It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful and interesting NOCO (North County St. Louis) can be when you really look past the news visage. There are all these hidden wild gems tucked on the outskirts that hold historical significance and natural wonders. One of the most incredible stories surrounds around the Charbonier Bluffs centered in St. Stanislaus Conservation Area. The Bluff is a 655 foot treasure that stands 25 feet higher than the St. Louis Arch and not only served as a sacred place for Native Americans, but was a part of the St. Stanislaus Seminary that spanned 1000 acres of apple orchards, wheat fields, vineyards, beehives, shops and ranches. It even held the only winery allowed to operate during the Prohibition.
Most of the acreage (812 acres) has become a conservation area now, with creeks, wetlands and a portion of Bryan Island. Remnants of the past still peek through the foliage, overgrown within the forest grasses, moss and trees. There are 3.5 miles of trekking territory, some with very steep areas; especially if you are hiking up onto the bluffs. We took three trails since we’ve found it. The first was up to the highest peek on Charbonier, the second to walk along the creek bed as far as we could go towards the Missouri River and the third was around the wetlands and over wooden bridges. Since that is a lot to share in one post, I am going to put the wetlands and the forest trails in another.
La Charbonniere – The Coal Hill
We walked up to the bluffs in late March before the trees and greenery would block out most of the view and decided to take the natural trail from the bottom to the towers instead of the easier paved direct access (across from Charbonier Rd) that you can find on the other side. We took Tot with us and kept him close since a lot of the hike will take you very close to the edge.
Before you get that far up, there are lots of beautiful things to see. I loved standing over the white bridge looking out at the creekbed and watching the water run. The hike keeps you near the creek, but you rise higher and higher and watch it fade off.
We had to cross over a lot of fallen trees on the way up, but outside of that, there isn’t much in the way of the trail. It’s pretty clear and since there wasn’t too much greenery in the way, you could see out over the edge at the land far far in the distance.
Once you reach near the point where you can overlook the skyline, there are the ruins of an old building with trees piercing out. It’s a small spot, but in one of the most perfect locations to look out over the skyline.
Then you can move just beyond that and see the world below. Just imagine waking up and being able to watch the sunrise from this vantage point!
But that isn’t even the highest point if you can believe it! We kept marching on through the trails to reach the towers at the peek. This part moves away from the creek up onto the bluff itself. Be careful not to go off the trails into private property.
From this point on you can really see the ruins of history. There are broken buildings, steps that lead no where and old mounds that long ago used to be Native American burial grounds, but then became a part of the Seminary after excavations.
When you reach the gateposts then you have finally made it to the top. Just beyond are the towers where you can watch Hawks swirling overhead. There is the paved path that leads back down the opposite trail as well.
It was beautiful up there. I kept trying to get pictures of the hawks flying around, but they evaded me. The walk down was just as pleasant and Tot had a great time. Throughout the journey I kept imagining what it would have been like to live there long ago. What the remains must have meant to the Native Americans and settlers who lived together in these parts and how forgotten it’s become in the midst of everything.
Next time I’ll share with you the journey we took through the wetland trail and alongside the river. We never made it to the boat that takes you to Bryan Island as most of the way was really muddy that afternoon, but it was fun to walk underneath the bluffs that we’d wandered on top of the previous trip. Until then, you can read more about Charbonier Bluffs and the history of St. Stanislaus Seminary by visiting NOCO StL.