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16 Great Trails

The Ozarks are a wonderland of trails, both hidden and super-accessible. Here's how to get out there and enjoy them.

By Sony Hocklander, Savannah Waszczuk and Katie Pollock Estes | Photography By Jeff Rose, Chuck Travers, Mary Ellen Chiles, Brandon Alms and Sony Hocklander

Apr 2017

Ozark Greenways

Around Springfield | Level of Difficulty: Very Easy

Have you biked the “cow trail” or discovered the wooded south-side path enjoyed by early morning walkers? If not, you’re missing out. And don’t let summer go by without experiencing the Ozarks’ own rail to trail. With 72 miles of Greenways in all parts of the city and beyond, it’s a snap to get walking, running or biking outdoors without leaving our metro community.

Springfield’s robust trail system is one of its greatest assets, and thanks to Ozark Greenways, it gets better every year. Projects in 2017 include breaking ground on the Trail of Honor through the Missouri Veteran’s Cemetery and along James River. Find maps and descriptions for all the trails at OzarkGreenways.org. Meanwhile, try one of these:

Frisco Highline Trail

Runners, walkers and bikers enjoy Missouri’s second longest rail-to-trail path. The 35-mile route connects Springfield to Bolivar with four trailheads, 16 railroad bridges and lots of rural character. With relatively low elevation changes, it’s a great trail for people of all ages. The first eight miles from Springfield into Willard are paved; about two-thirds of the trail, starting at Mile 8, is crushed gravel. The photo-worthy bridges are clustered between Miles 18 and 31—a particularly aesthetic section for selfie-lovers and nature photographers alike. Don’t miss crossing the bridge at Mile 23 for a beautiful view of the Little Sac River. Learn more here.

 

Galloway Creek Greenway

If you like a more urban trail experience with easy access to dining, libations, a great city park and a notable point of interest, then Galloway Creek Greenway is for you. Head south from the trailhead near Pershing Middle School—look for the oversized wheelchair sculpture along the way—or start at the more central Sequiota Park on Lone Pine Avenue. Whether on foot or on wheels, you’ll find plenty of pit stops along the route including Sequiota Bike Shop (an outdoor café across from Sequiota Park that rents bicycles), Galloway Grill farther south or Bambino’s Italian Cafe near Lone Pine and Battlefield Road. 

 

Ward Branch Greenway

A 1.2-mile stretch of the Ward Branch trail runs between the Missouri Institute of Natural Science (Riverbluff Cave museum) and Wanda Grey Elementary School. Meandering along the Ward Branch Creek, the wooded trail is popular with south-side walkers and runners. Find the trailhead off South Farm Road 139, south of Plainview Road near Rivercut Golf Course. The gravel area isn’t well-marked; look for a couple of vine-covered silos. Some walkers park at the nearby museum, visible from the trailhead off Farm Road 190. Access the other end of the trail just east of Wanda Grey.
 

Wilson’s Creek Greenway

This southwest Springfield Greenway enjoyed a facelift last year with the new Tal’s Trailhead. Located near Battlefield Road and West Bypass, Tal’s connects the Wilson’s Creek and South Creek Greenways. About four miles of paved trail between Tal’s Trailhead and the popular Rutledge-Wilson Farm Park makes a pleasant route particularly great for biking and running. Wilson’s Creek Greenway travels through pretty wooded and rural landscapes and into Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. It crosses a couple of bridges and passes through several gated farmland pastures complete with resident cows.


Cory Flatrocks 

West of Dadeville, Missouri | Approximately 40 miles northwest of Springfield | Level of Difficulty: Easy to Moderate 


Exploring the Unexplored

When it comes to Cory Flatrocks, you have the power to see things that few have seen before you—the Missouri Conservation Commission recently approved this 135-acre tract of land that sits just west of Dadeville as a conservation area. If you visit the Flatrocks, you’ll have the chance to explore grounds that have rarely been explored by hikers—grounds that aren’t even developed yet.

