Sunday Drives: February 2021

Disclaimer:  Some areas of the Ozarks require masks, some do not.  Please keep a mask available and please wear it if requested.

What a month!!!  Nothing but ice then snow here in the Ozarks so far this past two and a half weeks!  Luckily, the ice melted off before the snow began to fall on Valentine’s Day, locking down the already pandemic weary population hereabouts with about 6” of snow.  I was able to make it out of my driveway and to work each day though not always able to make it back into my garage without help.

It’s been a cold 2 weeks in the Ozarks!

So when the opportunity to take a drive presented itself, I dangled the carrot of ice cream in front of my husband and made the hour and a half drive north to Eldon, just past Lake of the Ozarks, home of the Ice Cream Factory.  We both work hard every day and have to remind ourselves that taking time to do something that doesn’t involve remodeling our houses, chopping wood, or working for money is still important.

The Ice Cream Factory Eldon Missouri

Of course, in February, the drive up 73 to 54 is less than spectacular.  Snow covered the ground and the wind blew my little Kia Optima around the highway, but Tim enjoyed the chance to check out the scenery while I drove-a rare treat for him as he generally has to be in the driver’s seat.  Since this was my idea, he was more than happy to let me take the reins and guide us through what little traffic we encountered and the hilly terrain of the Lake of the Ozarks region.

We stopped at Donut Palace in Camdenton for a quick bite before moving toward Eldon, our final destination.  I had the sausage and egg croissant while Tim devoured a chocolate covered Bavarian cream donut declaring it delicious.  A good friend of mine also likes their biscuits and gravy.  We also made a stop at a little drive thru/eat in diner with the quaint name of Eldon Drive In.  Tim figured some real food before eating more sugar might be a good idea.  The locals certainly seem to frequent the place and the deep fried mushrooms were as good as any I’ve had elsewhere.

On to the Ice Cream Factory!

A small town success story, this locally owned factory sells its product in various grocery store chains around Lake of the Ozarks and beyond.  The Eldon location has a small dine in area as well as a drive thru. I had to try the Gooey Butter Cake in a waffle bowl and it was a delicious as anything I could ask for.  Tim had a vanilla sundae with chocolate syrup but, unfortunately the cooler the ice cream had been stored in had not kept the ice cream as rock hard as usual.  He ended up with a soft serve consistency sundae, which while still good, was not as delicious as my Gooey Butter Cake.  I am tempted to get a pint at our local Harter House and see if it tastes better.  When we are in the area again, we will definitely be back to try another flavor or the sampler which gives you the option of choosing smaller portions of 4 different flavors.

Though one of us was a little disappointed with the ice cream treat the overall experience was one we desperately needed.  Marriage takes work, time and sacrifice.  Tim had planned to work on Sunday but I convinced him we needed the break and he capitulated.  I treated him to everything he wanted and even drove him around so it was almost like he was King for a day.  We talked, laughed, and he badgered me on how to frame my shots for this article.  We got to reconnect and see something different.  It was a win-win.  So get out there my friends, alone, with your significant other, with friends or family-time moves ever so quickly.

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

What to Watch for in 2021!!

Hello fellow travelers!!!  2020 is behind us, Covid 19 vaccines have been developed and a new year has begun.  2020 did not put too much of a damper on my travel, but it did make visiting restaurants, museums and entertainment venues harder.  My goals for this year include bringing you even more Facebook posts on my How to do the Ozarks FB page, Instagram photos on htdto2020, vlog posts on YouTube at How To Do The Ozarks, and visiting more fun places in this amazing geographical part of Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Be on the lookout for a spread about camping and boating at Stockton Lake, hiking in Arkansas at Hemmed In Hollow, kayaking with James River Outfitters and more.  I have been toying with the idea of allowing comments on the blog, vlog and other social media to drive where I may go from week to week and I will let you know soon enough if that is the direction I decide to go in this year. 

I will also be revisiting a few places that just didn’t get enough attention and blog space last year like Elephant Rocks, Johnson’s Shut In’s and Eureka Springs at Christmas time.  I did visit these places last year, but decided to hold back on writing about them as I wanted to see if I could gain a better experience especially at Elephant Rocks and the Shut In’s.  I was very tired from hiking when I visited these sites and not prepared to experience them in a positive way to give my readers a true look at these amazing sites.

