Mention St. Louis, and most people think of the famous arch. Residents and knowledgeable visitors appreciate the many outdoor recreational opportunities the Gateway to the West has to offer. With new hikes and updated text and maps, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: St. Louis points hikers to the best outdoor trails and rambles within easy reach of the city. Whether walking in the footsteps of Louis and Clark, exploring amazing rock formation in the Pickle Springs Natural Area, or trekking along a portion of the longest rails-to-trails paths in the United States, hikers are sure to be amazed at the diversity of outdoor experiences awaiting them.
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Al Foster Trail
- Length: 4.4 miles on main loop; add 5 miles with side loops and spur
- Configuration: Loop with cutoffs, side loop, and spur
- Difficulty: Easy; more difficult on the optional Cedar Bluff Loop
- Scenery: Bottomland forest and river vistas
- Exposure: Shaded
- Traffic: Normally moderate; heavy on nice weekends
- Trail Surface: Gravel on west half; packed earth on bottomland loop; some rocky stretches on Cedar Bluff Loop
- Hiking Time: 2–3 hours on loop, longer with spur and side loop
- Driving Distance: 5 crooked miles from intersection of Manchester, Clarkson, and Keifer Creek roads
- Access: 7 a.m.–half hour after sunset
- Maps: USGS Manchester; online maps available at www.stlouisco.com and www.meramecgreenway.org
- Wheelchair Accessibility: Not officially, but wheelchairs could probably successfully negotiate the trail from the Sherman Beach trailhead to the Glencoe trailhead
- Facilities: None
- Special Comments: Dogs must be on a leash.
Enjoy lush bottomlands and riverside vistas as you explore the Meramec River Valley on the Al Foster and Stinging Nettle trails. Then give the kids a ride on the Wabash, Frisco, and Pacific miniature railroad at the western trailhead.
Though this hike is called the Al Foster Trail, it’s actually three trails rolled into one. The Al Foster is a 4.5-mile point-to-point trail. It runs from the Glencoe trailhead at its western end, passes through St. Louis County’s Sherman Beach Park, and then reaches its eastern terminus in Castlewood State Park. There the Al Foster intersects with Castlewood’s Stinging Nettle Trail. This 2.4-mile path along the Meramec River runs back to the Sherman Beach trailhead near the midpoint of the Al Foster, making a 4.4-mile loop if you hike from Sherman Beach. You can add another 2.7 hilly miles to this otherwise flat hike by doing the Cedar Bluff Trail, a side loop off the Al Foster that climbs into the hills above the Meramec Valley.
For most hikers the Sherman Beach trailhead is the best place to start hikes on the Al Foster, so those are the GPS coordinates listed in this profile. The trail’s character is very different depending on which way you go from Sherman Beach. Hiking west to Glencoe it’s flat, wide, and graveled, and for much of its distance follows an old railroad bed. Going east it starts out fairly tame but soon gets narrow and wild in the forested bottomlands along the Meramec River. Note: Much of the trail east of the Sherman Beach trailhead gets very muddy after rain. These eastern trails are where the real hiking is, whereas the western half is more like a walk, though very enjoyable and scenic.
While the western 2.5 miles from Sherman Beach to Glencoe are pretty tame, that part of the trail is very pretty. Sometimes it follows low bluffs; other times it hugs the Meramec River. It’s a great hike for kids and beginners and has benches scattered along its length. Near the Glencoe trailhead the path has a super view upriver from a bend in the Meramec River. In addition, this graveled section of the trail doesn’t get muddy, as do the loops in the bottomlands east of Sherman Beach. If you’re a runner or hiker looking to get in some long distance, ranging out and back from Glencoe and going around the east loop gives you just over 9 miles, and going around the Cedar Bluff Loop bumps the distance up to 12 miles.
As nice as the western part of the Al Foster is, I prefer the wilder aspect of hiking east from Sherman Beach. The loop around the Al Foster and Stinging Nettle trails is 4.4 miles, and four cutoff trails let you adjust the length of your hike. If you want to add miles and get in some hill work in the bargain, a side hike on Cedar Bluff Trail adds almost 3 miles. Bring a map your first few times here because flooding, and several unofficial trails along the river, can make things a bit confusing. A good map of the area is sometimes available at the trailhead, but not always. One can be printed off one of the Web sites listed under “Maps.” The Meramec Greenway map is best because it shows the cutoff trails. Most (but not all) intersections are marked, so you’ll like having a map until you’ve been here once or twice and get the lay of the land. It’s a fairly small and narrow area, bounded by the river on the south and railroad on the north, so it’s hard to get really lost for very long.