Be Prepared 

Before heading to Cory Flatrocks, keep in mind that it’s pretty primitive out there. There are no trails at this time, and no trails means no maintenance of trails (so you’ll have to hike through weeds and other natural vegetation in late spring through the thick of summer), warns Francis Skalicky, media specialist for the Southwest Region of the Missouri Department of Conservation. Don’t let this stop you, though—if you want to see it, simply plan for a non-weedy time of year, or wear pants and brave the brush.  

True Ozarks Landscape

On your visit, you’ll hike over lands made up of primarily rocky sandstone glade. Of course, as with many areas, these glades are surrounded by forests, streams and beautiful wildflowers. Glades are one of the most defining features in Ozarks hiking, and this is the perfect spot to see them. With these glades, of course, critters such as scorpions and tarantulas often roam, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled.


Lakeview Trail

Stockton, Missouri | 50 miles northwest of Springfield | Level of Difficulty: Moderate


Looking for a trail getaway that’s not so far away? Try the Lakeview Trail at Stockton State Park. The hiking and mountain-bike route that follows the shoreline of Stockton Lake features woodland, beach and bluff views. Best of all, it’s only one lake area thing to do. Here are five ways to make a day of your visit to Stockton Lake.

 

Catch the views on Lakeview Trail

The state park’s longest trail can be hiked (or mountain-biked) as an 8-mile loop or in two smaller loops via a connector trail. The main trailhead is near the marina, but for quicker access to bluff overlooks, Park Superintendent Justin Adams suggests starting at the northern trailhead. From there, go counterclockwise, he says. You’ll reach the bluffs overlook after the trail crosses Highway 215. “It’s a great spot to look for eagles and loons and water fowl,” he says. (Find more information here.)

 

Paddle the water trail

Rent a kayak or canoe from the marina to follow the Stockton State Park Water Trail about 6.5 miles around the peninsula. It’s a great way to look for wildlife and water fowl, see limestone bluffs, explore coves and try your luck fishing. “It just offers a different perspective,” Adams says. “You are seeing the park from the water.”

 

Rent a boat or waverunner

The marina also rents motorized vessels. Spend part of your day on the trail, another part of it out on the lake. 

 

Kick back at the beach.

Cool off and relax at the beach, whether you drive over or make it part of your hike. The beach is located in the northern loop. 

 

Lunch, anyone?

The State Park Marina Snak Shack serves grill menu items and more. “We’ve been told we have some of the best burgers people have ever had,” Manager Mary Fidler says. The menu also includes chicken strips, grilled chicken paninis, a catfish dinner and even breakfast—a sandwich on weekdays; full breakfast on weekends. Sit inside, or enjoy lake views from the dock. Thirsty for a cold beer? They’ve got that, too.

 

Explore more trails. 

The state park isn’t the only area to hike. Check out Stockton Lake Corps trails, too, which are maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Cross the Highway 215 bridge to reach Corps land. The closest hike is the Rudledge Bluff Overlook Trail, an 18-mile route between the northern Orleans Campground and southern Hawker Point. Several entrance points between trailheads can be found along Corps lake access roads. 


Devil’s Eyebrow

Garfield, Arkansas | Approximately 77 miles southwest of Springfield | Level of Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging


5 Reasons to visit Devil’s Eyebrow

Just a quick drive past the Arkansas state line, Devil’s Eyebrow Natural Area is situated at the northern end of Beaver Lake along Indian Creek and its tributaries. It’s an area that’s somewhat unknown to many in the Ozarks, making its 11.8-mile roundtrip hike a perfect unprecedented escape for even the most avid hikers. We talked to Dan Nash, founder and president of Satori Adventures and Expeditions and Hiking the Ozarks, to learn a bit about the area. 

 

1. There are Plenty of Ways to Make a Splash.
If you’re a fan of waterfalls, visit the Devil’s Eyebrow area after a good rain. That will have the several small and large falls here looking their best. Not visiting in the rainy season? There’s a scenic spring that flows year round about 1.5 miles from the parking area, and you can follow the flow along part of your hike—perfect for those who find serenity from the sound of babbling brooks. If it’s hot, beating that heat is a cinch. Just take off your boots and socks, find one of the area’s flowing creeks, and do a little wading.

