It turned out that mid-October was a bit early, and unfortunately the first week of November might be a bit late, but the opportunity to enjoy the fall colors isn’t the only good reason to visit the Magnolia Hollow Conservation Area just south of Bloomsdale in Ste. County of Geneviève.
Witnessing the transition from the lush green of the oak and hickory forest to a palette of red, orange, yellow and purple is one of the most redeeming features of fall. Add crisp blue skies and cool enough air to keep you from sweating along the hiking trail, and you’ve got an outdoor masterpiece.
The first turners were already shedding their leaves when we visited, but most of the antlers remained dark green. A cool few weeks after our visit brought brighter colors, but strong winds and storms will soon leave most of the limbs bare.
The leaf-gazing disappointment was just the beginning of my list of things that could have been better at the rural outpost that lines Establishment Creek until it empties into the Mississippi. Parking was inadequate on a Saturday morning at the trailhead, and with no port-a-potters or toilets on site, it’s important to be prepared before making the trip.
The only designated hiking trail is estimated to be around 1.3 miles and is good for most skill levels except for one glaring flaw. Other than the beginnings of the trail it is not well marked. Technically, the loop begins at the last parking lot on White Sands Road. A paved section of the trail leads to a viewing platform overlooking the Mississippi River valley and the expanse of land between cliffs along the creek into Illinois. The sidewalk allows strollers, wheelchairs and almost anyone to access the gazebo.
As we entered, we passed a wedding party with guests of all ages on our way back from the scenic location. I am sure the ceremony and the photos were very beautiful. The few dozen attendees were the reason the four-seater parking lot was woefully inadequate, and we had to find an off-road ditch area, as many wedding guests did.
During last summer’s pandemic, when hiking trails seemed to be the only safe place outside the house, parking was a big deal almost every weekend.
After the happy couple and their entourage left we never saw another person near the trail but there were still several cars on the road. Magnolia Hollow is a popular spot for archery hunters and is also open during gun season for deer and turkey hunting. Several kilometers of area access trails provide routes through the 1,740 acre property.
As you can imagine with a name like Hollow, the terrain can be steep and difficult. The elevation change is approximately 300 feet from the highest part to the lowest part of the property and there are many ups and downs. Both ends of the unpaved hiking trail greet walkers with a sign warning “Danger Steep Bluffs”.
We only hiked the hiking trail but for those looking for more of a challenge the access roads provide a solid workout. With hunters in the woods, we didn’t want to try other areas, so as not to disrupt their efforts. There is plenty of room for everyone to enjoy, but the access trails are probably best left for hunters, especially during the gun games of deer season.
Return to the poorly marked hiking trail. Apart from this gap, it offers a nice walk in the woods. Approached from either end, it descends about 100 feet in elevation to a low, open area with an old promenade bridge, which was missing a wood or two.
The hike doesn’t require any wooden bridges, but adequate trails would have been a big and easy improvement. The state’s Department of Conservation Areas is generally meticulous when it comes to maintenance issues, but in some ways Magnolia Hollow has missed it.
But don’t get me wrong, with an archery range, clay pigeon shooting area, primitive campground and more, there are a lot of positives to the place. Water points for wildlife and food plots in the woods benefit the hunters who use the area. The five-mile drive from the national highway is also a highlight. Winding through the valley’s farmland, past old barns and along the creek provided many picturesque scenes, though the leaves weren’t quite ready for prime time.
John Winkelman is Marketing Director for Liguori Publications near Barnhart, Missouri, and Associate Editor for Outdoor guides magazine. If you have any story ideas to share for the Leader outdoor news page, send an email to [email protected], and you can follow John on Twitter at @ johnjwink99.