So!  Get ready friends and prepare to get out there!     

Peck Ranch Conservation Area

Disclaimer:  The elk in Peck Ranch are wild animals, do not leave your car, truck or SUV to go pet them or take selfies with them.  Help keep wild animals wild


The entry for Peck Ranch off Hwy H northeast of Winona

There is nothing like a drive through the Ozarks countryside in October.  The leaves are on fire and the hillsides blaze with a thousand shades of orange, yellow, green and red.  Winding roads, both asphalt and dirt lead you on toward even more breathtaking scenery around each curve.  Though the weather was cooperating on the day we visited Peck Ranch just northeast of Winona, the elk were not.

Fall in the Ozarks

In May of 2011, six bulls alongside 28 cows and calves were released into what was to become a successful conservation effort specifically geared toward reintroducing elk into Missouri after a 146 year absence.  More elk were introduced to expand the herd in 2012 and 2013 and now Shannon, Carter and Reynolds counties host an ever expanding elk population and tourist destination.  So much so, that this year, a limited hunt was allowed through a lottery for a shot at 5 antlered elk. 

This heavily forested part of Missouri has little industry beyond tourism, healthcare, schools and logging.  Peck Ranch, along with other conservation areas; including the federally protected Current and Jacks Fork rivers, is helping bring more tourism to the area to the tune of 1.3 million.  Taking a socially distanced, friendly drive also helps hundreds if not thousands of Ozarks residents thrive in these less populated counties. We had originally planned to overnight nearby in Van Buren which would have helped us get an earlier start into the park, but the best laid plans are occasionally foiled.  If you are planning a trip to Peck Ranch I recommend trying one of the accommodations including Air BnB’s nearby to get a jump on the day.

October is mating season for elk and we were looking forward to the driving elk tour during the second week of the month.  Alas, a small window of opportunity for a hunter to bag an elk from October 12th through the 16th foiled our plans and we had to wait for the weekend instead.  Still, as I said, the weather was great and the drive beautiful.  Experts recommend that early morning (the park officially opens at 4 a.m.) and sunset are the best times for observation of these huge animals.  Of course, being late sleepers on the weekend, we got to Peck Ranch at noon.  Combine hunters previously in the woods stalking game to fill the freezer and the noon high sun and you guessed it, not a single elk sighting.

Official Peck Ranch sign

Other tourists were traversing the gravel back trails of Peck Ranch as well, hoping to catch a glimpse of these relative newcomers to the Ozarks.  We did see a few armadillos, deer and lots of turtles.  I had no idea armadillos were active during the day and thought the one we did see was a fast moving turtle!  Visit before you start your drive especially to check and see if the park is open to driving tours due to this seasons hunting schedule. Checking out Google Maps for area restaurants would be my recommendation as we used this feature once we were back in civilization (or at least getting a small signal) to find Cattlemen’s Restaurant in Willow Springs.  Great food and service, but that is another post!

All in all a great day trip and one I would happily recommend, though next time we will get an earlier start!

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

Bennett Spring State Park

Bennett Spring State Park fly fishing in September
Fly fishing is a cold but fun sport.

Forty minutes from where I live near Buffalo Missouri sits a trout hatchery park well worth a visit any time of year.  Bennett Spring is more than just a great spot for fishing enthusiasts.  Camping, hiking, swimming-all can be on the agenda for a day, weekend or longer.  Cabins dot the area as well as sites made for any size RV or small tag along.  During summer, a swimming pool sits overlooking the river and would be a great place for those uninterested in fishing.  With Covid 19 ruling our lives this year, getting outside more than 6 feet apart and engaging in any activity is a welcome relief.

I set out on a Monday in early September, thinking I’d be one of the few in the park.  Au contraire, the place was packed with anglers and campers hoping to snag a trout or two for dinner or for the shear exhilaration of winning the game known as fly fishing.  As I hiked, I noted how unusually quiet it was.  I knew there were at least 500 people in the general vicinity, but that didn’t matter.  They were completely focused on their own pursuits and silently at that. 

