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Notes From Hunter Creek – Hiking


Personally, I prefer day hikes to overnight hikes. Toting around a heavy backpack on my shoulders reminds me of U.S. Army days in 1969 and 1970. I never did consider that a form of enjoyable recreation.

Again, I prefer hiking without foliage. Three reasons. First, the views are better and trail markings are usually more recognizable. Secondly, and maybe more impor-tantly, when hiking one doesn’t have to constantly keep your eyes down-ward on the trail, keeping an eye out for snakes. And finally, trekking is a lot more enjoyable when not sweat-ing profusely.

I always remark at the difference between hiking in the Ozarks and hiking in the North Country of northern Canada and Alaska. In the Ozarks you are constantly watching the trail for “moving sticks” that might harm you. In extreme North Country, you are listening for the rustling movement of bushes and the sudden appearance of a big black or brown bear.

A couple of columns ago, I described one of my favorite trails in the Southwest, the Chisos Mountain Rim Trail, in Big Bend National Park. The Chisos Mountains are the southern-most extension of the Rocky Mountains.

When you cross the Rio Grande River into Mexico, you enter the Sierra Del Carmen, part of the enormous Sierra Madre Range.

For the Ozarks, you have two lengthy hiking trails, the Ozark High-lands Trail, beginning in northwest Arkansas and ending just southwest of St. Louis near Taum Sauk Mountain, the highest elevation in Missouri at 1772 feet.

Then, there is the Ouachita Mountains Trail which begins in Eastern Oklahoma on the Talimena Trail and ends near Hot Springs Nat’l Park. It also includes a hike up Arkansas’s highest peak, Mount Magazine, with an elevation of 2,753 feet.

Then, there is also the Katy Trail which extends some 224 miles from Weldon Springs, south of O’Fallon, Mo., all the way to the northern edge of the Ozark Plateau in Clinton, Mo.

The trail is chatted and rolled and follows old railroad grades.  Of course, it is named for one of the old railroad lines that the trail follows, long ago abandoned, the “Katy.”

Although you normally think of the Katy as a bicycling trail, it is hiked by a growing number of seniors and beginners. It has gentle elevations gains and losses, and no tree roots to trip over.  And there are small towns and vineyards along the way where one can “refresh.”

In addition, there has been a 48-mile spur trail recently added.  This trail follows the old “Rock Island” railway line, again long ago abandoned.  This new trail runs from Pleasant Hill, southeast of suburban Kansas City, to the main “Katy” junction at Windsor, Missouri.

Locally there are two excellent hiking trails: (1) the Devil’s Backbone Wilderness Trail in eastern Douglas County and northern Ozark County; and (2) the Hercules Glade Wilderness Trail, in northern Ozark County.

Including spur trails, the Devil’s Backbone Trail covers around 25 miles, and the Hercules Glade, offers around 40 miles of trekking, even stretching into eastern Taney County.

The Hercules Glade Wilderness Trail is a little more civilized in that it does cross several county and United State Forest Service (USFS) roads. It has higher vistas with better views, and although both trails involve a lot of “up and down” trekking, most people consider the Hercules Glade Trail slightly easier than the Devil’s Backbone Trail.

Devil’s Backbone also covers both sides of the North Fork of the White River, therefore offering more small tributary stream crossings. This is okay when it’s dry, but can be stressful when wet.

Both trails are open to trekkers, and those on horseback or mule back. Motorized traffic is strictly prohi-bited. I believe mountain bikes are allowed on some stretches, although I personally believe you will enjoy both hikes considerably more if you leave your bike in the garage.

It is recommended that you carry your own drinking water, usually about two quarts for a day hike if it is not too warm. There are some springs on each trail, but they are generally unreliable and must be treated, filtered or both.

A large fanny pack or a small backpack will be necessary to carry a rain slicker, water, snacks, camera, phone, etc.

Forget sneakers or flip-flops, although I have seen each on the trails.  I like high-top hiking boots for extra ankle support and protection from snakebites.  You will find value also in taking along your favorite hiking or trekking stick, especially when the trail is slick or when crossing small streams for added stability.

Directions to the Devil’s Backbone Trail:   Take Mo. State Hwy. 181 through Dora and turn east on CC Hwy.  There are trailheads with small parking areas on the tall ridges on both the western side and eastern side of the North Fork River, all located in northeastern Ozark County along CC.

For the Glade-Top Trail in the Hercules Glade, go south of Ava about five miles and turn to the west on A Hwy.  Take A for about four miles to a county road, marked by a wooden sign that says Glade-Top Trail.  Turn south and as the county road flows into northwestern Ozark County, you have entered the Mark Twain National Forest. Watch for trailheads and signage.

Both Devil’s Backbone and the Glade-Top offer superb hiking, stunning views and a good chance to observe birds and wildlife. If you haven’t trekked around the Ozarks very much I would recommend short 2-4 miles day hikes in the beginning. Enjoy!

Although the trailheads may post a rudimentary map of the area, I suggest you contact the USFS in either Willow Springs or Ava and see if they can provide a much more detailed topographic map. If not, try the US Geologic Survey in Denver, Colorado, maps used to cost $4.00 each. Also, be sure and carry a compass and know how to orientate the compass to your topo map.

Note: CAUTION –– Unfortunately in recent years there has been a problem with vehicle break-ins or vandalism to vehicles left overnight at both hiking trailheads and at access points on our local float streams. There seems to be no problem with daytime vehicle parking, but be sure to place all valuables in a locked trunk or other secure place out of view.  I guess it’s just the world that we live in today.

On another note, you might want to secure an absent camp for the day while you are away hiking, floating, or bicycling.   About 10 years ago, while hiking the Talimena Trail in eastern Oklahoma over just into western Arkansas, our camp was “raided” while we were day-hiking.  I lost my favorite camp chair, a nifty old lantern, and a decent hatchet.  My good friends from Hayesville, Kansas, fared worse as they had left sleeping bags, and very expensive air mattresses in their tent. Gone!

The thieves could have, but didn’t take my nice four-season Marmot tent.   However, that tent only stayed in my possession for a few more months.  It disappeared from the back of my pick-up while I was avoiding an unusually, early season, ice storm, and was “camped out” at the Red Roof Inn in Birmingham, Alabama.

Even though I tend to be lazy, and a lot of my friends claim that I fall into the slow learner outfit, as it seems like I have to experience everything firsthand before I believe it.  Well folks, I have learned the slow and hard way –– the growing bunch of thieves nationwide, has made a believer out of me, finally.

One other thing.   The bald eagles have been gone in lower Hunter Creek Valley for a couple of weeks; but, the turkey vultures are now returning to ride the soaring air currents along Hunter and Bryant Creeks.  Also, I recently observed a couple of red-tail hawks along the creek, as well as a bunch of full-breasted robins in my yard.  This is a good indication spring is a couple of weeks away.

Now, get up and go enjoy our beautiful Ozark outdoors!