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Missouri’s Ozark Oasis

Head only a short distance south of St. Louis and you will find wilderness of the finest kind.
The Ozark Mountains, comprised of 55,000 square miles in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, is a natural treasure filled with forests of shortleaf pine, oak, hickory, and cedar and 10,000 natural springs bubbling up through limestone cavities to fill crystal pools. It is a land of unspoiled beauty, which blankets half of the state – with towering bluffs, bare glade tops, boulders gouged and sculpted by raging water, and caves that honeycomb deep into the earth below.

Yet, as hordes of hikers converge upon the trails of the Appalachians and the Sierras, the pristine Ozark Plateau remains one of the country’s least noticed wilderness bonanzas.
If your idea of the perfect getaway includes exploring, paddling, climbing and splashing through the natural wonders of the world, then Missouri’s Ozark Mountains offer the perfect escape.

Weaving through the untamed heart of Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, the 500-mile long Ozark Trail offers a sampling of the Ozark’s diverse terrain. Stretching from St. Louis to Arkansas, the Ozark Trail is Missouri’s answer to the Appalachian Trail – without all the hikers.
Venture out on the trail and experience the quiet solitude and breathtaking views of some of the Ozarks tallest standing pines, spring-fed creeks and seas of hardwood forests. Some of the best views of the Ozark Mountains can be seen from Taum Sauk, the state’s highest point.
For a true test of your endurance, head for the 30-mile section of the trail that skirts along the scenic Current River and squeezes through shut-ins before topping out on the open ridgeline glades of Stegall Mountain. Missouri’s Ozarks are also home to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, America’s first national scenic riverway.
Perfect for canoeing and kayaking, the protected portion encompasses more than 134 miles of free-flowing tranquility fed by nearly 100 natural springs. Alone, Big Spring, the largest single spring in the world, pours out 277 million gallons of crystal-clear water each day.
The gentle waters of the Current and Jack’s Fork rivers provide excellent opportunities for canoeing, swimming, fishing and tubing. The zigzagging Eleven Point River will challenge even the most experienced canoeists.

Take a break for a photo at Alley Spring Mill, which sits along the Jack’s Fork River near the town of Eminence. Painted a vibrant red, the historic gristmill is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic. Cave tours historic sites and demonstrations of Ozark crafts add a cultural dimension to this waterway.
There are also numerous hiking and horse trails. Travelers can also splash into the swift waters of the East Fork Black River at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park near Lesterville. One of the state’s most unique natural wonders, Johnson’s Shut-Ins features a series of canyon-like gorges in some of the state’s oldest exposed rock. Water cascades between large, smooth rocks, creating natural waterslides, making this a popular recreation destination.

You will want to explore the moss-strewn cypress wilderness in a canoe, kayak or pirogue, because no motors of any kind are allowed in the wilderness in order to protect the refuge. If you do not have a boat, there is plenty of ground to explore on foot.

If you find yourself pining for a good view of the majestic Ozark Mountains, head to the Hercules Glades Wilderness. Located in the southwest corner of the state, just an hour outside of Springfield, Hercules Glades treats travelers to panoramic views of the Ozark Plateau as well as the St. Francis and Boston Mountains to the south. The area’s glades – where trees thin out and grasses, primrose and cactus take over, prove the perfect place to set up camp.

Travelers can also enjoy one of the nation’s most unique park settings at southeastern Missouri’s Elephant Rocks State Park near Graniteville. Billion-year-old giant granite rocks stand end-to-end like a train of red circus elephants in this 129-acre park. Towering more than 27 feet in the air, Dumbo, the park’s largest boulder, weighs in at 680 tons.

Lake of the Ozarks
Lake of the Ozarks

Historic Alley Springs Mill
Historic Alley Springs Mill

Elephant Rocks State Park, Pilot Knob
Elephant Rocks State Park, Pilot Knob



Document Information
Source: Missouri Tourism
Last modified: 20050118
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