Monday, August 9, 2010

Missouri Hiking Gems

Recently I blogged about my remembrances of the Ozark Trail. The OT takes in some of the nicest spots in the state. But of course there are some great hikes that aren't on the OT. Some of these I have hiked and I thought I should mention them. Especially since one of them turned out to be my favorite spot to hike in all of Missouri.

Last post I mentioned Bell Mountain and Council Bluff lake. These aren't on the OT per se but are both loop trails that intersect the OT. So I count them as part of the OT. I'm going to talk about places that aren't on the OT.

The other thing I will exclude is the Katy Trail. Some people do hike this I understand but it's really for biking. This is a MUST DO if you are in Missouri. It's just spectacular! But I'm going to only consider hiking spots in this post.

I'll rank three such hikes according to how beautiful the hike is. They are all good but not equal in my mind.

Bronze Medal
Sam A. Baker State Park
Some may say that the Mudlick trail in Sam A Baker State Park should be included as a loop trail that intersects the OT because the Wappapello section dead ends into it. However I've never hiked the Wappapello section and so I didn't count it as part of the OT. This park is mostly for people who want to get away from it all and rent a cabin for a few days. There are many cabins in the park near the River. There's even a little convenience store that's open in season. I went in the winter so I had the park to myself. The Mudlick trail goes around the park and is about 15 miles long. If you start at the trailhead and hike counterclockwise then you soon come to the two best spots along the trail. The first is a great bluff view. Here it is in the morning in winter.

The great thing about this bluff view is that you can camp right there in a stone 3-walled shelter -- the only place in Missouri that I'm aware of where there are such shelters for hikers.

A little further on is Mudlick hollow. This hollow has waterfalls and cascades and is really gorgeous. A photo opportunity in any season I would think.

The reason this trail only gets the Bronze is that these two spots are within the first 2 miles of the trailhead. The rest of the hike is pleasant but not spectacular.

Silver Medal
Big Piney Trail -- Paddy Creek Wilderness
The Paddy Creek Wilderness is in Southcentral Missouri, just South of Fort Leonard Wood. It starts at Roby Lake near the town of Roby.

I'm not sure what it is about this place. I just found that I kept going back to it in my mind months after I'd hiked it. The creeks are great and the forest is beautiful. I went right after a big storm so many trees were down and the creeks were running very high (crossing Paddy Creek itself was a challenge, I was wet up to my hips) but I still loved it. The highlight of the hike is the canyon in the middle of the loop trail. The views from the bluffs are incredible and you can camp right at the top if you like.

This is really a first class hike all around. It might have won the gold if it weren't that the competition was so incredible.

Gold Medal Winner
Hawn State Park -- Whispering Pine Trail

I didn't discover this park until quite late. But it's actually one of the closest to St Louis. The camping area near Pickle Creek is full of RVs in season. But you get good solitude on the trail. There are great backcountry camp spots along the trail also. The forest has more pine than most forests in the Ozarks and I think that adds to the beauty. There are two creeks that border this park and both are unusually beautiful. Words don't really suffice so I'll let pictures do the talking for me.

The trail also hits some high spots and from the boulder-strewn peaks you get great views of the surrounding country.

And there are great bluffs overlooking the creeks which provide great pictures from either the top or the bottom.

If someone could only go on one hike in Missouri I'd recommend this one!