Want a great hike close to Springfield? Grab a water bottle and a snack and check out Ritter Springs Park on the northwest side of the city!
Ritter Springs has been a favorite spot of mine since about 1991. Back then, my good friend, Cheryl, introduced me to the unmarked trails in the park and I’ve been hiking there ever since. I was married there in 1994 and my daughter was married there in 2016. The Springfield area has many great hiking spots including The Springfield Nature Conservation Center, Galloway Trail, Frisco Highline Trail, and Sac River Trail, but Ritter is my favorite.
Now Ritter Springs plays host to summer camps for kids every year, so I generally tend to hike there in the fall and spring. It’s a short drive north on Hwy 13, just follow the signs for Fantastic Caverns and then turn right on Farm Road 129, following the signs. There is a great play area for the kids, BBQ grills, a full size cannon, and archery area when first entering the park.
There is a pavilion available for rent and access is granted for those with your party. The area also has a flag pole, restrooms, sand volleyball area and seating for quite a large group of people. Parking is available as well. The Springfield Parkboard (www.parkboard.org) office will give you a key to the lock on the swinging gate and you are all set for a family reunion, Scout event, or wedding.
Ritter Springs is also connected to the Sac River Mountain Bike Trail, David C Murray Park and Fulbright Spring Greenway Trail, making it part of a much larger trail system if you are interested in an all day hike or bike ride. Mountain bikes are allowed on the graveled and paved trails in Ritter Springs, but not on the hiking paths.
30 years ago, you could cross the stream by way of a huge tree that had fallen over and bridged the span. Cheryl would get right up and walk across, but with my fear of heights, falling, snakes and getting wet, I sat on my butt and shimmied across like an inchworm. Took longer, but I never fell into the stream, and Cheryl got her entertainment for the day. Evidence of other attempts at bridging the span are evident if you hike at Ritter enough and there are always smaller downed trees crossing the water for the more daring hikers.
WARNING: There are plenty of opportunities for young children to get very wet at Ritter Springs so make sure you keep an eye on them.
Wildlife is plentiful at Ritter depending on the time of year and day that you visit. On the last time I took a 90 minute hike, I spotted a redheaded woodpecker, yellow finches, turtles, snakes and other more common birds. Turkeys had left evidence of recent passing as well. I have seen copperhead snakes on the trails in the spring, trying to warm themselves in the sunny patches, so be alert especially with your four footed companions. Though close to the city, Ritter is generally quiet with most noise coming from families with young children and dogs loudly getting to know each other.
What I like most about Ritter is that depending on your mood and energy level, you can get in a nice quiet stroll down the paths, or an intense workout by following the gravel drive, passing the pavilion, crossing the bridge and going to your right and up the ridge. The park closes at sunset, so make sure you’ve left plenty of time to find your way back to the parking lot, especially in the fall. Ritter has plenty of hilly terrain, caves, and water to keep anyone who likes nature looking forward to the next bend.
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