Whistle Trailhead off Hwy 64

Hiking down Whistle trail, rated moderate, I met up with Bluff Trail without ever seeing the blaze changes (red blazes for Whistle-which can fade and orange for Bluff).  This area was more rugged with the spring rains causing areas of concern where the trail had eroded away.  I noted the trout in deeper waters and just out of reach of most anglers’ ability to cast.  Smart fish.  They numbered in the hundreds, all lazily swaying in the current and remaining in the same general area.  Though not a very long hike, the terrain was steep and I decided to take the main road back to my vehicle instead of backtracking the way I had come.  Passing the general store, now with less merchandise at the end of tourist season, though still well stocked as well as the dining lodge which was open for guests. Upon arriving I grabbed a few maps of the area from the store, one specifically for trails and one with general information.  The staff was helpful and friendly, something state parks have in common here. 

There are 5 trails here with Natural Tunnel Trail being the longest at 7 ½ miles.  This is the trail I’d like to take next.  The Alltrails app has some nice features and can give up to date information on the conditions of the trail from feedback given from other avid hikers.  I’ve used this app before when hiking Hercules Glade.  I may be able to convince my husband to take a short weekend trip there next year and hike while he scares fish away (he’s skunked every seasoned fisherman he’s ever fished with).

Beautiful rugged hike in Bennett Spring State Park

For me, this was a great half day trip and I was able to get in a quick though rugged hike in preparation for my goal of a longer and even more rugged hike next spring in Arkansas.  I could have spent more time and of course, Lebanon is close by for shopping and other pursuits for those less likely to don hip waders and stand in cold streams waiting for a hit.  But Lebanon is another adventure.  So get out there, fall is calling.

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

The Blair Ridge (or was it Witch) Trail

2017 Subaru WRX Sti

Super fun car to take down the curvy roads of Hwy 125 Taney County MO

Hercules Glades Wilderness Taney County Missouri

Driving down Hwy 125 is almost more fun than hiking any of the 32 miles of trails located in this picturesque part of Mark Twain National Forest in Taney County.  My son, Cole and I loaded our hiking gear into his new (to him) Subaru WRX STi and shifted our way down the curvy highway to our turn off at Blair Ridge Trail Road a few miles south of Bradleyville.  Motorcyclists were out in force as well, enjoying the hot day and the challenging roadway.

This particular Sunday (August 23, 2020) was hot, 94 degrees and sunny but I felt after my last hike up at Taum Sauk, I was prepared for the 6.2 miles of Blair Ridge.  Of course, Cole had to say something about the Blair Witch Project before we began hiking, then eased my wildly running imagination by showing me his new purchase-a sidearm that was not too heavy to hike with but would stop a deranged killer if we happened to meet one.

We had wanted to camp on this particular weekend as I had Monday off, but with the high temps, I was less than enthusiastic about spending the night out in the bush.  The hike was beautiful, quiet and we had very little company.  We happened to meet a couple on the way to the falls and questioned them on the amount of water available.  Alas, with Southwest Missouri’s current drought conditions, there was not a drop to be had down Long Creek.  Not surprising and one of the reasons I brought plenty of water which will be important later.

Primitive Camping

Hercules Glade Taney County MO

This particular trail took about an hour and a half to hike to the falls.  The trail is moderate and switches between rocky to sandy with plenty of scenery of the Ozark hills in the distance.  There are primitive camping areas that have been well used in the past. One is located right above Long Creek and would have been perfect this past spring with the water rushing by, frogs singing and a good spot to possibly observe wildlife coming for a drink.  With the current conditions however, a fire would not have been advisable.  Hercules Glades has a fire tower, used in the past, for a reason.

Here is the link for the USDA website which has great information and a trail map:

Long Creek

Empty of all water and wildlife, Long Creek.

