Winter Wonderlands around St. Louis

Winter break was a glorious month-long break to let our brains rest and get ready for the next semester. 

For those of us that stayed in St. Louis over break–or those seeking winter-friendly adventures in these first weeks back to campus–there are lots of free (or very low-cost) winter wonderland activities to help you de-stress!


Garden Glow is a festival of lights hosted at the Missouri Botanical Gardens running from November through December. While Garden Glow isn’t free, it is amazing and so worth the cost of admission, and you can attend a “bargain night” for reduced admissions cost!  Plus, an 85 degree Climatron that gives some cold air reprieve!

Brewery Lights takes place at Anheuser-Busch’s Brewery and Biergarten in St. Louis. The brewery is lit up with more than a million lights that line the historic brick buildings – includes an ice skating rink, classical wintertime movies, bonfires, and free drinks!

Hosted on the Delmar Loop, The Loop Ice Carnival is a community street-festival with many ice-y activities, complete with food, ice sculptures, fun-runs, and intriguing human snow globes. Admission is free with a canned food donation, or $5 otherwise.


The Cahokia Mounds are remnants of a massive Native American city located just across the Mississippi River in Collinsville, IL, which is about 20 minutes outside of St. Louis. It was the largest settlement north of Mexico and served as the main cultural, religious, and economic center between 800-1350 CE. Nowadays, visitors can view the mounds, wander the trails, and explore the site’s interpretive center. Plus, it’s always free!

At Laumeier Sculpture Park, you can hike around trails and take a gander at exhibitions placed throughout the trails. The park is free, interactive, and is comprised of over 60 works of art throughout the entire outdoor sculpture park and is located about 25 minutes from campus. 

Castlewood State Park is free and open all year-round, but it gets extra special in the wintertime. Trails run along the frozen Meramec River, up rocky bluffs, and span across eight trails. Castlewood is about 30 minutes outside of campus.

At Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center, wander through the 112 acre forest on three paved trails (wheelchair accessible) and get a feel for the local wildlife, complete with a living beehive, a 3,000 gallon aquarium, and through the wildlife viewing window. Powder Valley is about 25 minutes from campus. 


Lone Elk Park is a wildlife area that houses bison, wild turkey, waterfowl, elk, and deer. It has drivable paved trails and picnic area sites. Lone Elk Park is free and located next to Castlewood and the World Bird Sanctuary, roughly 30 minutes outside of St. Louis. 

The World Bird Sanctuary is an educational bird sanctuary and rehabilitation center and serves as one of North America’s largest bird conservation center with walking trails and frequent educational events. It’s located next to Lone Elk Park and is about 30 minutes outside of St. Louis. 

Did you know that wintertime along the Mississippi River Valley is prime for eagle watching and actually hosts one of the largest concentration of bald eagles in the country!? I sure didn’t, but I’m super excited to go wander out into the wilderness to see some bald eagles in their natural environment. There are numerous “Eagle Days” throughout the area that feature bird watching and educational events, including:

  • Alton-Audubon Eagle Ice Festival: This ice festival is in early January and includes ice sculptures, arts and crafts, bird viewing, and games. Free and open to the public, this event is in Alton, IL, which is between 35 – 45 minutes outside of St. Louis along the Mississippi River.
  • Bald Eagle Days: Located in Grafton, IL at Pere Marquette State Park, which is about 50 minutes outside of St. Louis (car transport necessary) all through the end of December to the beginning of March. 
  • Eagle Days at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge: This full-day bird watching and educational celebration is in mid-January and is located on a walking and biking bridge across the Missouri and Illinois state lines on the Mississippi River, located about 30 minutes from St. Louis.