Kansas City, MO: Thousand Hills Trail

This 10.8 mile overnight shuttle hike features a prairie-covered ridge, miles of picturesque lakeshore, and a rarely-used backcountry campsite tucked away in a fern-studded hollow.

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If you think stunning vistas and backcountry solitude are restricted to Missouri’s Ozark region, think again. This 10.8 mile hike through Thousand Hills State Park offers the best wilderness experience in northeast Missouri. Expect to see turkeys, whitetail deer, bald eagles, and great blue herons as you follow a scenic ridgeline, plunge through oak-hickory forest, and trace the shoreline of beautiful, undeveloped Forest Lake.

Drop a shuttle car at the trailhead in Thousand Hills, and park at Big Creek Conservation Area. Follow the grassy lane along the ridge’s crest, stopping occasionally to admire panoramic views of the surrounding savanna. Hit the Thousand Hills Trail at mile 1.6 and and continue north on the dirt single-track as it plunges through oak-hickory forest. At the junction at mile, follow the blue arrows to the right. Soon you are treated to views of the lake peaking out through gaps in the trees; trace the shoreline to the seldom-used backcountry campsite off the lake at mile 7 (a permit, required for overnight stay, is free and available at park headquarters). The campsite is dry except for a small pond of questionable quality. After regaining the shoreline, the trail continues along the lake before reaching the spillway at mile 9. Follow a dirt two-track beneath the dam. At the junction at mile 9.6 you are faced with a decision: take a right and continue along the lakeshore (as depicted in the GPS track), or follow the slightly longer trail to the left through rolling, forested terrain. Both routes lead to the trailhead off the main road in Thousand Hills State Park.

Thousand Hills features many additional miles of trail; use the map at http://mostateparks.com/sites/default/files/Thousand%20Hills.pdf to modify or lengthen your route. A trailhead on the east side of Big Creek Conservation Area on Rainbow Basin Trail can be used as an alternate entry point to the Thousand Hills Trail. Be sure to pack water for the duration of the trip, as seasonal streams are unreliable and the lake is unpleasantly silty.

Contact (660) 665-6995, bit.ly/1000hillsSP

-Text and mapping by Paul Chisholm


Trail Facts

  • Distance: 17.4



Location: 29.816817, -99.576559

Parking area. East Trail starts at this parking lot.


Location: 29.819058, -99.580164

Cross Can Creek


Location: 29.820633, -99.59998

Composting toilet


Location: 29.821545, -99.602834

Turn off to Campground E

Primitive camp site C

Location: 29.826032, -99.586623


Location: 29.826032, -99.586194

Lost Maples Ponds

Location: 29.825529, -99.587932

4. Spring

Location: 29.830499, -99.593446

28-APR-12 9:56:42AM

6. Camp site G

Location: 29.830993, -99.601538

5. Intersection with West Loop Trail

Location: 29.82978, -99.599436

28-APR-12 10:07:24AM

7. Start of loop

Location: 29.833284, -99.60554

28-APR-12 11:14:45AM

Back at West Trail loop

Location: 29.829512, -99.599576

28-APR-12 11:29:42AM

8. Mystic Canyon

Location: 29.826721, -99.601868

Cactus blooms

Location: 29.818381, -99.577718

Crossing Can creek

Location: 29.819172, -99.580185

Rugged trail.

Location: 29.829429, -99.598017

View from the high ground

Location: 29.82028, -99.599283


Location: 29.830618, -99.570689


Location: 29.830914, -99.572622


Location: 29.821805, -99.578551


Location: 29.828616, -99.587198


Location: 29.826925, -99.586306

2. West Trail

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