Cuivre River State Park is a bit of the Ozarks outside of the Ozarks – a nature lovers paradise just a short drive from St. Louis that is vibrant with colors three seasons of the year. The park’s renowned trails take visitors through prairies and forests of oaks and hickories. The park’s three natural areas feature sinkhole ponds and woodlands that would be more at home in southern Missouri. The park has hiking and equestrian trails, modern campsites, group camps, picnic areas and a lake so everyone can enjoy one of Missouri’s most rugged and beautiful jewels.
Cuivre River State Park is located in the Lincoln Hills region of northeast Missouri, an area that shows few effects from the glaciers that once covered all of northern Missouri. As a result, the park contains many natural features normally found in southern Missouri. Visitors encounter a rich mosaic of tallgrass prairies interspersed with oaks and hickories. Denser forests stand on sheltered hillsides, with open, rocky, sun-drenched glades dotting the more exposed slopes. Scattered throughout the region are caves, sinkholes, springs and rocky creeks more typical of the Ozarks.
Most of the land was originally acquired as a federal recreation demonstration area from 1934 through 1936. Workers from President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration built many of the park’s roads, bridges, group camps and a picnic shelter. Many of the structures have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The park was transferred to the state in 1946 and became Cuivre River State Park.
Much of the original landscape has been restored and preserved. Woodlands of oaks and hickories cover much of the land, while scenic limestone bluffs offer fine views of Cuivre River and Big Sugar Creek. Many ponds found in the park provide breeding places for various salamanders and other amphibians, some at the northern limit of their range. Several sinkhole ponds provide a home for wetland species such as pin oak, bur-reed and pickerel weed.
A segment of Big Sugar Creek has been designated as Big Sugar Creek Natural Area. The creek, with conditions similar to those of Ozark streams, is home to several species of fish rarely found in north Missouri. Along its bank grows a bottomland forest of sycamore, bur oak, black walnut and hackberry.
One of the largest natural areas in the entire Missouri state park system is found in Cuivre River State Park. The 1,872-acre Lincoln Hills Natural Area preserves the best remaining example of the unique landscape characteristic of the Lincoln Hills uplift. Visitors can drive through part of the area but it is best viewed by hiking one of several trails. These trails lead through a mixture of prairie, savanna, woodlands, glades, sinkholes, bluffs and streams.
Big Sugar Creek meanders through the Northwoods and Big Sugar Creek wild areas. These areas provide habitat for many bird species needing large blocks of forest to survive, such as the pileated woodpecker and cerulean warbler. Other wildlife includes white-tailed deer, wild turkey and red fox.
Several trails lead to bluffs that give visitors a view of the river or creek and the surrounding rugged, forested hills. Backpack camping is allowed on Lone Spring, Cuivre River – north loop and Big Sugar Creek trails, which traverse the wild areas. Horses are allowed on the Cuivre River Trail, which is accessed at the equestrian campground and day-use area. Native grasslands and savannas can be explored from the Prairie and Blazing Star trails.
A visitor center displays exhibits on the area’s cultural and natural history, and park naturalists conduct nature hikes and campground evening programs. The park offers a variety of camping options, including basic, electric and full hook-up sites. In addition, a dumping station and showers are available. Lake Lincoln is located near the campground and features a swimming beach and a boat-launching area. The 55-acre lake is stocked with largemouth bass, sunfish and channel catfish. The three group camps constructed during the CCC era are available for group rental and include cabins, a dining lodge and recreation areas.
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