Cliff Cave Park Summary
Cliff Cave Park hike is an excellent option for families and little kids. The particular trail we took, known as what I would call the "Upper Trail," starts at the upper parking lot before entering the park. Although, I think the park service calls it the "River Bluff Trail."
Anyway, the version of the hike I'll guide you through below will be approximately two miles long and take 1.5 hours for five to seven-year-olds. The hike is essentially an out-and-back trail, with the descent being about one mile of mostly downhill walking while the back being one mile uphill.
If you prefer longer hikes, greenway trails range from three to five miles at the lower parking lot.
I like this hike a lot because of the three highlights:
Bridge To The Caves
The cave is the best part, but it takes a bit of concentration to reach while ensuring the kids don't fall into the creek.
The kids will love climbing the retaining wall near the bridge, even if it stokes some parental anxiety inside you. I guess the hike is a bit of an adventure if you're three.
Overall, the Cliff Cave Park hike is an excellent two-mile hike for families, with easy parking available at the upper lot. It will remain on our once-a-year hiking itinerary.
Cliff Cave Park Trail
First Half Of The Hike
To begin the hike, we walked down the paved entrance for a quarter to a half mile until we reached a scenic overlook. If we were doing this right, we should have entered the trail by the River Bluff Trail sign and followed it to the right to the scenic overlook.
The scenic overlook is the first fun stop. It's pretty early into the hike, so try not to stay long - it's better to take a snack here at the end.
After taking a few pictures, we continued down the road's paved trail. Again, if we were doing this right, we should have taken the wooded trail directly parallel to the path on the right-hand (north) side.
At the bottom of the hill is the second highlight of the hike - a bridge. This bridge crosses the road leading to the lower parking lot and is a favorite spot for kids to run across. Just before the bridge, there is a tall retaining wall that little kids enjoy walking on.
Once we crossed the bridge, we took a left turn and followed the paved path for another quarter mile until it made a sharp left turn across a small bridge over a creek. That's the landmark for the caves.
You'll find the cave to the right by following the creek the bridge went over. Although there was no official entrance to the caves from the paved trail, we found a small path near the end of the bridge that led us to the caves. This part of the hike required some caution, especially for younger children, as the trail runs alongside the creek and can be slippery in wet conditions.
After following the creek, you'll reach the old wine cave. The cave is boarded off, so you can't go in, but you can get close enough to look into it.
The cave marks the halfway point into the hike and is an excellent place for your first snack stop. There is a hill nearby with rocks where kids can climb and enjoy snacks. We also threw stones in the nearby creek before heading back out.
Getting back off the hill and across the stream is tricky, but with proper supervision, even a four-year-old could manage it while holding hands.
Second Half Of The Hike
After the cave, we retraced our steps up the hill on the paved path, crossed the bridge, and let the fun begin.
Instead of taking the paved path on the other side of the bridge, all the kids wanted to climb the retaining wall. That's where we found the path in the woods that we should have taken down the hill.
As one of the kids said, "NOW WE'RE HIKING!"
The path is marked and runs parallel to the paved road we had initially used. The uphill climb was manageable even for a four-year-old.
It's maybe a half mile up.
We stopped at the top for our second snack break, about three-quarters of the hike down and around an hour and 15 minutes into the hike. The scenic overlook is where you want to stop now and take in the view of the Mississippi River. I personally liked the view better in the winter when fewer leaves are on the trees.
My four-year-old was getting tired at this point, so I put him on my shoulders for the last half-mile hike back to the parking lot. Instead of following the paved track back to the entrance, we took the route through the woods we should have taken initially.
This part of the hike back shared some trails with a mountain bike course, so make sure you're on your feet.
Cliff Cave Park Miscellaneous
The upper parking lot had an above-park-grade bathroom that set the tone for the rest of the hike - the park has the best maintenance I've seen from the St. Louis County park system.
Everything that should be mowed is mowed, paths are clearly defined, and everything was as clean as when we cleaned up for my mother-in-law coming to town.
Pets were allowed in the park, and there were also signs for horses.
Parking At Cliff Cave Park
Parking for the Cliff Cave Park Upper Lot hike has, as the name implies, plenty of parking. The lower lot for the Greenway trail also has a ton of parking, so that shouldn't be an issue during your visit.
Cliff Cave Park Receipt