Things to Do in Columbia, Missouri
Columbia has made a name for itself in parks, leisure and everything in between. The city has a little something – in some cases, a lot – for every recreational appetite.
Hundreds of miles of pedestrian and bike trails. Numerous parks that offer play, fishing, splash pads, disc golf and much more. It’s only getting better, thanks to forward-thinking planners and community members who embrace green space planning.
Philips Park Expansion
The A. Perry Philips Park project is a major expansion site for the park district, according to Megan McConachie, strategic communications manager for the Columbia Convention & Visitors Bureau. Located on Highway 63 at the Discovery Parkway exit, the park spans 140-acres and includes a fishing lake and walking trails. A 1.4-mile gravel trail loops around the perimeter of the lake, which is stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, and channel catfish by the Missouri Department of Conservation.
“This is the first major development out there,” McConachie said.
The sports fieldhouse project calls for construction of multiple indoor courts that can be used for basketball, volleyball and other hardcourt sports. Columbia officials believe the development will be a huge asset allowing for the city to become known as a sports tournament destination. The new amenities should be a real tourism boon, McConachie said.
“The south part of Columbia is definitely a growing area, so we want to make sure there are recreational opportunities out that way,” McConachie said.
Included in the expansion is the Southeast Regional Park Tennis Complex, which will tentatively be rolled out in three phases. The complex will feature four tennis courts, four pickleball courts, court lighting, a shelter, a restroom and more than 100 parking spots.
Aesthetic upgrades are also scheduled for the area. They include a bridge over the existing low-water crossing on the trail, landscaping improvements at parking areas, signage and tree plantings at the park.
Cross Country Hot Spot
Across the road at neighboring Gans Creek Recreation Area, big things are underway to build upon the five soccer or multipurpose fields and concession/restroom building there. The 320-acre park is the site of a proposed championship-level cross country track. Work has begun on the course, which is set to include a 500-meter starting chute; irrigated 10-meter-wide grass running surface; 2k and 3k loops for multiple race distances; and a permanent start line structure, finish line structure and checkpoints.
Other key features are a timing tower and an elevated viewing area for spectators, as well as an outdoor shelter and indoor building with restrooms.
“It’s the first of its kind – really a premier facility,” McConachie said, adding that the venue was designed to host major competitive events.
The project was planned with – and partially paid for by – the University of Missouri. The Gans Creek Cross Country Course will be the home course for the university, along with other local high schools and colleges.
The course will host the Missouri State High School Championships starting in 2019. In addition, the course will host the NCAA Southeastern Conference Championship in 2021.
That’s not the only premier spot for tournaments in Columbia. Harmony Bends Championship Disc Golf Course is just a few years old and already has earned quite the reputation in and around town, McConachie said.
Disc Golf Go-To
One major coup is that in May 2020, Harmony Bends will host the Tim Selinske United States Masters Championships, put on by the Professional Disc Golf Association. The event likely will draw several hundred participants and many spectators.
It is expected to be a strong tourism magnet.
“The impact that will hit during the event and then the ripples felt afterwards will leave a lasting effect” on the local economy, McConachie said.
The 18-hole venue, located at Strawn Park, is the imaginative handiwork of renowned disc golf course designer John Houck. It features big hills, wide meandering creeks, and lots of tall trees – everything needed to accommodate a world-class destination course, according to the city’s website.
Others have taken notice, too: Harmony Bends was named the 2017 Disc Golf Course of the Year by www.DGCourseReview.com.
Other locations to squeeze in some disc golf in the city are the Albert-Oakland Disc Golf Courses and Indian Hills Disc Golf Course. Looking for practice or pointers? Join the Columbia Disc Golf Club.
There are clubs, teams, attractions and amenities throughout Columbia to suit virtually every recreational desire. However, in this city, no one can resist a scenic trail.
Columbia Trail System
The Columbia Trail System features numerous trails in a variety of settings, nature sanctuaries, creeks and wooded retreats. There are also different trail surfaces that appeal to runners, walkers, wheelers and bicyclists. Trails are a significant factor in the quality of life for Columbia residents. In a recent citywide citizen survey, about 82 percent of households reported they use
the trail system.
The MKT Nature and Fitness Trail is perhaps Columbia’s most notable trail. It was ranked number two in the country for “Best Urban Trail” by USA Today in its 2016 “Ten Best Readers’ Choice Awards.” The trail was built on the old MKT railroad bed, starting downtown in Flat Branch Park and weaving through neighborhoods, open prairie spaces and wooded spots. The nearly nine-mile trail features a crushed limestone surface that affords opportunities for walking, jogging, running and bicycling.
