The Ozark Mountains extend from Missouri, through Arkansas and into Oklahoma. They are the most extensive highlands between the Rockies and the Appalachians. In the Missouri Ozarks there are over 390 miles of well-developed trails ready for many backpacking adventures. Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to hike over twenty of those miles with a group of friends from the Central Indiana Wilderness Club (CIWC).
Over a long week-end, we set up a base camp at Council Bluff Lake Campground in the Mark Twain National Forest near Patosi, Missouri. This US Forest property has thirty-nine campsites with water and vault toilets. Nearby is the beach with consessions and hot showers, all of which we took advantage of upon returning from our hike.
We started hiking from the campground on the Trace Creek section of the trail. The first part of the hike followed the southwest shoreline of the Council Bluff Lake. Our destination was southeast to the Bell Mountain Wilderness, which is located in the St. Francois Mountains. Elevations ranged from about 900 feet to 1702 feet at Bell Mountain.
Most of the hike was in a verdant forest of oak, hickory and pines and the wildlife sightings were numerous (see list below). The most unique animals to our group from Indiana were the wild hogs seen by some and noted by all due to their rooting activity that churns up the forest floor. Wildflowers were found in abundance as well, which thrilled the naturalists among us. We virtually had the trail to ourselves in this beautiful deep wilderness area.
Geologically speaking the mountains are formed of ancient igneous rock that was never part of an ocean bed or sculpted by glaciers, so they are unique. A variety of rocks was abundant in the stream beds, including geodes that were plentiful and quite beautiful. These striking water crossings, perhaps spring fed, provided cool respite from the hot temperatures of a late May heat wave.
There are two good backcountry camping locations in this section. One at Ottery Creek and one at Peter Cave Hollow, where we stayed right next to one of those refreshing streams. After a long, hot day we enjoyed kicking off our shoes and soaking our feet in the cool water. Since one of our group had seen a bear, we took the precaution of hanging our food after dinner.
The summit of the hike was Bell Mountain, which was two miles before the end of our hike. However a threatening summer thunderstorm arrived just a bit ahead of us, so our time to stop and enjoy the commanding view was cut short. Hiker Wendy Brinson captured this amazing shot of the impending storm at the look-out.
After a rainy overnight stay back at Council Bluff Lake, we drove to nearby Taum Sauk State Park and hiked the Mina Sauk Falls Trail. This was a delightful three-mile hike with open, high vistas and a fun climb up the falls area, more a stream at that time, but filled with cascading rivulets flowing out of rocky pools – as lovely as a Japanese garden.
Before our trip back to Indiana a stop at the Fort Davidson Café, a local restaurant in Pilot Knob, provided a delicious and hearty meal and kept up the CIWC tradition of a great post-hike meal together. With only 21 miles of the 390 mile trail in Missouri conquered, so many places are left to be explored on future trips. I will be going back.