Fort Belle Fontaine County Park

Fort Belle Fontaine Park
Fort Belle Fontaine Park Facebook page

Park Hours: 8 a.m. to one half hour past official sunset, except when reservations are issued.

Lewis and Clark at Fort Belle Fontaine
Eleanor Roosevelt Visits Fort Belle
History of Fort Belle Fontaine
Photo Slideshow
History of the Site
Friends of Fort Belle Fontaine Park
Lewis & Clark Trail
Works Progress Administration Structures
Interpretive Signs along the Trail
Beautiful Spring at Fort Belle Fontaine
Coldwater Creek
Activities for kids
Events at the Park
Reenactors at Fort Belle Fontaine Park
The Prairie Burn

Fort Belle Fontaine Park has been a St. Louis County Park since 1986. Few are aware that this was the first United States military installation west of the Mississippi River, established in 1805. Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery expedition (1804-1806) spent the first night of their expedition on an island opposite Cold Water Creek and their last night two years later at the fort, which had been established in their absence. Other major expeditions left from this site betweem 1805 and 1819 to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. Until it was replaced by Jefferson Barracks in 1826, Fort Belle Fontaine was an important gathering place in the wilderness for officers and enlisted men, Native American, French, Spanish and American settlers, trappers and traders, and the local businessmen and farmers who supplied the fort with necessities.

The Park comprises 305.6 acres on the Missouri River in north St. Louis County, about three miles west of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. It contains four main areas: the Missouri River; Belle Fontaine Spring; Coldwater Creek; and a 50-acre upland prairie and wetlands. A visit to this site reveals the beauty of the land and wildlife Lewis and Clark observed in 1804 and 1806. The Lewis & Clark Interpretative Trail in Fort Belle Fontaine is a 3-mile multi-purpose trail which includes a trailhead and interpretive signage which guides visitors to all four main areas of the park. The trail also passes massive stonework features that the Works Progress Administration added in the 1930s when the City of St. Louis owned the property.

All these features, natural and historical, are 25 minutes from downtown St. Louis and accessible to over 2.5 million people in the metropolitan area. The park is located at the far north end of Bellefontaine Road, where it shares an entrance drive with the Missouri Hills Campus of the Missouri Division of Youth Services. Visitors may be asked to stop at the guard house at the entrance to the property, where they will be directed to parking areas.

Fort Belle Fontaine County Park Trail
BY HARRY JACKSON JR. • > 314-340-8234 | Posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A place to watch eagles with minimal effort is from the promenade in Fort Belle Fontaine County Park. Bring a chair to sit and watch the eagles or walk one of two trails along the Missouri River.

Where • 13002 Bellefontaine Road. Interstate 270, Bellefontaine Road north, to the road's end.

How long • The bigger loop trail is 2.9 miles; the 1.7-mile inner loop is part of the 30/30 Trails program — hikes that take about 30 minutes.

Surface • The 30/30 trail is a combination of asphalt and natural; the other is gravel and dirt.

Difficulty • Moderate. Hilly away from the river.

Can be used for • Hiking, bicycling.

User's notes • For history buffs, it's the first military outpost west of the Mississippi River, after the Louisiana Purchase in 1804. It was also a stop-off site for the Lewis and Clark Expedition heading up the Missouri River. Along with the stone ruins and staircase, the park has structures from Depression-era public works programs. Eagles are sparse currently, but along the west side of the trails are an abundance of multi-colored forest birds, including blues and cardinals.

Wheelchair accessible • Neither the paved nor natural surfaces are friendly to wheelchairs, especially in this muddy season.

Facilities • Portable restrooms in the park; no playgrounds; bring your own water.

Parking • Trail parking is about halfway from the park entrance to the river on the west side of the park. A small space is adjacent to the promenade.

Dogs • On leash.

Information • 314-615-4386 or . You might want to call ahead; the park closes from time to time for military re-enactments.

The misty view from the top of the area above the Grand Staircase in Fort Belle Fontaine County Park above the trail that runs along the Missouri River. (Photo by Harry Jackson Jr., )