While perhaps best known for its arts and music scene, the central Missouri city of Columbia also deserves acclaim for its camping and nature offerings. With the gentle slopes of the plains, the nearby Missouri River, and endless oak and dogwood trees, the area surrounding Columbia features several campgrounds with all the amenities and natural beauty you could want.
Cedar Creek Ranger District
A few miles southeast of Columbia, you'll find Cedar Creek Ranger District, which is part of 1.5 million-acre Mark Twain National Forest. The area offers camping, hunting, birdwatching and hiking. The four campgrounds -- the Dry Fork, Lane Spring, Paddy Creek and Pine Ridge Recreation areas -- offer both traditional and RV camping. Lane Spring and Paddy Creek are open seasonally, and Dry Fork and Pine Ridge are open year-round. You have to pay a nightly fee at Lane Spring; the others are free (but donations are accepted). Primitive camping is allowed throughout most of the forest, but you won't find the standard amenities included at the campgrounds.
Three Creeks Conservation Area
Approximately seven miles southeast of Columbia is the Three Creeks Conservation Area, which offers primitive camping exclusively for hunters during modern firearms deer season and primitive camping for the general population the rest of the year at no fee. At certain times, you can explore some of the many caves here, but it's best to check first with the Missouri Department of Conservation, because the caves are sometimes closed to the public. The campground takes its name from the three creeks that run through the area and provide beautiful scenery for campers to explore year-round.
Finger Lakes State Park
For some visitors, the fact that Finger Lakes State Park offers Wi-Fi at all campsites makes it an ideal choice. But the campground, located approximately 11 miles north of Columbia, also offers a motocross track, mountain bike trail, water trail, grills, and fire pits. Canoe rentals are available for exploring the 1,131-acre park's small lakes. The campground charges a nightly fee.
Katfish Katys Campground and Boat Ramp
You'll find traditional campsite, RV camping, showers and a camp store at Katfish Katy's Campground and Boat Ramp, located six miles southwest of Columbia. Each campsite is near the Missouri River's edge, providing great views and water access to campers. The store offers food, hunting and fishing supplies, and canoe rentals, and hosts live music and barbecues on weekends. Active campers will enjoy the many hiking trails and river activities here. The campground charges a nightly fee.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Mark Twain National Forest: Houston/Rolla/Cedar Creek Ranger District
- Columbia: Where to Stay: Camping
- Missouri Department of Conservation: Three Creeks Conservation Area
- Missouri State Parks: Finger Lakes State Park
- Katfish Katys Campground & Boat Ramp
- VOX: The Guide: Camping Near CoMo
- Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images