Facing a warm, sunny afternoon and no specific plans, my wife and I decided to visit Grand Bluffs Conservation Area along the Missouri River, downstream from Jefferson City. After a twenty minute drive along Missouri 94, on the north edge of the river's floodplain, we reached Portland, Missouri, and, five miles beyond that town, turned north to the refuge parking lot.
From the small lot, a jeep trail leads up into the oak-hickory forest, climbing eastward through private land and then entering the Conservation Area. Gradually curving to the south, the trail crosses several clearings before reaching the crest of the ridge, one mile from and 300 feet higher than the trailhead. The path then drops toward the river for another quarter mile, ending at an observation deck that offers a magnificent view of the broad Missouri Valley, including sections of the river, parcels of riverside forest, floodplain meadows, limestone cliffs and the wooded hills that rise along the south edge of the valley. With few human structures in sight, one could almost see Lewis and Clark moving upriver.
While an abundance of wildflowers lined the trail, visited by numerous swallowtails, our spontaneous visit reminded both of us why we prefer to hike during the colder months of the year, when autumn colors paint the forest, when vistas are extensive, when wildlife is active in the cool, dry air and when annoying insects have succumbed to the frosty nights. Nevertheless, our summer journey to that secluded overlook, one of the best in central Missouri, proved to be an excellent choice indeed.