Hiking events

The Ozark Trail: A Guide to Hiking in the Missouri Mountains

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You may not recognize the name, but don’t let that deter you: the Ozark Trail (OT) deserves more attention than it tends to attract. Overflowing with rocky streams, dolomite glades, pools filled with plunge pools and hidden caves, the OT displays some of the most geographically unique hikes you can find anywhere.

The Ozark Mountains are home to over 390 miles of trails, including the 14 (mostly) continuous sections from the Ozark trail. But most hikers head to the Missouri Ozarks for the main event: the 230-mile Ozark Trail hike from Onondaga Cave State Park southeast of St. Louis to the western edge of the forest. of State by Mark Twain.

If you’re looking east of the Rockies for stunning scenery, technical terrain, and a long hike option without the AT crowds, this is your pick. You’ll pass fewer people along the way than you can count on your two hands – keep an eye out for mountain bikers and riders who frequent the multipurpose sections of the trail.

Hike the Ozark Trail

the 230 mile long ridge of the Ozark Trail connects eight continuous sections of trail: the Courtois Creek, Trace Creek, Middle Fork, Karkaghne, Blair Creek, Current River, Between the Rivers and Eleven Point sections. Most hikers travel north to south, but the route works in both directions. From Onondaga Trailhead, hikers embark on the first 48-mile section filled with white oaks, papayas, and seasonal wildflowers. Dive into caves carved into the cliffs along Courtois Creek and spot wildlife in the Huzzah Conservation Area, known for its sightings of Cerulean Warbler, Wild Turkey and North American River Otter. Popular campsites in this section include Berryman Campground around mile 22 or scattered creekside sites under red cliff walls on Huzzah Creek after mile 32.

The next section along Trace Creek is a nice, quiet walk through the woods. Camp at Hazel Creek Campground at the start of this section, or continue 12 miles through dense forests of oak, hickory, and pine before reaching the Middle Fork/John Roth Memorial waypoint. Some hikers may choose to continue on Trace Creek to the Taum Sauk section, but OT hikers should head west on the Middle Fork/John Roth Memorial section to complete the longer route. This hilly 26-mile segment gains over 2,600 feet in elevation over a streamlined landscape traversing creeks, streams, and wetlands, as well as small oak and hickory hardwood savannahs. Camp at the Highway DD trailhead near the start of the section or at Harper Spring around the 15 mile mark.

After Middle Fork, head for the 29-mile Karkaghne section, which mixes vast wet grasslands and ridge-lined valley views through the Sutton Bluff Recreation Area. Camp riverside on a natural gravel beach along the West Fork of the slow-moving Black River, or set up a scattered camp anywhere in the Mark Twain National Forest at least 100 feet from the trail . Keep an eye out for a short trail connecting Sutton Bluff Campground and the TT Highway that leads to Grasshopper Hollow, the largest fen (peat-forming wetland) in non-glacial North America.

Wetlands give way to ridges at the start of the Blair Creek section. The 26-mile route follows Blair Creek south as it carves a valley through a forest of oak, hickory and pine before merging with the emerald waters of the Current River. Here the 30-mile section of the Current River resumes, following the river for two miles before turning south toward Stegall Mountain. You’ll find this area along Indian Creek and Rocky Creek flush with the closures, water-eroded rock formations unique to the Ozarks that feature complex systems of shallow plunge pools, creeks, and waterfalls. Take in views of the Ozark landscape as you gain 500 feet in elevation up 2.5 miles to the summit of Stegall Mountain. Camp at the top overnight, spotting a sky full of stars if it’s clear.

The Next 30 Miles of Between the Rivers does exactly what it says: bridges the gap between the Current River and the Eleven Point River. The route passes several tributaries, including Wildhorse Hollow, Devil’s Run and Chilton and Big Barren Creeks, but lacks the largest swimming holes found on the OT so far. A gradual climb along a ridge line from the Current River watershed to the Eleven Point River watershed takes you through forests filled with white and scarlet oaks. Lock in your hike with the completion of the 29-mile section of the Eleven Point River. The finish challenges hikers with over 3,200 feet of vertical drop through the inclines and troughs that follow the contours of the Eleven Point National Scenic River, with plenty of options to dip your feet into clear pools and rapids shaken by the rock along the way. Enjoy stunning views from dolomite cliffs and a signature lookout over Greer Spring at mile 12, then finish at the Eleven Point West Trailhead (also known as 4155 Trailhead).

Equipment for the Ozark Trail

With access to the Ozark Trail available year-round, hikers will need to prepare differently for each season. The Ozark springs receive lots of rain and varying temperatures; Ozark summers tend to be hot, muggy, and humid; Ozark winters can drop below freezing. Wet weather is common to the Ozark climate, especially from late spring through summer, and provides a breeding ground for insects, mosquitoes, and ticks. Remember to bring waterproof shoes and treat your clothes in advance with permethrin to repel insects. During colder seasons, insulating layers are a must, and a good rain shell for you and a flysheet for your tent are needed all year round.

Mina Sauk Falls (Photo: Eddie Brady/Lonely Planet RF via Getty)

permit

One benefit of less traveled hiking trails is fewer (or no) parking permits and fees. The Ozark Trail does not have permit, parking, or registration requirements for its trail sections.

Last update April 2021