Creve Coeur Lake Park is an urban oasis with hiking, kayaking and more

DSC00058You really want to get out in the fresh air, but the extreme July heat drove you indoors, right?

Well, here’s a secret—there’s a spot in St. Louis County where you can sit high on a bluff, in the shade, and look out over a magnificent lake view. Just head over to the Greensfelder Shelter just north of Dorsett Road, on Marine Avenue at Creve Coeur Park.

The 2,145-acre park features Missouri’s largest natural lake, archery, athletic fields, hiking trails and even a disc (Frisbee) golf course. Just behind the disc course is a traditional golf course, Crystal Springs Quarry.

Of course, the main attraction at Creve Coeur Park is Creve Coeur Lake. It’s ideal for small sailboats, like Hobie cats or kayaks. In fact, you can rent a kayak or paddleboard for a nominal fee of $10 for the first hour and $5 for each additional hour. Canoes are also available for rent for $15 for the first hour and $5 for each additional hour.

If boating isn’t your cup of tea, the boat rental facility on Marine Avenue also offers bikes and quadricycles for rent. Rentals are available from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day.

DSC00050This being St. Louis County, one of the quirks of Creve Coeur Park is that it isn’t actually IN Creve Coeur. This is Maryland Heights. And if you go exploring the park, don’t believe everything you read. That includes the sign that informs us that a broken-hearted Indian girl was the inspiration for the French phrase Creve Coeur (broken heart). The story suggests that Dripping Springs in the park was the site of her tragic death.

It’s a poignant story, but likely an old wive’s tale. Park historians say that Anglo settlers to St. Louis County never really found out why French settlers used the expression. There actually is an old French breed of chicken known as Crevecoeur (with green-black feathers).

DSC00055Creve Coeur Lake began as a large resort. Hotels, a cable car, and even an amusement park once sat nearby. Following the 1904 World’s Fair, a 255-foot observation tower at Forest Park was moved to Creve Coeur Lake. The park took a turn for the worse in the 1920s when lakefront saloons and nightclubs became gangster hideouts.

Then, Mother Nature took a turn in messing up the park. Between 1950 and 1955, the lake nearly dried up. Fortunately, the Missouri River eventually rose and backed up into the lake. That refilled it AND restocked it with fish.

The ensuing years have seen efforts by St. Louis County to improve the lake, including parking facilities, boat ramps and amenities. Today, it remains one of the county’s most popular parks, with bicyclists, skaters, boaters and walkers.