Forest Park in St. Louis: A user's guide
Site of the World's Fair in 1904, this city park is no wallflower. It's a hub of activity — home to several cultural institutions and plenty of outdoor activities.
Wed, Jul 13, 2011 at 07:49 AM
Forest Park is more than a cluster of trees. Site of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, perhaps better known as the St. Louis World's Fair, Forest Park is bustling with activity. More than 12 million people a year visit the park, drawn to major cultural institutions located in the park such as the St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Art Museum and The Muny, the country’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theater.
Forest Park is also a place for golf, tennis, baseball, biking, boating, fishing and ice skating. There are trails that wind through old-growth forest and restored prairie bursting with the colors of wildflowers.
When Forest Park opened on June 24, 1876, it was almost two miles outside the St. Louis city limits and a 20-minute train ride from downtown. Nine hundred exhibition halls and other buildings were built for the World’s Fair. Three buildings from that construction spree remain on park grounds.
Things to do
Golf has been called a good walk spoiled and with 27 holes of golf, there are plenty of good walks on the Norman K. Probstein Community Golf Course on the west side of the park. There are three nine-hole courses — each with lush zoysia fairways — that can be mixed and matched for a par 70, 18-hole outing.
Forest Park features an unusual 5.6-mile path system with parallel hard and soft surface paths through most of the park. The soft surface is for walkers and runners; the hard surface is for cyclists and skaters. Quieter trails are found in the Kennedy Forest where old-growth forest and a small chunk of prairie, restored by volunteers in 1999, provide a glimpse of the Missouri of Lewis and Clark.
Be sure to stop and smell the flowers at the Jewel Box, an Art Deco greenhouse (pictured right) built in 1936 and now listed on the National Historic Register.
Why you’ll want to come back
The park doesn’t hibernate in the winter. The activity moves to the Steinberg Skating Rink, the largest outdoor ice-skating rink in the Midwest. The park is open every day during the season, typically November through March.
Flora and fauna
Sloths, Mhorr gazelles, black rhinos, cheetah and lions are among the animals found in the St. Louis Zoo in the southwest corner of Forest Park, but there is wildlife to be seen beyond the zoo gates. You’ll spot gray squirrels and flying squirrels, Eastern chipmunks and woodchucks. You may even see a red fox or possum.
Birds found in the park include blue jays, American robins, Northern cardinals, assorted sparrows, various woodpeckers and Eastern kingbirds.
The Forest Park Tree Walk (PDF) takes you by 90 different trees, including cottonwood, shagbark hickory, aspen, dogwood, black cherry, pin oak and the largest red buckeye in Missouri.
By the numbers:
- Website: City of St. Louis
- Park size: 1,293 acres or 2 square miles
- 2010 visitation: 12 million
- Funky fact: Workmen found coal under the park grounds when they were building a coal mining exhibit for the 1904 World’s Fair.
This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. We'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.
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