 

2. You’ll see Rocks that Rock.
One-of-a-kind rock formations are one of the best things about this area. While it’s easy to fall into the habit of “eyes on the trail,” slow down a bit so you can take time to look around, and keep it up at every turn.

3. It’s Where the Buffalo, er Collared Lizards, Roam.

This is the Ozarks, and we have wildlife everywhere, right? Right. But the wildlife at Devil’s Eyebrow is even more abundant. Thanks to the area’s proximity to Mark Twain National Forest and Beaver Lake, there are plenty of critters roaming about. You’ll find the usual suspects—think deer, turkey, birds—as well as rare creatures like collared lizards and bald eagles.

 

4. You’ll See Plants You’ve Never Seen Before.

The wildness at the ’brow doesn’t stop with animals. There are more than 650 species of plants that have been documented here, making it one of the most diverse natural areas in Arkansas.

 

5. …And So Much More.

Sure, coming to Devil’s Eyebrow and sticking on the trail will provide you a fun day outdoors and a more-than-sufficient workout. But the area is huge, and there’s so much to explore. If you’re willing to go off trail, you’ll find many more wild and rare plants and even some deep canyons. Live a little!


Big Piney Trail

Licking, Missouri | 85 miles northeast of Springfield | Level of Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging


Get your nature therapy in a more primitive way along the 17-mile Big Piney Trail in the Paddy Creek Wilderness area west of Licking. The rugged loop trail is popular with overnight backpackers and horseback riders. Shorter loops are accessible for those who can’t do the entire trail. Hikers pass by scenic bluff overlooks and rock outcrops, and cross Big Paddy and Little Paddy creeks. You may see “little waterfalls along the way, depending on when you go,” says Recreation Forester Carol Trokey with the U.S. Forest Service. Whether you overnight in one of three primitive campgrounds or somewhere along the trail, here’s what to know before you go.

 

Plan your route.

If you’re up for the 17-mile loop, start at the Big Piney Trail Camp or the Roby Lake Recreation Area campground. Both are open year-round. For shorter trail experiences, Trokey says, choose the 7-mile south loop or the 9-mile north loop. A third trailhead is at the Paddy Creek Campground (open April 1). Campsites are free to use and include vaulted toilets.

 

Be prepared.

Pack in everything you might need including plenty of food and potable water. Bring rain gear in case of weather changes and shelter if you plan to stay overnight. Don’t forget the little things: first aid, a way to start your campfire, flashlights and insect repellent. 

 

Respect the wilderness.

The route is mostly moderate with a few more difficult spots; the elevation changes up to about 500 feet, Trokey says. Be aware of your surroundings and watch for hazards, such as falling limbs after a storm. It’s the wilderness, so trails aren’t well-marked or as developed as other areas, she says. Bring a map and compass—your GPS or cellphone will be unlikely to have service. Trokey suggests registering at trailheads. “We track usage of the area, but it’s also a safety thing,” she says. “In case someone doesn’t return, we can at least check where they might have started.”
 

Check regulations.

For instance, groups of more than 10 are prohibited to camp or travel together, and wilderness camping is not allowed within 100 feet of trails, streams or other campsites. Wheeled vehicles and motorized tools are prohibited. Establish campfires in areas cleared of debris; extinguish them fully before leaving. (Learn more here.)
 

Consider the calendar.

Avoid late summer when ticks are terrible, and the best scenic views are blocked by leafy foliage. Instead, the best times to hike are spring, fall and winter. Be aware that hunting is allowed in season, though weapons are restricted within 150 yards of trails and occupied areas, Trokey says.

 
Make it short.

