County: Crawford County, Missouri
Nearest Town: Bourbon
Trailhead: 38.097810, -91.130773
Distance from downtown STL: 1.5 hours / 84 miles
Trail Length: 1.25 miles (bushwhack required for views)
Trail Format: Loop
Land Management: Onondaga Cave State Park
Camping: Day Use Only
Watershed: Meramec River
The Vilander Bluff Natural Area is a 200-acre tract along the Meramec River near Bourbon Missouri. It’s managed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources as part of Onondaga Cave State Park. A 1.25 mile loop trail passes near the bluff, but DOES NOT provide views of the cliffs. At over 200 feet, Vilander Bluff is the Meramec River’s tallest. Ancient cedars over 400 years old grow out of the rocks.
The best views of the bluff and the valley are from what I’ll call the ledge trail. Well traveled not because it’s an official trail, but that there is no other place to possibly step as you hug the walls around ledges of the cliff. Finding the entrance to the ledge trail requires the correct approach. You do not want to come from above. Steep slopes with shallow loose soil spill over the cliffs. One wrong step turned into a slide and you could go right over.
To reach ledge trail, follow the official trail clockwise and stop at the first switchback you come to. Bushwhack east from here approximately 500 feet generally keeping the same elevation but favoring downhill (topo map shows you need to give up 60 feet along the way). This should bring you to the entrance of the ledge trail (38.0988, -91.1366).
Alternatively there is an old jeep road along the southern border of the natural area. From the parking area, walk 100 yards towards highway N along Thickety Ford Road. Turn right on the old jeep road and follow it .3 miles to the river (you will cross under a small power line right-of-way). Once you reach the river, work your way up along the bluff to the entrance of ledge trail.
Just 10 miles or so down the road on Highway W is Brazil Creek Campground. This out of the way spot has free primitive camping with access to the Berryman Loop and the Courtois section Ozark Trail.