated a state natural area.

Directions: From the intersection of Highways 63 and I-70 in Columbia, go 13.9 miles north on Highway 63. Turn right on Pinnacles Road and turn right at the T. Go straight for .6 mile into the parking lot for the area.

Hours Open: The area is open year-round from 8:00 a.m. to sunset.

Facilities: Grills, picnic tables, and restrooms are provided. Three picnic shelters are available; priority is given to groups with reservations.

Permits and Rules: All dogs must be kept on a leash. Firearms, fireworks, glass containers, and intoxicants are prohibited. Primitive camping is allowed only by youth groups with reservations.

For Further Information: University of Missouri Extension of Boone County, 573-445-9792.

Other Areas of Interest

Rocky Fork Lakes Conservation Area, 6.9 miles south of the Pinnacles, includes 2,200 acres of forests, old fields, grassland, and savanna. The area has 20 fishing ponds, including 52-acre Rocky Fork Lake, which has a boat ramp. Activities include fishing, hunting, hiking, and bird-watching. The area has a wheelchair-accessible fishing dock and a firearms shooting range. The area is 7 miles north of Columbia, off Highway 63, on Peabody Road. For more information, call 573-445-3882.

Finger Lakes State Park is one of two state parks that allows off-road motorcycling and ATV use. The 1,129-acre park is reclaimed strip-mine land, and the old strip pits offer swimming, fishing, and canoeing. A picnic area and campground are available. Finger Lakes is also just south of the Pinnacles, off Highway 63, on Peabody Road. For more information, call 573-443-5315.

It was in water, in the form of a shallow sea, where sediments formed this Burlington limestone around 290 million years ago. And it is water, in the form of streams, rain, and ice, that is wearing down the pinnacles today, reclaiming the rock and its embedded ocean animals.

Caution: This trail is not for the acrophobic, the fainthearted, or young children. Hikers must negotiate narrow, steep, and precipitous passages on the pinnacles.

Trail Directions: Start the trail at the trailhead sign [1] at the east end of the parking lot. Go downhill toward Silver Fork Creek. At .03 mi. [2], turn right at the small picnic shelter on your left and follow the trail as it parallels the creek. Look at the rugged peaks just across the stream. Those are the pinnacles on which you will soon be hiking! Go straight at the trail intersection at .11 mi. [3]. Go straight at the spur on your right at .19 mi. [4], which leads to a small picnic shelter. Just after crossing a wooden bridge and a rock outcrop on your right, go straight at the intersection at .24 mi. [5]. You are now on a short spur that dead-ends at a surprise at .29 mi. [6]-a shelter bluff, about 40 feet deep and 125 feet long, cut into the limestone bluff by the eroding power of Silver Fork Creek. The next geologic oddity that you encounter will be about 75 feet higher!

Return to the intersection at [5], where you turn right and find a shallow spot to cross the stream. Climb the bank on the opposite side and turn left. Bear left at the fork in the trail at .51 mi. [7], where you begin your climb. The views keep getting better as you continue the rugged and narrow trail on the spine of the pinnacles. You pass an eastern red cedar tree with a twisted trunk that seems to be growing straight out of the rock. As you pick your way carefully over the peaks, drink in the vistas. Then, if you zoom in for a close look at the rocks, you'll find that they are loaded with fossils. Many of these fossil disks are the remains of invertebrate ocean animals known as crinoids. The crinoid, by the way, is Missouri's state fossil.

When in doubt, look for the trail on the right side of each peak. Several holes have eroded in the pinnacles here, and you pass a natural arch at .70 mi. [8]. Across the stream, far below, you can see the picnic shelter that you passed earlier [2]. After passing the stump of an old cedar, bear right just behind one of the last pinnacles. Soon after the trail enters the forest, take the small spur on your left at .96 mi. [9], which leads to an overlook of the craggy peaks that you just traversed. Although the trail continues into the woods to the north, it soon enters private property. The overlook at [9] is a good spot to turn around and retrace your steps to the parking lot.

More Excerpts From Hiking Missouri 2nd Edition