Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ozark Trail Retrospective

Now that I've moved to Pennsylvania I thought it would be a good time for a retrospective of the Ozark Trail. I didn't finish the trail but I've seen a good bit of it.

I've put my hiking history along the OT in a google map. Interestingly I couldn't embed it in this post (can't figure out why). But if you click here it will take you to the google map (best to open it in a new window so you can flip back and forth between my descriptions and the map). I've colored the various sections of the trail differently and put in some notes about when I did each section. Below I will review each section briefly.

Courtois Section
This is the northernmost section of the OT (colored in purple on my map). This is a beautiful section of the trail. About 5 miles in (from the north) you meet the Courtois creek. The trail runs between the creek and a bluff for a mile or so. This is one of the prettiest parts of the entire OT I think. Across the creek is a very high bluff. After crossing the creek the trail climbs this bluff to an area called "the Narrows" where you can see both the Courtois and Huzzah creeks (but the view will be obscured in summer by leaves). Great views here. The rest of the trail is also very pleasant. I only completed this section down to Hwy 8, near the Berryman campground.

Trace Creek
The Trace Creek section is the next section south (red/orange on my map). This section is quite pleasant though not spectacular. There are nice creeks and woods and the trail is not difficult. The highlight of this trail in my mind is really a side trail that comes off of it that is not officially part of the OT. Near the southern end of my map (I only did the northern part of this section) you come to Council Bluff lake. There is a trail that goes around this lake that is just gorgeous.

Middle Fork
Near the end of the northern part of the Trace Creek section is the beginning of the Middle Fork section(colored brown in my map). I really love this section. It has more creeks per mile than any other section which makes for a really pretty trip. It also has Barton Fen.

Taum Sauk
To the right in my map you see some blue trails which don't appear to be part of the OT thru-trail. This is the Taum Sauk Section. Eventually there will be a large loop in the middle of the OT and the Taum Sauk section is part of this incomplete loop. The Taum Sauk section was partially destroyed by a flood and the middle part was closed while I was living in Missouri. But the east and west parts were great hikes. The eastern section takes you from Ketcherside Mountain to the top of Taum Sauk mountain (the highest point in Missouri) and then down past Mina Sauk falls (the highest waterfall in Missouri) to a rock formation called Devil's Tollgate. This part of the trail is quite challenging because it is so steep and rocky. But the rocks are very red in color which makes for striking scenery.

The western part is also very nice. There are many very large glades in this section that offer nice views of the surrounding mountains. Most people though would say that the highlight of this section is a side trail which goes to the top of Bell Mountain. Many people consider this to be the nicest hike in the state.

Continuing south from the Middle fork you come to the Karkagne section (sort of purple/brown in the map). This section was heavily damaged in the storms but is now mostly open. This section has some very nice parts and some less nice parts. The northern part of Karkaghne is nicer than the southern part IMHO. The crossing of the Bee Fork has a gravel bar which I think is the nicest camping spot along the entire trail. The Sutton Bluff area is the most scenic part of this trip and well worth seeing.

Blair Creek
This section (dark green on the map) follows Blair Creek for much of the way but it's southern portion is along the Current River. The Bluffs at Owls Bend, near the southern end, provide the best bluff view anywhere along the trail. The northern section of this trail is less interesting. Although part of that may be because I got lost and ended up walking along dirt roads.

Current River
I would dearly have loved to finish this section. As it is I completed two hikes to some of the most picturesque spots on this section. You can see these two chunks in red on the map. The northern chunk is the trip I took to Klepzig mill. This old mill raceway by a shut-in creek is a must-see spot I think. And the hike there from the north is lovely with many nice river views and fields of flowers.

The southern chunk is from my trip to Rocky falls (a brief side trail takes you to the falls from the main trail). This short hike may be my favorite of all. The whole place smells of hickory, which I love. The glade on top of Stegall Mountain provides great views of the Ozarks. And the falls themselves are beautiful with a wonderful swimming hole at the bottom.

Eleven Point
Near the bottom of the map is a blue line that runs nearly east-west. This is my float trip along the eleven point river. Some people might say I wimped out in this section because I floated the river rather than hiking the trail. But the trail runs right next to the river for quite a ways and my float covered the entire length of the trail. This was a great float. The springs along the river are a real treat and the many bluffs are gorgeous. This river is not as popular to float as the Current or Jacks Fork river so you can get some solitude.

In between the Current section and the Eleven Point section is the biggest gap. I never got a chance to do the aptly named "Between the Rivers" section.

There are several orphan sections of the trail -- sections which don't currently connect to any other section but will eventually connect to form a large loop. Of these I've only hiked Marble Creek (not on the map I'm afraid). The others are Wappapello, Victory, and North Fork. I've never hiked these but perhaps someday I will.

Lots of great memories. Some of my hikes have been nicer than others. But I can honestly say that I've had great experiences on every hike and seen things I would hate to have missed. It would be impossible to pick a favorite section. If you've never been on the OT then you need to make it a priority in your life and see the beauty of the Ozarks!