Hiking the Al Foster–Stinging Nettle loop clockwise is bestyou’ll get the lay of the land on the least confusing side of the hiking loop and will save the best scenery for last. Heading east from Sherman Beach on the Al Foster, the trail’s a wide gravel path paralleling the road for most of the first half mile. The Stinging Nettle connector, the first of the four cutoff trails, is 0.35 miles down the trail. Crossing the loop and hiking back to Sherman Beach here gives you a hike of just over a mile. Another quarter mile along, you’ll cross into Castlewood State Park, and the trail gets narrow and wilder. Just past the boundary is the Rockaway Connector, where cutting across to the Stinging Nettle and hiking back to Sherman Beach makes a hike of just over 2 miles.
In the next quarter mile, you’ll pass two more cutoffs, Old Nettle Loop Connector and Gravel Plant Road Connector. Hiking these would make loops of 2.3 and 2.8 miles, respectively, back to Sherman Beach. A quarter mile past Gravel Plant Road Connector, 1.25 miles east of Sherman Beach, is the side trail to Cedar Bluff Trail. The spur over to Cedar Bluff goes under the railroad, and then loops among the hills north of the Meramec. With its stiff climbs and descents, Cedar Bluff Trail is a change of pace from the flat hiking on the rest of this trail system, and when the leaves are off, you’ll enjoy semi-obscured vistas from the ridges.
Al Foster runs another 0.75 miles from the Cedar Bluff junction to its eastern end. You’ll know you’re there when you encounter No Trespassing signs, and the trail gets squeezed between the railroad and the Meramec River. Break hard right and head west along the river on the Stinging Nettle Trail, marked with yellow plastic blazes. For most of the next mile it’s a scenic hike next to the Meramec, with the river on your left and deep woods on your right. Next to the Meramec the trail’s sandy, so it won’t be muddy. After 0.4 miles along the Stinging Nettle, a side trail goes right. It’s an unofficial trail that winds through the woods for almost a half mile before rejoining the Stinging Nettle, just over a quarter mile on, as you strike the south end of the Gravel Plant Road Connector. (Note: None of the connectors were marked along the Stinging Nettle side of the loop at press time.)
You’ll come to a fork 0.35 miles past the Gravel Plant Road Connector, and the confusion begins. Just down the left fork, there’s a footbridge that’ll make you think it’s part of the main trail, but it’s not. The left fork is an old trail that’s been flooded out. It goes to some nice overlooks above the Meramec, but the correct move is to bear right. Just a few steps up the trail, there’s another fork. To the right goes the Old Nettle Loop Connector, so bear left to stay on the Stinging Nettle Trail. Another 150 yards down the way is the Rockaway Connector to the right, and the Stinging Nettle Trail goes from singletrack to gravel.
In the few hundred yards past the Rockaway Connector, there are several side trails to the left. Explore them if you wantthey go over to the river where the trail was washed out, and it’s scenic over therebut the correct route follows the wider and more obvious path to the west. It’s an easy half-mile walk from the Rockaway Connector to the Stinging Nettle Connector, where bearing left takes you on a final half-mile jaunt along the river valley back to the Sherman Beach Trailhead.
The Wabash, Frisco, and Pacific Railroad Association, located at the Glencoe trailhead of the Al Foster, offers rides on its miniature railroad every Sunday, May through October (www.wfprr.com).
GPS Trailhead Coordinates
N 38° 32' 8.2" Directions For Sherman Beach Park trailhead: Drive 1.7 miles south on Keifer Creek Road from its intersection with Manchester and Clarkson roads. Turn right on St. Paul Road and follow it 3.2 crooked miles farther south to the trailhead. It’ll be on the left, 0.3 miles after the railroad crossing. To reach Glencoe trailhead: Exit I-44 at Eureka and go north 3 miles on MO 109 to Old State Road. Turn right and travel 0.1 mile on Old State Road to Washington Avenue; turn right again and follow Washington Avenue (which becomes Grand) 2 blocks to the trailhead.
For Sherman Beach Park trailhead: Drive 1.7 miles south on Keifer Creek Road from its intersection with Manchester and Clarkson roads. Turn right on St. Paul Road and follow it 3.2 crooked miles farther south to the trailhead. It’ll be on the left, 0.3 miles after the railroad crossing. To reach Glencoe trailhead: Exit I-44 at Eureka and go north 3 miles on MO 109 to Old State Road. Turn right and travel 0.1 mile on Old State Road to Washington Avenue; turn right again and follow Washington Avenue (which becomes Grand) 2 blocks to the trailhead.