The majority of original prairie in Missouri has been lost to agriculture, but Prairie State Park is working to preserve a portion of this important ecosystem in western Missouri. Within the park boundaries, you have the opportunity to see many native plant and animal species, along with a reintroduced herd of 100 bison, and an additional smaller herd of 25 elk.
We went on a warm day in May, and the lack of shade made for brutal temperatures in the early afternoon. The walking trails do not allow pets, and we brought Bernie, so were relegated to driving through the park, rather than hiking.
We stopped at the small nature center first, and the kids were able to touch bison skin and enjoy the hands on exhibits. There was also a 15 minute video to tell us more about the park, but our youngest wasn’t as interested in sitting and watching. While there, a park ranger gave us a detailed map of the park and checked the animal GPS tracking devices to tell us where we could drive to have the best chance of seeing the elk and bison.
This region is a tallgrass prairie, with grass reaching 8 feet high during certain times of the year, so it’s much more difficult to get a glimpse of the big animals than you might expect. Fortunately, we were able to see a mother and calf bison just off the road as we were leaving the nature center. We stopped and were able to get quite a bit of footage from inside our car.
We later spotted the bulk of the herd off in the distance, but too far for our camera equipment to reach, and not close to any of the park roads or trails. We did not see the elk during our drive through and around the park.
The female bison recently had calves, so it seems this time of year would be an ideal time to visit. I think it would take some persistence and luck to be able to see the herd. If you spent a day here and rotated between driving and hiking, and kept in touch with where the animals were per the park rangers, then you would have a much better chance of seeing something compared to just driving through.
In addition to the ranger station, the park has a series of trails, including overnight backpacking trails, and small primitive campground with picnic areas. The park is much larger than I expected, with the bulk of the land fenced and gated to contain the herds.
Throughout our day, we enjoyed the sunny skies and talked about how much more wildlife we will see this summer in the Black Hills and Yellowstone. If we hadn’t brought our puppy, the hikes would have been nice, but hot on this bright, sunny day. I am typically the researcher for our state park trips, but I was kicking myself for not checking about taking Bernie on the trails before we decided to bring him. But thinking over our day, we were content with seeing the nature center and the mother and calf so close, and headed home after our shortened driving tour of the state park.