Trokey offers day hike suggestions, roughly four miles each, round trip. Hike between Big Piney and Paddy Creek campgrounds for a trek that includes a scenic overlook and creek crossing. Or hike from the Roby Lake area, turn left at the junction, and follow the north loop trail to find a small waterfall and pool when the trail crosses a creek. 


Dogwood Canyon Nature Park

Lampe, Missouri | 60 miles south of Springfield | Level of Difficulty: Very Easy


It really doesn’t get any easier than this. The 6.5-mile paved trail runs the length of a long canyon and is mostly flat, making it perfect for kiddos who want to a bike ride but aren’t ready to tackle hills. In fact, you can even rent bicycles at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park for the family. Or, if cycling isn’t your thing, just enjoy the walk. Along the way you’ll see multiple waterfalls, clear fish-filled streams, ancient burial caves and more. If you’re lucky, you’ll even spy a weasel or mink scampering around. Have lunch at the restaurant, and visit the tree house while you’re there.


Castle Trail

Camdenton, Missouri | 75 miles north of Springfield | Level of Difficulty: Easy


Kids with wild imaginations will enjoy a trek through Castle Trail at Ha Ha Tonka State Park. The not-quite-half-mile path takes visitors to the ruins of a stone castle that was built on a tall bluff around the turn of the 20th century. But make believe princes, princesses and knights can pretend the ruins are much older. Continue on the trail all the way to a few scenic overlooks that give hikers a place to peek at the waters of Lake of the Ozarks. Keep an eye on your littlest kiddos as you take this walk; there are steep grades and bluffs along the trail.


Ruth & Paul Henning Conservation Area

Branson, Missouri | 53 miles south of Springfield | Level of Difficulty: Easy


For Springfieldians, this nearby location is perfect for families with antsy kids who won’t fare well on a long car ride. Just pop down to Branson to take in natural beauties like bottomland forest and glades. (Fun fact: Those glades are also called knobs, and they inspired the term Baldknobber.) Bigger kids can tackle the longer Henning Homesteaders’ Trail, but smaller children might fare better on the little 0.4-mile Dewey Bald Trail. Yet even the short trail has a payoff: A 40-foot viewing tower. Leave the bikes at home because this trail is only for travelers who come on foot.


Buzzard Roost Trail

Clarksville, Arkansas | 125 miles south of Springfield | Level of Difficulty: Moderate


You won’t find the trail to Buzzard Roost on any official websites. But clearly the scenic overlook on U.S. Forest land attracts plenty of visitors. If they know where to look.
Finding Buzzard Roost is a word-of-mouth adventure among fellow hikers, bloggers and outdoor writers. The U.S. Forest Service doesn’t promote it because the unofficial trail to access the area—with rocky outcrops, caves and two natural arches—crosses a small portion of private land. That said, it’s a place worth seeing. 

 

Why go?

The roughly 4-mile round-trip trail is the means to a scenic end. The trails aren’t marked, but they are easy to follow, says hiking expert Dan Nash (hikingtheozarks.com).
Nash says Buzzard Roost is an unusual overlook. “Instead of having a regular bluff line, it’s these really cool rock formations the weather and rain and wind have carved,” he says.
“It’s a nice little place to explore.”
It’s also a great place to picnic, says Russellville hiker/blogger Danny Hale (takahik.com). The formations (he calls them turtle rocks) are beautiful, but beware of gaps. “You don’t want to fall down between the rocks,” he adds.
Not far from Buzzard Roost is a large natural arch known by some as Rainbow Rock. It’s best accessed by a connector trail (see “Access the Trail”).

Get there

From Jasper, take Arkansas 7 south to the junction of Arkansas 123. (Tip: On maps you might see that junction called Pelsor or Sand Gap, Arkansas.) Turn west onto Route 123; in about 4.7 miles, according to Hale, turn left onto a gravel road (called Farm Road 1805, County Road 14 and Treat Road, he says; a “Treat Road” sign has been spotted there in the past).
Travel the gravel road about 6.5 miles until you reach a white house. Park along the road; don’t block driveways or enter private property (including a field east of the house).
Tip: Cellular service might not work in this rather remote area. Bring written directions and a map. Hale also cautions that road signs might be removed during logging season.


