Once known to weary westbound pioneers as a must-stop destination, Fort Belle Fontaine was built immediately after the Louisiana Purchase was signed to protect the newly prominent gateway to the west, St. Louis.
Today, Fort Belle Fontaine is a hidden gem county park nestled along the muddy banks of the Missouri River. The ruins are not the original wooden encampment, which rotted away over a century ago. Instead, these limestone structures, outbuildings, stone fireplaces, and bathhouses were added much later during the Works Progress Administration project.
The beautification initiative drew pleasure seekers to the sculpted grounds for decades but eventually fell into disrepair as the city changed. Now, overgrown with vines and moss, the picturesque ruins lie half-hidden along a three-mile trail threading the river and Coldwater Creek. However, it’s hard to miss the park’s centerpiece, the Grand Staircase, still nearly fully intact and leading down the bluff towards the water’s edge.
When visiting, it is best to take heed of the stern signs at the entrance that forbid metal detecting and leave Fort Belle Fontaine’s fascinating past untouched.
Know Before You Go
You’ll have to stop at the checkpoint before entering because the park shares the location with an active youth detention center.