You may be wondering why Missouri is called the Show Me state, but if you visit some of our parks or hiking areas you may understand a little better. There are so many amazing hikes in this state that we are actually considered to be one of the top hiking states in the United States. In fact, there are more than 85 state parks in Missouri with over 200,000 acres and 1,000 miles of trails.[1] This includes the longest rails-to-trails project in the world, which is the Katy Trail, at 240 miles long.

Missouri also has dozens of historic sites, over 70 wildlife areas, and approximately 52 state forests (including one national forest). In my 49 years, I have been to dozens of Missouri’s state parks, but now I am living in the southwest corner of the state in the Ozarks, where nature is everywhere. There is certainly no shortage of gorgeous places to hike and sights to see here in the Ozarks and I have visited close to 25 of them since moving here four years ago. In this article, I am going to introduce you to some of the best.

If you are new to hiking or if you just do not want a major workout, you may want to try one of the easy or moderate trails. The Table Rock Lakeshore trail at the Table Rock State Park in Branson [1] is an easy 2.25-mile walk along the lake from the state park marina to the visitor center by the dam. You will not have to worry about climbing any hills or over rocks on this flat trail and it is even good for wheelchairs and strollers because it is paved. Since it runs alongside the lake, you will get to see plenty of wildlife including ospreys, loons, wild turkey, and even some bald eagles. Being in the Ozarks, you will also get to see many of our most beautiful wildflowers, trees, and prairie grasses like the Hamamelis vernalis (Ozark witchhazel), Quercus muehlenbergii (Chinkapin oaks), Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng), Helianthus annuus (common sunflower), Vicia villosa (hairy vetch)[2], and many more. Also, the fall foliage is gorgeous in the Ozarks, and with so many different kinds of trees, there are tons of amazing colors to see.

Another easy trail is Roark Creek in Branson [1], which is 3.2 miles of walking trail along Roark Creek, all paved until the last half mile. This peaceful walk ends at bluffs that look out over the whole creek. If you are quiet, you will probably see some whitetail deer, chipmunks, and dozens of birds that live in or near Roark Creek, including sparrows, woodpeckers, and even vultures. Feeling adventurous? You can take one of the many trails that branch off the Roark Creek trail which take you through some of the densest forestries in Missouri. Some of the features you may come across are waterfalls, caves, old buildings, and some amazing views of Lake Taneycomo. In addition, there are a variety of flowers and plants that bloom at this time of the year in the Ozarks, such as Capsella bursa (Shepard’s purse) and Cerastium vulgatum (Mouse-eared chickweed) [2].

The Bluff Trail in Branson [1] is a short (7/10 mile) and simple hike of mostly wooded area that takes you down to Lake Taneycomo. To get down to the lake you will have to walk down more than 300 steps carved into the stone that was created in the late 1930s. You may need to summon up some energy and wear your comfy shoes for this one, but you will know it was worth it when you see the caves, waterfall, and caverns. The end of the trail brings you to the Historic Owen Homestead and Civil War Cave [1]. You will see plenty of fall colors in the variety of huge oaks, maples, pines, and many other types of trees on the trail. An abundance of wildflowers bloom in November in the Ozarks as well, including Solanum carolinense (horse nettle), Ceanothus americanus (New Jersey tea), and Scrophularia marilandica (figwort) [2].

For those of you who have been hiking for a while, there are also plenty of difficult trails in and around the Ozarks of Missouri. White River Valley in Table Rock Park [1]. include close to 12 miles of challenging hiking trails where you will find rocky and mountainous area, thick woods, steep bluffs with drop-offs (be careful), bridges and other types of structures to cross, sharp grades, stone and wood steps, obstacles, old stone buildings, caves, and elevations from 700 to 1,200 feet above sea level. Most of the trails are on the land used when the Table Rock Dam was built on White River back in the 1950s and you will likely come across some waterfalls and beautiful views of both Lake Taneycomo and Table Rock Lake. Make sure you bring a camera and some water for your walk through the valley where the cottonwood and sycamore trees are abundant alongside oaks and hickory trees. There are over 125 species of birds [3] in the park and you will likely see many of them on your walk. Some of these may include several types of sparrow, hawks, vultures, finches, Cardinals, and Eastern bluebirds [3].

Another great adventure for you seasoned hikers is the Fire Tower Trail at Roaring River Hills Wild Area in Cassville [1]. You will find stunning views of complete wilderness area untouched by man from this rocky terrain. You will need some good hiking shoes and a backpack with plenty of provisions for emergencies if you want to take on this 4-mile trail filled with wildflowers, woodlands, coves, spring-fed streams, dolomite glades, and there is even a lookout tour built in the 1930s.

No matter which trail you choose, be sure to let someone know where you are going, bring a cell phone (although many places do not have service), water, and a first-aid kit. If you have never hiked before, it is best to take a friend or two for support if needed and if you have any health problems, be sure to talk to your physician about your plans before you go. But, most of all, have fun!

For a list of state parks and historic sites in Missouri go to this link.

Endnotes:

[1] Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Missouri State Parks. Retrieved from https://icampmo1.usedirect.com/MSPWeb/

[2] Missouri Department of Conservation, Wildflowers, Grasses, and other Non-woody Plants. Retrieved from https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/search?f[0]=field_fg_types:5592

[3] Audubon Society of Missouri. Annotated Checklist of Missouri Birds. Retrieved from http://mobirds.org/Birds/MOChecklist.aspx