It eventually joins up with the statewide Katy Trail, which connects eastern with western Missouri and is the longest rails-to-trails project in the country.
Other major trails include Bear Creek and Hinkson Creek. Recent additions to the trail system in the past 10 years include County House, South Providence, Hominy Creek, Scott’s Branch and Grindstone Creek. These are low-maintenance, concrete trails that provide consistent conditions. County House, South Providence, and Hominy Creek Trails all have alternative gravel side paths that connect residential and business areas to Columbia Trail System.
There’s even an app for that: search the “Go CoMo Trails” app for help finding the trail closest to your current location at any given time. Also noted are restrooms, exercise stations, water fountains, parking lots and bike repair stations.
If you prefer to embark on a park, Columbia has a lot of options to choose from.
Stephens Lake Park is a picturesque retreat, complete with a lake, running trails, amphitheater, indoor pavilion, splash park, swimming beach and gazebo. Located at Broadway and Old Highway 63, this park is bustling year-round. Winter offerings include ice-skating, ice-fishing, sledding, and – to ward off the chill, a nearby warming area, fire pit, and heated restroom. ›
There’s even an online virtual “Tree-Ching.” Trail Walk that was filmed on site. Here, visitors can learn how investing in trees truly pays dividends. For example, a silver maple provides a yearly benefit of about $425 in various savings and property value boosts. Check it out at www.como.gov/parksandrec/tree-ching-trail-walk-stephens-lake-park
Stephens Lake Park is also home to the annual Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival, which American Blues Scene Magazine called “one of the most prominent festivals in the country.”
John Prine is slated to headline this year. The popular fest also has hosted well-known names such as Ryan Adams, Leon Bridges, Emmylou Harris, Brandi Carlile, Buddy Guy, G. Love & Special Sauce and more. About 30 artists take to two stages to perform genres including roots, blues, gospel, country, folk, bluegrass, rock and soul. The lineup consists of international, national, regional and local acts. Food and craft vendors are also on hand.
As Columbia’s largest park, the Columbia Cosmopolitan Recreation Area – known as Cosmo Park has endless recreation opportunities. There are multiple softball, baseball, soccer and football/lacrosse fields, along with a golf course and shelters that can be used for various outdoor events. Located where Columbia’s original airstrip stood, Cosmo’s expansive space also includes the Steinberg Playground and a skateboard park, plus access to the Bear Creek Trail, which connects Cosmo with Albert-Oakland Park.
For four-legged fun, be sure to check out the city’s number of dog parks and designated off-leash areas. The Columbia Convention & Visitors Bureau offers a list at www.visitcolumbiamo.com. Here, you’ll also find suggestions and information on day trips, farmers’ markets, festivals, public gardens and several local breweries and wineries.
When looking for poolside chill time, locals head to the Albert-Oakland and Douglass outdoor aquatic centers. Both locations offer water slides, concession stands, shaded areas and more. Other swimming options include the country-club setting at the Lake of the Woods pool, or two indoor aquatic facilities: ARC Water Zone or Hickman Pool.
“Spraygrounds” for younger patrons can be found at Douglass pool as well as at Stephens Lake Park and in downtown Flat Branch Park. There’s also the pirate-themed Little Mates Cove – a children’s water park with slides, sprinklers, water cannons and falls. This aquatic facility is located in Twin Lakes Recreation Area with a dog park, walking trail, reservable picnic shelter playground, and nearby fishing lake.
But if lake life is more your speed, Stephens Lake is about as good as it gets. In addition to the sprayground, the site offers a sand beach, swimming (sans lifeguards) and fishing/nonmotorized boating areas at its 11-acre lake. Best of all? It’s free.
For those who prefer dryer fun, the city wants to connect you with the dozens of outdoor trails of varying lengths at parks of all sizes to suit every need and ability level.
ARC Indoor Fun
On inclement days, there’s no excuse not to get that heart rate up: just visit the ARC Indoor Track, a .15-mile rubber track in Clary-Shy Park. The ARC is a 73,000-square-foot health club facility with the above-mentioned leisure pool, gym, strength training equipment and weights, cardio equipment, group fitness classes, spin studio and more. Birthday party packages are even offered.
