The Hidden Beaches of West County
Yearning for the beach this summer, but landlocked in Missouri? You’ll be surprised to learn that two large public beaches are located on the Meramec River in West County and, unlike the public swimming pools, are open year round.
Sherman Beach Park, located just off St. Paul Road in Ellisville, is a lovely rock beach settled on a lazy bend of the Meramec River. There are no signs directing you to the beach, but a phone with Google Maps will get you there, along with a little bit of guessing. The parking lot that serves the beach is very small and holds about 20 cars, with overflow parking along the side of the road available for another 20 or so cars. Saturdays and Sundays are particularly busy at the beach, however the tiny parking area usually seems to have just enough space for one more car.
After a short walk down a sandy incline you will find yourself facing a large expanse of gravel beach with more than enough space to stretch out for the day. Families are often seen setting up awnings or tents for shade, or putting their chairs in the shallow river to sit chest deep in the cool waters. Large mussel shells are scattered all over the beach and river fowl are often seen scouting the shoreline for food. The beach is bordered on one end by a railroad bridge that services several trains a day, adding a bit of old-time Midwest charm to the experience.
Although the Meramec River has a treacherous history, this particular spot on the river appears to be quite placid with a mild current during the lower crests of the summer months. Swimmers should do so at their own discretion.
Several miles downstream, or a mere 13 minutes by car, is the beach at Castlewood State Park. This mostly sand beach is set on a gorgeous expanse of the Meramec that is filled with fish and wildlife. Unfortunately, the river at this spot is very deep and very unpredictable, so swimming is strongly discouraged, however the location is perfect for picnics, sunbathing or just communing with nature.
Long before this area became part of the Missouri State Park Service, the small town of Castlewood was a popular weekend resort getaway for St. Louisans looking for a respite from the summer heat. As early as 1915, bars, hotels, dance clubs and stores began to spring up in the adjoining community of Castlewood. Thousands of weekend vacationers would arrive by train and spend the weekend canoeing, riding horses, playing games and swimming. When Prohibition became the law in 1918, this same area became known for its many speakeasies and local underworld figures.
The most popular beach on the river in those days was Lincoln Beach, just a short trip upstream from the beach at Castlewood. So many people would arrive each day by canoe, small boat or ferry that the beachfront was virtually filled to capacity. In the early 1940’s the Castlewood Pool opened, an 18,000 square foot spring-fed pool, and became the new swimming hole for locals and visitors.
Both beaches are open year round and close one half hour after sunset. The Al Foster Memorial Trail, part of the Meramec Greenway, is a 5.5 mile gravel path that begins in Glencoe and runs to both locations.