The trip to the falls was in a word, uneventful.  The trip back to the car, however, was a lesson in overconfidence I won’t soon forget.  Some of my readers know, I am not the most physically fit person.  I am working out more, hiking more and weight lifting more to try and get into better shape, but I have a long way to go.  My goal is to hike into Hemmed In Hollow in Arkansas next spring with as many members of the family I can con into going.  If I had tried that on this particular Sunday, I would have most likely ended up in the hospital.  Luckily, I have medical training and years of repeating First Aid through the Red Cross so I was able to monitor my symptoms as Cole and I hiked out.  I tried to rest and drink water as I felt my heart rate increase, perspiration slowly decrease and my muscles begin to want to cramp.  I was headed for heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

With each ridge I slowed a little more and rested a little longer.  I knew I was in a little trouble when my heart rate beat a tattoo very hard into my throat right next to my jugular.  I’m sure it was plainly visible. Cole monitored me as well and waited patiently each time I had to take a break.  I ate a little Gardetto’s Snack Mix to gain some salt back into my system as I knew to stop sweating was very dangerous.  Luckily, I had brought enough water along for the entire hike but I had not brought any snacks this time.  Bad idea.   A little sugar and a little salt would have helped the situation.  I won’t forget again.  Sometimes we can underestimate our bodies’ needs especially when mixed with extreme weather conditions.  I did find myself feeling sorry for military personnel who have to hike every day with gear on their backs in all sorts of weather without falling over in a dead faint.

I warned Cole to watch for signs of confusion, the aura before a seizure, clammy skin and a faint heartbeat.  Branson has the closest hospital down Hwy 76 and an ambulance could have been brought into play as they are staged at various spots throughout the county, had I needed it.

As I kept putting one foot in front of the other, I realized I was not quite as ready for hiking this far on a hot summer day as I had expected myself to be.  After all, I consider myself fairly healthy.  I work long hours and come home and work more.  I am outside some, but not a lot and I believe this was the key difference.  I was unused to the demands my body made while combining exertion and heat.  It was a good lesson.  Cole took it well.  He got the car cooled down quickly while I drank warm 7Up for the salt and potassium it contained.  We stopped at a gas station for Gatorade and beef jerky, both helping with the electrolytes I needed to recover.

So get out there outdoor enthusiasts and newbie outdoor enthusiasts…just be careful.  Know when you are in trouble, don’t be afraid to ask for help, take lots of water and a few snacks!

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

Alley Spring Mill

Located just outside of Eminence, Missouri in Shannon County, Ally Spring Mill is part of the beautiful Ozark National Scenic Riverway.  If you are a photographer, this is the mill!!!  Beautiful scenery from above and across the mill pond, a heron which stood for a close up and rushing water pouring out of Alley Spring.  Cole and I visited this spot in June and it was worth the drive from Springfield!  The only disappointment was the missing water wheel.  I believe it would be worth it for the Federal Government to rebuild and install a historically correct water wheel if only to add to the authenticity and beauty of the mill.

Alley Spring Mill

Great Blue Heron waiting for lunch.

Alley Spring is part of the National Park Service and so staffed by federal employees.  The gentleman at the counter was very helpful about answering questions about the surrounding area, especially more scenic trails and the Ozark National Scenic Riverway.  We were provided with maps which whetted our appetite for more adventures, possibly this fall or next spring floating the Current River or Jacks Fork.

There are several short hiking trails at Alley Spring, but being in somewhat of a hurry to get to our destination at Taum Sauk, we only took time for the 0.3 mile hike around the spring.  This particular spring pumps out 81 million gallons of COLD water daily.  The trail is beautiful and gave us plenty of opportunities for excellent shots of the roiling water and the mill.

Alley Spring Mill

A photographers dream spot!

Originally built in 1868, Alley Spring Mill was the hub of country life as folks brought wheat and corn to be ground for use in homes across the area. Walking around the mill you can almost see the horses and wagons lined up, women gathered with babes in arms gossiping, men on the porch whittling and swapping stories.  Throughout the years the area held a school, blacksmith shop, and store to serve the intrepid homesteaders in this remote area of the state.  Situated as it was, the mill flooded quite a few times and was never very profitable for its various owners.  In the end it was taken over by the National Park Service to be preserved and enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year.  So next time you are in the Eastern Ozarks, Alley Spring Mill is worth a look in any season.

Tons of water!

81 million gallons of water a day flows out of Alley Spring.