Access the trail

Once you park, head down a little road south of the white house, near an old barn. (Some hikers describe it as a four-wheeler path.) 
After about a mile and a half, you’ll encounter a choice; the path continues straight or offers an offshoot to the right. Go straight to find your way to the large arch, or turn right to head for Buzzard Roost.
Hale suggests going to the large arch first. Continue straight about 500 feet until the trail turns right a second time. Follow this a short distance to find a trail heading down the hillside, Hale says. This leads to the arch, which has two nice grottos below on either side.
Backtrack to the first intersection, turn toward Buzzard Roost and explore.


Lost Valley Trail

Kingston, Arkansas | 103 miles south of Springfield | Level of Difficulty: Easy


This 1.9-mile hike near the Buffalo National River takes about two hours on foot and leads you through a towering box canyon. It ends at Cobb Cave and a bluff shelter that’s a whole lot of fun to explore. Tip: Consider the weather before you visit. If you go after heavy rains, you’ll have the best chance of seeing flowing waterfalls. If you go when weather conditions have been dry and water levels are low, you can play around in the rocks of the mostly dry riverbed and explore the cave-like area beneath a natural bridge. Both options are fun for kids and grown-ups alike.


Katy Trail State Park

Central Missouri, including a 152-mile stretch of the trail from Boonville to St. Charles | Start in Boonville, roughly 160 miles northeast of Springfield | Level of Difficulty: Moderate


As the nation’s longest rail-to-trail conversion, the Katy Trail stretches some 238 miles from Clinton to Machens, a town located just north of St. Louis. If you’re super eager, you can bike the entire thing in a few days’ time—just ask 417-landers David and Polly Letsch. “We did it in a long weekend from Friday to Sunday,” David says of the couple’s first trail adventure in 2011. 
Since then, the two have returned to the Katy Trail each year, but now they usually just do one- or two-day trips of their favorite sections on the tandem bike they bought shortly after their first time on the trail. While the couple agrees that the entire trail is enjoyable, they say the Boonville to St. Charles stretch is perfect for a leisurely three-day trek—there are tons of restaurants, B&Bs, wineries and breweries to stop at along the way. Whether you have a companion or are riding solo, plan your trip using this rough itinerary with some of the couple’s most-favorite stops. 

 

Day 1: Boonville to North Jefferson

Spend the night before your trek at Hotel Frederick (660-882-2828, hotelfrederick.com) in Boonville. You’ll be over-the-top comfortable here for your much-needed night’s rest, and you’ll remember the dinner you have at The Fred Restaurant & Lounge for years to come. 
In the morning, fuel up with coffee and a homemade pastry at Taylor’s Bake Shop (660-882-8814), then hop on your bike and head to the trail—it begins running adjacent to the Missouri River just past Boonville. After pedaling along the scenic stretch for roughly 13.5 miles, take note after you pass through the trail’s only tunnel: the picturesque town of Rocheport is just ahead. Rocheport is filled with several cozy B&B’s, restaurants and Les Bourgeois Winery (missouriwine.com), where you can stop for a glass of vino, a quick snack or an early gourmet lunch. 
Your next stretch will take you along limestone bluffs as you pass through Huntsdale then McBaine and Providence, and you can pick up the MKT Trail to visit Columbia. Stop at Cooper’s Landing Campgrounds Store & Marina (573-657-2544, cooperslanding.net) for home cooking, barbecue or even Thai food at Chim’s Thai Kitchen (509-295-3810). Bonus: There’s often live music here.
After filling up, hop back on your bike, and start pedaling away at the last stretch. If you want a bed, keep going til you reach nearby Hartsburg and stay at the Globe Hotel Bed & Breakfast (60 S. 2nd St., Hartsburg, 573-657-4529), or if you’re willing to camp, check out North Jefferson’s Noren Access Campsite area for $5 per night (drop-ins only). Keep your eyes peeled while on this section of the trail—you’ll get a great view of the capitol. 

