With its rugged terrain and natural wonders, the Ozark Trail deserves more recognition than it tends to garner. From rocky streams and dolomite glades to plunge-pool-filled shut-ins and hidden caves, the trail offers hiking that’s geographically unique. It’s also home to a diverse variety of wildlife, making it a great place to spot deer, squirrels, and wild turkeys or hear coyotes calling in the night.
While most thru-hikers trek the trail from north to south, it can be hiked either way. The first section, the Courtois Creek and Trace Creek sections, are characterized by white oak and pawpaw forests, a variety of wildflowers, and seasonal creek-side campsites. This area is known for its black bear population, so be sure to keep a respectful distance while exploring. For more challenging terrain, the Blair Creek section carves a valley through oak-hickory-pine forest as it crosses bluffs and waterfalls. The rocky creeks in this region are often flush with waterfalls and rivulets and are dotted with shut-ins.
The Last Chance area has a variety of scenic vistas, including the towering summit of Stegall Mountain. The cliffs and ledges of this section offer some of the most exciting rock climbing on the trail. It’s also one of the most isolated areas along the trail, so a guide or backpacking group is recommended.
Thru-hikers can get off the beaten path in the Between the Rivers and Eleven Point sections, where they’ll find remote campsites and a variety of water crossings. The pristine waters of these streams and rivers are a refreshing break from the heat. This is a great section for birders, as it’s home to a wide array of native and migratory species.
This section is also where the trail enters the state of Oklahoma. Hikers can stop in Sapulpa to see the historic Rock Creek Bridge, which is also a popular photo-op for those traveling on Route 66.
When completed, the Ozark Trail will stretch from St. Louis to Arkansas. Over 350 miles of the trail have been completed as of 2008. Its construction was a collaborative effort between a number of land managers and conservation organizations. Each organization is responsible for the portions of the trail on their properties. This approach allowed for quicker construction and the elimination of permit, parking, and camping fees for hikers. It also allowed for the trail to be designed from the start to accommodate day and weekend usage as well as thru-hikers. This is a significant benefit, as it allows for more people to experience the trail and benefits the local economy. If you’re interested in hiking the Ozark Trail, contact the Trail Manager for the specific section that you’d like to hike. They can provide you with all of the necessary information, including maps, safety tips, and guidelines. Be sure to check out the trail website before planning your trip, and be prepared with proper gear and food. You’ll need a map, compass, and adequate clothing and footwear for your excursion. Ozark Trail Customer Service