Special events here include the adorable Bring Your Own Big Wheel, where kiddos ages two through six are encouraged to bring big wheels, tricycles or other pedal-powered vehicles and cruise the track. Mileage is recorded; would you believe that some riders have pedaled as much as five miles?
Day camps also provide some opportunities for fun at ARC. There are several “School’s Out” one-day and holiday camps, as well as a spring break adventure camp.
Shorter Trails Abound
Nature areas specifically usually feature trails designed to facilitate exploration and enjoyment of the natural, preserved green spaces. Here’s a list of local trail offerings, according to the city’s website:
- 3M Wetland Trail – 1.25 miles, limestone
- Albert-Oakland Trail & Fitness Circuit -1 mile, concrete
- Capen Nature Trail – .2 miles, dirt
- Cosmo Fitness Trail – 1.25 miles, asphalt
- Cosmo Nature Trail – 1.3 miles, dirt
- Cosmo-Bethel Lake Trail – 0.5 mile, concrete
- Fairview Nature Trail – 0.5 mile, dirt
- Forum Wetland Trails – 1.8 miles, limestone
- Garth Wetland Trails – 1.6 miles, limestone
- Grindstone Nature Trails – 5.2 miles, dirt
- Indian Hills Trail – 1 mile, limestone
- Kiwanis Nature Trail – 0.9 mile, limestone and dirt
- Philips Lake Trail – 1.4 miles, limestone
- Rock Quarry Trail – 0.6 miles, limestone
- Stephens Lake Trail – 0.6 miles, concrete
- Stephens Perimeter Trail – 1.7 miles, concrete
Neighborhood Park Trails
Neighborhood parks are typically more modest – about 5-10 acres and situated within walking distance of surrounding neighborhoods. Accompanying trails provide a convenient opportunity for residents to exercise outside but safely near home. Here are some that Columbia offers, according to the city’s website:
- Again Street Park Trail – 0.4 mile, concrete
- Auburn Hills Park Trail – 0.3 mile, limestone
- Cascades Park Trail – .25 mile, concrete and limestone
- Dublin Park Trail – 0.2 mile, limestone
- Eastport Park Trail – .4 mile (park trail only), limestone; 0.6 mile (loop), limestone and sidewalk along the street
- Highpointe Park Trail – 0.4 mile, limestone
- Lange Park Trail – 0.3 mile, limestone and concrete
- Lions-Stephens Park Trail – 0.25 mile, concrete
- Longview Park Trail – 0.5 mile, limestone
- Louisville Park Trail – 0.4 mile, limestone
- Oakwood Hills Park Trail – 0.3 mile, limestone
- Proctor Park Trail – 0.2 mile, dirt
- Rothwell Park Trail – 0.4 mile, limestone and concrete
- Shepard Park Trail – 0.2 mile, limestone
- Smiley Lane Park Trail – .4 mile, limestone and concrete
- Smithton Park Trail – 0.3 mile, limestone
- Valleyview Park Trail – 0.4 mile, limestone and concrete
- Westwinds Park Trail – 0.25 mile, limestone and concrete
- Wilson Park Trail – 0.7 mile, limestone and dirt
- Woodridge Park Trail – 0.4 mile, concrete
Show-Me State Games
One of the most eagerly anticipated summer events is the Show-Me State Games, an olympic-style sports festival with more than 40 sports for all ages and abilities. In addition to the main summer games, Show-Me State Games offers events throughout the year to promote health, fitness, family togetherness and fun.
Show-Me State Games is a non-profit program of the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Health and is hosted by the University of Missouri. About 32,000 athletes come to Columbia throughout the year to be a part of the games’ events.
The 2019 dates are July 19-21 and 26-28.
Love looking for lush links? Columbia offers two affordable 18-hole municipal golf courses: L.A. Nickell in northwest Columbia, and Lake of the Woods in east Columbia. Both courses are open year-round.
L.A. Nickell, built in 1965, is a 70-par course situated on the 533-acre Cosmo Park. Open since 1970, the Lake of the Woods course spans 145 acres and is a par 71 course. It also features a pool.
Both courses feature three sets of tees; gorgeous, mature trees; large zoysia fairways, bentgrass greens; lakes, golf cart paths, tee-to-green watering systems. There’s a driving range at L.A. Nickell, and one is slated to open in 2018 at Lake of the Woods as well.
For a complete list of the park district’s monthly and seasonal programming, as well as rates, visit www.como.gov.