 

Day 2: North Jefferson to McKittrick

​Load up on water and snacks before leaving North Jefferson because the next stretch of the trail is a bit quieter as it meanders through rural landscapes and early railroad towns. Stop for your first taste of day two’s food, drinks and fun roughly 18 miles later in Mokane, where Mokane Bar and Grill (573-676-3119) greets bikers with cold booze, wings, burgers and plenty of other bar fare.
As you continue, you’ll pass through Steedman and Portland before the trail snuggles up to the Missouri River on a 5-mile stretch to Bluffton, where the Grand Bluffs Conservation Area sits a mile east of town. Check it out for extra exploring. McKittrick isn’t far from here, and it sits right across from Hermann—a popular German-esque winery town where you’ll find plenty of options for dinner, drinks and lodging (visithermann.com). If you’d rather cover more ground, you’ll find some small campgrounds down the road, and this will give you a less-lofty total to tackle on day three.

 

Day 3: McKittrick to St. Charles

Once you get to Marthasville on day three, plan to make some stops—there are small wineries, eateries and other attractions at nearly every stop from here on. Augusta, in particular, is one of the Letsches’ favorite trail towns. Apple Gate Inn Bed & Breakfast (636-228-4248, applegate-inn.com) is one of their favorite places to stay. (No one will judge you if your three-day trip turns into four!) If you just stop to eat, go to Augusta Brew Haus (636-482-2337) for pub-style food, barbecue and a bier garden located along the trail. 
The next town, Defiance, is home to several more eateries, with Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard & Winery (314-409-6139, yellowfarmhousewines.com) offering wines, snacks and confections with visits to its tasting room. After you leave this small city, you’re on the last stretch—just 19.6 miles left to go! When you arrive in the city of St. Charles (historicstcharles.com), there are many options for dinner and lodging. Pick one, indulge, and pat yourself on the back for your successful three-day trek across one of the state’s most enticing trails. 


Greer Spring Trail

Alton, Missouri | 145 miles southeast of Springfield | Level of Difficulty: Moderate


Greer Spring is nature’s gift at the end of a mile-long shaded trail into a steep ravine. And it’s well worth the trek. We hiked the trail last year with a dozen friends: a Sunday morning side trip after a weekend B & B getaway. It took our group less than 30 minutes to descend. All told we spent around 90 minutes, including half an hour exploring Missouri’s second largest spring, noted for its secluded wilderness setting. 
The trailhead is about eight miles north of Alton on the scenic Missouri 19 highway—about 1.5 miles south of the bridge over the Eleven Point National Scenic River. Parking is convenient, and the trailhead is well-marked. The groomed forest trail traverses gently down the slope and is easy to navigate, so much so that we encountered families along the way. It’s likely considered moderate for the uphill return, a 250-foot change in elevation. We took our time, stopping to shoot photos and take in the hush of woodland solitude. 
Near trail’s end, a platform overlook provides the first scenic view of the rushing spring, which flows from two sources. 
The largest influx bubbles up from the gorge in a visible streambed boil. (Look slightly downstream from the overlook.) The other spring, about 250 feet upstream, flows from a cave you can’t see from this spot.
We continued down steps to the end of the trail, which opens onto the spring stream bank, a jumble of rock formations and foliage. 
We clambered around in the area shooting photos, wowed by the natural beauty. This is a place worth lingering, and 30 minutes wasn’t long enough for me. While some in our group headed back to the overlook, a few of us picked our way upstream to view the small cave. It was gorgeous!
Alas, we couldn’t stay forever. We burned off our waffle breakfast hiking the trail back up. But the slope really isn’t bad, and there are also occasional benches that provide rest spots if needed.
Our group agreed the short but scenic hike was indeed a lovely side trip. Later I learned more than 200 million gallons of water a day on average flow the mile and a quarter from Greer Spring to feed the Eleven Point National Scenic River, more than doubling the river’s size. (You can find more details and travel tips here.)
I know we’ll be back. And when we float the nearby Eleven Point River, we’ll appreciate Greer Spring even more.—Sony Hocklander 


