Vilander Bluff is one of those scenic places photographers and nature-lovers either love or hate. The love is the awesome views of the over 200 foot bluffs and the Meramec River which are off the beaten path. The hate is you have to find your own way, which can be frustrating, but also rewarding to the patient photographer.
Location: Onondaga Cave (annexed)
Managed: MDC & DOC
Access: Gravel Road
Nearest Town: Bourbon, MO
Photogenic Rank: 5
Solitude Rank: 5
Best Time: Early Morning
Best Season: Late Spring/Early Fall
200+ Foot Bluffs, 400+ Year Old Eastern Red Cedar Trees, Scenic Bend in the Meramec River
Super-Dangerous High Bluff, No-Trail, Gravel Road
Vilander Bluff is one of those “secret” Missouri places that mainly locals visit, but even then not many venture to the edge of the 200+ foot dolomite bluffs.
Located just a few miles off I-44 near the town of Bourbon, Mo, this impressive bluff is situated between Meramac State Park and Onondaga Cave State Park just southwest of St. Louis.
Recently a trailhead was constructed allowing for easier parking access, but the trail does not take you to the bluffs, so off-trail hiking is needed to visit them. It is up to you to navigate through a hilly wooded area and find this stunning site.
EXPLORE THIS AREA AT YOUR OWN RISK & KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS!
It wasn’t until 2013 that I become aware of Vilander through a fellow photographer, Mark Karpinski. His photos led me to off-trail explore, where I found myself backtracking several times until the edge of Vilander was in my view. Even though, I have hiked many times in the Rocky Mountains, I was still taken back by the sheer ledge that plummeted straight down into the reflective waters of the Meramec River.
In the fall of 2014, I returned to Vilander in hopes of capturing an early morning photo with fog in the valley. It was a gamble, but as I followed a faint trail in the darkness of morning, the blue hour was fast approaching and the faint pinkish hues were developing on the horizon. I knew I had to move quick because the golden hour would soon follow and increase the possibilities of a Great Image.
It seemed like a blur, but I photographed for just over 30 minutes and watched the valley below go from a brilliant pink, with soft fog to a sun-filled landscape that was past its peak to photograph. If I had not scouted this place beforehand, I would have been scrambling just to get in the right place.
It is places like Vilander that makes me continue to seek out new off-the-beaten path places in the Missouri Ozarks and one that every sure-footed photographer who likes to explore should visit.
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