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

Date Night with Mom at Getaway Golf

Getaway Golf Mini Golf

United States Course

Looking for a fun and somewhat educational activity?!  Getaway Golf on East Sunshine in Springfield Missouri may be what you’re looking for.  Recently, I took my oldest son, Bruce and his girlfriend, Cheyenne out for a quick 18 holes of mini golf.  We had a great time though I didn’t realize it would involve so much profanity on Bruce’s part.  With the possibility of small children playing near us, even at that time of the evening, we shushed him pretty quickly.  Unable to swear like the Army veteran he is, he had fun tossing his putter around when he couldn’t make par.

Cool nights, fun with family

A trip throughout the US with fun facts at each hole.

Open ‘til 10 p.m., Getaway Golf has two courses.  The United States course is the easier option and The International is the more challenging.  We stuck with the United States as it had been years since any of us had putted our way around any obstacle.  I liked the option of going later in the evening as it is cooler. The course closes promptly at 10 p.m. so it would be a good idea to get there by 9 p.m. to begin play and have enough time to get your money’s worth.  There were also fewer children to trip over or wait for.

The course is challenging enough to cause a lot of ribbing about needing more than 6 tries (6 is the limit to decrease the likelihood of holding up other players) for a few of the holes and they are interestingly displayed.  The Statue of Liberty, Old Faithful, and the Golden Gate Bridge are just a few of the well thought out obstacles winding around the park.  Cheyenne managed a hole in one, which was impressive as it took her close to six to sink most of the others.

Fun date night or with the kids

Getaway Golf, Springfield Missouri

Adults are $10.50 for one course and $18.50 for two.  Children 12 and under are $8.50 for one course and $14.50 for two.  Kids 2 and under are free and they may enjoy batting the ball around some. Knowing my 4 year old granddaughters, and how little they were likely to enjoy mini golf, we left them home with a sitter.  They are both at the age where if they can’t get something right the first try they are more than likely to just give up and sit in a corner to sulk.  Or dive into the water obstacles that dot the playing field.

Mini golf is one of those date nights that can give great insight into your current romantic partner’s reaction to challenge!  If they sulk, swear or throw their putter at you, it may be time to rethink this particular relationship!  Bruce and Cheyenne laughed at each other, me and most importantly, at themselves throughout the course.  It was great fun and I will be back!

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

Ozark Mountain Primitive Camping

Hiking is one of my favorite ways to exercise and my goal has always been to do more.  Facing a 10 day vacation I decided, in a moment of complete insanity, to ask my son to take me on one of his primitive overnight hiking/camping trips.  Let me tell you, I have not worked out that hard in quite a while.

Taum Sauk Lookout point

Close to the highest point in Missouri 1700+ miles above sea level.

Our first stop was the Mina Sauk Falls Trail at Missouri’s highest point, Taum Sauk which is 1700+ feet above sea level.  Located in Madison County, northeast of Mountain Grove and off Hwy 21 and CC, this picturesque spot was Cole’s first choice for overnight camping.  One thing about hiking in Missouri is that some trails are smooth and easy to navigate and some trails take so much concentration to keep from rolling your ankles, you never have a chance to look up.  Mina Sauk Falls Trail was in the latter category, though the scenery and falls (only running in wet conditions) were worth it.  I had to remind myself to deliberately stop occasionally to take a look around due to the minefield of rocks on the trail.  Big rocks, little rocks, mossy rocks, wet rocks-you get the idea.  Depending on your goal and the state of your ankles, you may want to limit your time on this particular trail.  It is partially paved for wheelchair access to the spot proclaiming Missouri’s highest point.  It took 3 hours to trek 3 miles with occasional stops for photo ops.  Check out the Scarlet Tanager Cole captured:

Scarlet Tanager

This cute little guy was worth stopping and looking for! Scarlet Tanager

Due to the restrictions and cost for primitive camping at this particular site, Cole decided to camp a few miles up the road at Johnson’s Shut In’s State Park in Reynolds County.  We parked at the Scour Trail trail head, strapped on our gear (mine must have weighed 35 lbs., at least) and headed in.  The time: 5:00 p.m.  That’s right, not very much time to hike in 2 miles over fairly rugged terrain and set up camp before darkness fell.  In the woods, dark comes early.  Of course, the trail gradually elevated, challenging my jiggly thigh muscles especially with the weight of gear, food and water on my back.  We had walked up a ridge and were about a quarter of a mile from our destination when I told Cole, “I can’t make it up another ridge like that one!”  He gamely took my pack from me, slid his arms into the straps and carried one backpack on his chest and one on his back while leading the way up an even more difficult ridge than the one I’d complained about!  Talk about service!