Ozark Trail

Eastern Missouri | 200 miles east of Springfield | Level of Difficulty: Very Challenging


The Ozark Trail, at a massive 390 miles of linked trail sections, winds through eastern Missouri and is the perfect place to immerse yourself in unspoiled nature. There you can see tall bluffs, hidden caves, hardwood forests, waterfalls and wildflower-dotted glades and take in views of the Courtois, Current, North Folk and Eleven Point rivers among other smaller waterways. The area is home to plenty of flora and fauna including, most surprisingly, elusive wild horses. We recommend focusing your trip on the Taum Sauk trail section. Although it’s a hefty 35 miles long, it can be broken into three smaller subsections. It’s there that you can see the three unbeatable spots listed here.


Johnson’s Shut-Ins

One of the most beautiful locations in Missouri, Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is located along the Black River and features cool and clear water that flows through dips and divots in smooth igneous rock to create shut-ins and little waterfalls. The spot is great for adults and kids who are big enough to be careful and hold their own on the slippery rocks. But even for the most sure-footed, it can be a little treacherous when the water levels are high. So use caution. If you have smaller kids, take a dip in the swimming hole at the bottom of the shut-ins for a more serene experience. Bonus: This gorgeous area is as much fun to simply view as it is to play in. 


Devil’s Tollgate

Between Mina Sauk Falls and Johnson’s Shut-Ins is the towering vista of Devil’s Tollgate. There, an 8-foot-wide path cuts through a 30-foot-tall volcanic rhyolite formation. With stippled sunlight cutting through the shade from surrounding trees, the spot is much more serene than the ominous name implies.


Mina Sauk Falls

With all the waterways and mountainous terrain that the Ozark Trail cuts through, it should come as no surprise that there is a waterfall along the way. On the Taum Sauk section of the trail, you can get a glimpse of Mina Sauk Falls. It’s a steep and rocky climb to get to the falls, but it’s worth every grueling step. The wet-weather waterfall is the tallest waterfall in the state of Missouri. Although all you’ll see is a trickle if you come at the wrong time, you can enjoy quite a bit of flowing water if you take your hike after some heavy rainfall when Mina Sauk is at its peak. But even if you miss the rushing water, the area is still worth the hike. You can spy some gorgeous wildflowers there.


How to Train

Exploring the Ozarks is great, but if you have the hiking bug, you likely won’t limit yourself to our little corner of the globe. We talked to outdoor enthusiast Dan Nash, the founder and president of both Hiking the Ozarks and worldwide travel and adventure company Satori Adventures and Expeditions, about how you can prepare for landmark out-of-state hiking and climbing adventures while training right here in 417-land.

If you’re looking to hike: A fourteener (a popular group of more than 50 Colorado mountain peaks that exceed 14,000 feet)


Popular fourteeners: Grays Peak, Mt. Bierstadt, Torreys Peak, Longs Peak and Mt. Elbert 

Training plan: You can do a lot of your fourteener training in the gym. Nash recommends a good mix of longer slow cardio workouts and strength training, plus an interval workout one day per week. Training four to five days each week is recommended. 

Local practice hikes: Very close to home, the Silver Trail in Busiek State Forest is a great place to train thanks to several good hills. The Compton Trail in Arkansas is also a great place to train, as it raises some 1,600 feet from the Buffalo River to the top of the trailhead in just 2.5 miles. 


If you’re looking to hike: A thru-hike on a long-distance trail. Popular long distance trails: Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and Continental Divide Trail


Training plan: There’s truth behind the idea that the best way to train for an activity is to do that very activity. “Long hiking days with a pack are a good way to train for long-distance hiking,” Nash says. 

Local practice hikes: If you want your own taste of a thru-hike, load up your pack (but not too heavy!), and head to one of our nearby long-distance hiking trails. The Ozark Trail in our Missouri Ozarks and the Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas are both good options with lots of terrain and elevation changes.


