Fort Belle Fontaine – St. Louis, Missouri - Atlas Obscura

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Fort Belle Fontaine

During the 19th-century, this park was a vital trading fort.  

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Fort Belle Fontaine was built immediately after the Louisiana Purchase was signed. It’s position, being north of the new city, St. Louis,  allowed the fort to protect the gateway to the west. It also was a place for westward moving pioneers to rest and stock up before continuing through the newly acquired land. 

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, leave metal detectors at home, as they are not allowed on the property.

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.

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May 17, 2021

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