5 mountain biking opportunities in central Missouri

Hit the trail to stay healthy and discover nature this summer.

Missouri Department of Conservation
Mountain biking trails on MDC, partner areas provide excellent opportunities to discover nature in Missouri this summer.

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) encourages Missourians to find ways to connect with nature as the weather warms up, in ways consistent with COVID-19 health guidelines.

Careful use of conservation areas and mountain biking on Missouri’s public trails can provide excellent opportunities to embrace physical distancing, boost physical and mental health, and discover nature.

“Mountain biking is an exciting way to experience the outdoors, and MDC and our partners have trails for cyclists of all skill levels,” said MDC Recreational Use Specialist A.J. Campbell.

Mountain bikes offer trail users the ability to cover more distance than hiking, and experience more of Missouri’s diverse geography and ecological communities. Mountain biking also presents unique challenges and requires some preparation and planning to stay safe.

Always bike safely on Missouri trails:

    •    Make a plan and tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return.

    •    Wear a helmet.

    •    Stay on the trail.

    •    Use caution, manage speed, and anticipate trail obstructions.

    •    Share the trail, announce when passing hikers, horse riders, and other trail users.

    •    Prepare for bike repairs and other emergencies; pack food, water, sanitizer, lights, and anything else you may need if your trip takes longer than planned.

    •    Maintain physical distancing, wear a mask when appropriate, protect yourself and others from disease by following health guidelines while on the trail, and while traveling to- and from your destination.

MDC allows bicycles on conservation area roads and trails open to vehicle traffic, and on designated trails, except where posted. Conservation areas offer plenty of mountain biking opportunities across central Missouri, just a short drive from home. Learn more about these, and other mountain biking opportunities at nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places, and download the MO Outdoors App for mobile devices.

Little Dixie Lake Conservation Area

    •    Uses: Hike and mountain bike

    •    Length: Approximately 6-miles; loop around lake

    •    Surface: Dirt and gravel

    •    Difficulty: Easy

    •    Unique features: Views of Little Dixie Lake

Located in Callaway County, about halfway between Columbia and Fulton. This trail system, blazed in red markers, can be accessed from each of the area’s five parking lots. This mostly wide, gentle trail is great for beginners and families. The north side features some sharp turns and gully crossings better suited for experienced cyclists. The area also offers fishing accesses and disabled-accessible privies. COMO Trail Association helps MDC maintain this trail.

Three Creeks Conservation Area

    •    Uses: Hike, mountain bike, and horseback

    •    Length: Approximately 5-miles total; multiple loops

    •    Surface: Dirt, rock, and gravel

    •    Difficulty: Easy to difficult

    •    Unique features: Rocky creek crossings and views of bluffs

Located south of Columbia in Boone County, accessible from several points off of US Highway 63. Approximately 5-miles of multi-use trails travel through grassy fields, wooded hills and ridgetops, and the bottomlands along Bass, Turkey, and Bonne Femme creeks. Access trailheads from each of three parking lots on the area. Trails are open year-round, but users should exercise caution and wear hunter orange during firearms hunting seasons. The area also offers primitive camping at several trailside locations. COMO Trail Association helps MDC maintain this trail.

Rudolf Bennitt Conservation Area

    •    Uses: Hike, mountain bike, and horseback

    •    Length: Approximately 12-miles total; multiple loops

    •    Surface: Chat

    •    Difficulty: Easy to moderate

    •    Unique features: Bennitt Lake, restored woodlands and savannas

Located northwest of Columbia in Boone, Howard, and Randolph counties. Approximately 12-miles of multi-use trails travel through woodlands and savannas. This gently sloped, chat surface trail system is great for beginners. Cyclists can access various trail loops of different lengths from several locations on the area. A portion of the trail travels near the area’s 48-acre lake. Trails are closed to bikes and horses during firearms deer hunting seasons, and before 1 p.m. during spring turkey hunting season. The area also offers fishing access, primitive camping, a shooting range, and disabled-accessible privies. The Heartland Chapter of the Back Country Horsemen of Missouri helps MDC maintain these trails.

Hart Creek Conservation Area

    •    Uses: Hike and mountain bike

    •    Length: 2.25 miles; one way

    •    Surface: Dirt

    •    Difficulty: Moderate to difficult

    •    Unique features: Long, steep hills and a viewing platform above the Missouri River

Located northwest of Hartsburg in southwestern Boone County. A 2.25-mile trail begins at a bridge across Hart Creek, travelling through a field and up a long, steep hill into the woods. After climbing the hill, users will travel along a ridge that offers excellent views of the Missouri River valley. A 0.25-mile trail spur leads to a viewing platform overlooking the river. From this junction, the main trail travels down a steep hill and ends at a primitive camping area along the Katy Trail. The area also features a 2-acre fishing lake. COMO Trail Association helps MDC maintain this trail.

Binder Park

    •    Uses: Hike and mountain bike

    •    Length: Approximately 15-miles total; multiple loops

    •    Surface: Dirt, rock

    •    Difficulty: Easy to difficult

    •    Unique features: Views of Binder Lake

This 644-acre park, located near Jefferson City, has four mountain biking loops that weave through the woods surrounding Binder Lake. The 15 total trail miles consist of loops ranging in length from 1.6- to 4.3-miles. The park, owned and managed by Jefferson City Parks, features many amenities for visitors, including a 155-acre lake, which is owned and managed by MDC. The park offers playgrounds, RV camping, pavilions, picnic shelters and tables, disabled-accessible restrooms and fishing accesses. Visit JC Parks for more detailed info about mountain biking at Binder Park. The Osage Trail Association helps JC Parks maintain these trails.

Find other excellent mountain biking opportunities in central Missouri at Finger Lakes State Park, Rock Bridge State Park, and Columbia’s Cosmo Park.