If you’re looking to hike: In a Canyon

Popular canyon hikes: Grand Canyon National Park, Bryce National Park, Canyonlands and Death Valley National Park 

Training plan: “A good way to train for a canyon hike is a combination of long hiking days plus some strength and interval workout days,” Nash says. “This will help to improve cardio and strength for those climbs out of the canyons.” 

Local practice hike: Arkansas’s Hemmed-in Hollow Trail that can be reached from the Compton Trailhead is a nice way to train for a canyon hike, as it provides a similar landscape—lots of steep stepping and rock navigation on both the way down and the way back up. 


Book It

There are likely dozens and dozens of hikes in the Ozarks you’ve never heard about (and we promise—you’re not just going to stumble upon all of them on Google). Check out these guide and hiking books before planning your next outdoor adventure.  

 

Trails & Treks of Missouri & Northern Arkansas
by Kelly Frey and Steve Baron

The second title from the authors of Trails of Missouri, this book is packed with 79 hikes peppered throughout the entire state of Missouri and the top slice of heavily trekked Arkansas. Each trail outline was written with experience, as every mile featured in the book was hiked by the authors. All descriptions include a map, driving directions, length and perks of the trail.

 

 

 

Buffalo River Hiking Trails 
by Tim Ernst

Tim Ernst is the author of several popular area guidebooks, and this one about northwest Arkansas’s oh-so-popular (and oh-so-beautiful) Buffalo River area is one of our favorites. It has complete descriptions of more than 30 hiking trails in the Buffalo River area, including both the hotspots and the hidden gems. Bonus: there are even descriptions on how to get to some scenic spots that don’t have developed trails leading to them.

 

 

 

Best Easy Day Hikes: Missouri Ozarks 
by JD Tanner and Emily Ressler

Sure, this book is a part of the Falcon Publishing giant that produces guidebooks from Yosemite to Acadia—but that’s why we think it’s extra cool (and extra legit) that they created a book about hiking in our very own little corner of the world. The book includes descriptions and detailed maps for 20 trails, including scenic ridgetops, quiet valleys and cool hollows.

 

 

 


No stranger to the outdoors, 417-lander Jenna Clouse has been hiking since she was a young girl. She spent much of her childhood logging countless miles at the Cedar Gap Conservation Area that backs up to her family’s land. It wasn’t until last September, though, that 20-year-old Clouse came across something that she’d never seen while hiking before: a bear. Read on for her first-hand experience, and learn what to do if you’re ever in the same situation with tips from Francis Skalicky, media specialist for the Southwest Region of the Missouri Department of Conservation.

By Jenna Clouse, as told to Savannah Waszczuk

We were out of school for Labor Day, so we decided we would go hiking—I took a couple of my friends to the Cedar Gap area where I’ve always hiked. After we got done and we started making our way back up to the car, Alex and Lena went ahead of me. I was taking pictures and taking my time. I didn’t hear the bear, but I looked over, and he was standing right there. Immediately I froze. Most people have that fight-or-flight response, but I didn’t have either of those. I didn’t want to run because I didn’t want it to chase me; I didn’t want to trigger any predatory responses. 
I decided it would be a great time for a video, and I pulled out my phone, but I guess it was right when I got signal because my phone dinged. When my phone dinged, the bear was standing in the trail, and he looked over at me. I wasn’t scared until that happened. I started recording, and he still stared at me for a bit. He seemed to not be bothered, though, and then he just kind of turned away and started walking off the trail. He wasn’t too curious—he was just minding his own business. After the video, I let out a deep breath, and when I did that he turned around and started walking closer to me. That’s the point that I thought, “Okay, maybe I need to get this bear out of here,” so I started yelling for Alex. I didn’t really yell too loud because I didn’t really know what to do—I didn’t necessarily feel in danger, but I also didn’t necessarily feel safe. When I started yelling, though, the bear ran away.

Check out the nine-second video of Clouse's experience below: