5 mountain biking opportunities in central Missouri

A cyclist rides the trails at Canaan CA. Mountain biking trails on MDC, partner areas provide excellent opportunities to discover nature in Missouri this summer.

Hit the trail to stay healthy and discover nature this summer

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.

Here’s five such locations in Central Missouri:

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, the area is 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. 

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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

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