Hidden Gems

Forest Park

Reporting by Emma Baker. Design and development by Andrew Nguyen.

Whether it’s spending an afternoon at the zoo, seeing the latest installation at the art museum, taking laps around Steinberg Skating Rink or watching an evening show at the Muny, Forest Park is as much a staple for locals as it is a landmark attraction for tourists. And everyone has a favorite spot.

Even if you’ve lived in St. Louis your entire life, you may not know everything about the city’s biggest park. Stephen Schenkenberg and Katie Stuckenschneider of Forest Park Forever helped us find a few hidden gems to check out on your next visit to Forest Park.

Location #1

Council Circle

Photo by Randy Allen.

The path that runs parallel to Deer Lake is most often populated by runners or cyclists, not necessarily by visitors wanting to linger in the peaceful views of Forest Park’s eastern side. Opened in 2009, Council Circle was made for them. “I didn't know about this area before I started working here,” Schenkenberg says. “It's the story of people coming together wanting to make a particular area better, so there are ongoing efforts here.” Situated “where the sidewalk ends,” as the inscribed limestone explains, Council Circle is a mini-amphitheater perfect for educational programs, casual meetings or for those just looking for a quiet place to relax.

Location #2

Round Lake

Photo by Hillary Levin / St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The story of St. Louis can be found in all corners of Forest Park, from the World Fair Pavilion to the statue of the Apotheosis of St. Louis guarding over Art Hill. Sitting in the center of Round Lake, there is a century-old fountain. Still functioning as the main water feature for this tranquil corner, this lake is the perfect spot to soak in a warm day.

Location #3

Victorian Footbridge

Photo by Hillary Levin / St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

For just a few cents a ride, streetcars would take St. Louis residents from the crowded downtown four miles to Forest Park. The Victorian Footbridge was constructed in 1885 to serve as the entrance point for passengers hoping to escape the summer heat by spending a day lazing in the shady park. While the streetcars might have been replaced by modern traffic, the restored bridge is a wonderful way to take a walk through the park’s history.

Location #4

White Mulberry Tree

Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

The White Mulberry looms over part of the wood-chipped path off the Victorian Bridge. Slouching in two halves after the trunk fractured from its own weight, the tree’s branches twist wildly off the two trunks. Schenkenberg says visitors often liken the striking tree to mythical plants in their favorite books and television shows, like “Harry Potter” and “Game of Thrones.” “We were doing a video of a couple we know that loved the park,” Schenkenberg says. “The wife said, ‘I want to go over to my favorite tree.’”

Location #5

Seven Pools

Photo by Hillary Levin / St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Not exactly hidden, but a place few people seem to find, the Seven Pools Waterfall is the perfect place for a picnic. We found Desire Keys and Sonny Merritt there recently. Born and raised in St. Louis, Keys has been coming to Forest Park all her life. When talking about their first date, she and Merritt knew Forest Park was the only place for their picnic. They set up around the Seven Pools area near Bowl Lake and planned an afternoon of music and wine against the backdrop of water sounds from the tiered ponds. “I've had some good times here, and I'm just enjoying this moment (on) my first date with him,” Keys says.

Location #6

Successional Forest

Photo by Hillary Levin / St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

After taking one step into Successional Forest, it’s easy to forget that Forest Park sits in the center of St. Louis. “I have been in this park a million times, and I just stepped foot in here last week for the first time and I was amazed,” Stuckenschneider says. “It's like you're hiking in the middle of St. Louis.” The forest was redeveloped from landscaped turf and now has more than 20 acres of trails for runners and hikers to experience the serenity of a young, blooming forest.

Location #7

Picnic Island

Photo by Hillary Levin / St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Aptly named, Picnic Island is the ideal spot for a picnic with a view of the Post-Dispatch Lake. With 24 acres of restored habitat accessible via the Post-Dispatch suspension bridge, paddle boarders and pedestrians alike can also explore the wildlife of the park firsthand. “I've seen some (picnickers), but not a lot of folks know that that's a really good spot for a picnic,” Schenkenberg says.