Once in the clearing of one of his favorite primitive campsites, Cole started looking for firewood while I caught my breath and chugged water.  Dry wood was plentiful on the ground so we didn’t have to look far to find enough to get a good campfire going, big enough to cook dinner and small enough to control with the water we had carried in if necessary.  Using dirt instead of our precious water supply is always preferable. Keeping the primitive in primitive camping, Cole used his flint and steel knife (pictured below) to start our campfire.  It took quite a bit of work and I did offer my lighter which would have taken less energy and been faster as well.  Note to self:  The drier the grass you start with, the better.

Flint and Steel

Flint and steel for primitive camp fires. I did offer my lighter which is much faster!

We had decided on hammock camping as they are light, easy to carry, set up in a trice and leave no trace.  We set up my 2 person hammock and Cole’s one person hammock close enough to each other to assist one another if needed-and it was needed.  On our hike through the deeper woods we had seen evidence of recent feral hog activity, putting the hammocks up fairly high seemed prudent, though we had brought a sidearm and 33 rounds along for the trip.  This area of Missouri is known for bears and feral hogs, so we were prepared for anything.

A few things about primitive camping that were challenging to me:

  1. I was cold, especially my back and butt, swinging in the breeze on a 64 degree night. I had not brought a sleeping bag.
  2. I do not like sleeping with my face open to nature. The two person hammock allowed me to cover my face and torso, but not my lower legs.  I had not expected this to be an issue, but the thought of any spider or insect being able to land on my nose kept me awake.
  3. Hiking 5 rugged miles did a number on those jiggly thighs and I was unable to get comfortable in the hammock without serious cramps-luckily Cole was close by to yank me out of the hammock when both thighs got Charlie horse cramps at the same time. I did manage to get into my hammock on the first try without flipping over and breaking something.

This is not my preferred way to camp, but, I got to try something I had never done, spend quality time with my youngest son, and learn how not to go about doing something like this again.  I will definitely try to keep down the actual mileage I attempt to hike with a pack next time, maybe just the 3 miles.  I will also be more prepared if I ever have to rough it and have a better idea of what to expect.  We were very prepared as far as food, water, and bug spray were concerned.  We were not prepared for the cooler temperatures even in the middle of June.

Proof of Life

Proof of Life photo taken for hubby after coming down from the overnighter

All that being said, it was absolutely worth it.  The silence of the night deep in the forest with only occasional faint road noise, the three whippoorwills’ calling back and forth throughout the night, the coyotes howling in the distance, the sure knowledge that I had done it.  I was still alive the next morning no worse for wear except for being tired.  I’ll take that any time.

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

Hiking Ha Ha Tonka State Park

316 steps 200 feet down

Spring trail is looking a little wet today-maybe next time

Once a wealthy businessman’s dream getaway, now a ruin surrounded by the karst topography Missouri is famous for, Ha Ha Tonka State Park reminds us that you can’t take it with you.  Sandstone ruins once accessible for photo ops, but now cordoned off for safety sit at the top of a bluff overlooking the southern end of Lake of the Ozarks.  Beautiful any time of year, but especially in the fall, Ha Ha Tonka is worth the drive and the effort to hike one of its many trails.

Those poor mules

Sandstone dream home on the ridge overlooking Lake of the Ozarks

An hour and a half northeast of Springfield, the easiest way I have found is Hwy 65 to Hwy 73 just north of Buffalo and a right on Hwy 54 and down Missouri Hwy D.  The park has a visitor’s center, 13 trails rated from easy to rugged including Spring Trail with 316 wooden steps ascending 200 vertical feet.  I recommend you skip this trail if you are having knee surgery any time in the near future (or have had it in the recent past!)  This is one of my favorite trails, as it takes you right down to the spring which pours more than 48 million gallons of water daily into the lake.  There was once a mill located on the river flowing from the spring and you can still find the old grist millstone on the trail.  Worth a look is the Island trail which is rated rugged and takes about 30 minutes in addition to the Spring Trail.

My son, Cole and I headed up on a Friday around lunch time to find the parking lot of the Castle Trail full of people from as far away as Texas and South Dakota.  We chose the Quarry Trail this time around as it had been raining a lot lately, making the Spring Trail a possible disappointment.  Having never taken this particular trail, I was excited to see something new; the rock formations, wildlife and open meadows we passed through did not disappoint.  We took Cole’s dog, Balto, along for the trip and managed to keep him from pulling us down any cliffs in his enthusiasm to become one with nature.  Not any easy task with a one year old Husky.  A well-mannered dog (as well as children) for some trails is a must.  The trail was wet and I was grateful I had worn hiking shoes as Cole kept slipping in his trainers.  Of course, Balto’s instinctual pulling increased Cole’s odds of falling on his butt or his face.

Water, water everywhere

Springtime in Missouri means extra socks in your backpack

Turkey Pen Hollow Trail is a little over six miles and offers three primitive camping areas for those interested in staying in the park a little longer.  Reservations for this area are required-same day reservations April-October and one week in advance November-March.  I attempted to make reservations for the primitive campsites on the Missouri State Park website (, but that was unsuccessful so I called the park office at (573) 346-2986 and the employee who returned my phone call stated that they gladly make reservations but require a few days’ notice.  He asked me to leave a voicemail for what date(s) I wanted and they would make sure everything was ready as well as return the phone call to confirm.

Off the trail

Off track-a perfect example of the karst topography Missouri is famous for

I was grateful the trail blazes were visible on this particular trail; there were a few places it would have been easy to get turned around.  I was not worried about becoming lost here as there were quite a few people visiting the park, but I have been on the Devils’ Kitchen Trail with no sign of any other hikers and I did become lost on that particular day.  Again, a good compass, water and some food go a long way to making a day hike an enjoyable experience so get out there!

Let me know where your favorite place to hike is located in the comments section!

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

What’s in Your Backpack?

This whole month I’ve been considering the troubles we avid adventurers can get into and how to minimize the risks when we camp, kayak, canoe and hike.  Sometimes you can do everything right and still end up in a bad situation, needing basic supplies.

With that in mind, I sent a text to my son, Cole, and asked him to take a picture of what he considers essential for his hikes-some of which are overnight hikes.  He takes an inner frame backpack on overnight hikes.  The bass doesn’t go with.  Here is what he sent me:

What's in Your Backpack?

Essential gear for longer day and overnight hikes in the Ozarks

Due to his habit of sleeping out on his hikes, he always carries his hammock, 2 tarps, paracord, nylon braid cord, flint and a steel knife with fishing line and a hook stored in the handle.  He carries his kettle, sanitizer, extra wool socks, lighter fluid, gloves, tarp and axe.  He brings a dry sack when he kayaks, but it would come in handy for bear food storage as well.  Also included are sunglasses, headlamp, pocket solar panels to charge his phone, cup, fork and pan with a lid.  He carries a small towel,  Sawyer squeeze for water (available online at most outdoor gear retailers), sleeping pad and bag, along with the camera and tripod.  In the summer he rarely uses the sleeping bag and never carries a tent.  He also carries TP and electrical tape, which can function for him as a first aid kit in a pinch.  A lot of Cole’s gear is multi functional.  He can use the tarp for rain jacket in a pinch.  If he needs a quick shelter, stringing the rope and using the tarps will act as a tent.  The trick is to take what you need but not carry so much it takes away your energy and enjoyment of the hike.  Always wear a hat and take a bandana on hikes-they are very useful for everything to cooling down to first aid.

Snakes of SWMO Ritter Springs Springfield MO

This is a non venomous snake. Notice the round eyes and lack of wide head. Possible Diamond Back Watersnake

Of course, he will also take along MRE’s (Meal Ready to Eat) or other lightweight foods and water.  Some favorites are beef jerky, trail mix, dried fruit (don’t eat too much), peanut butter, ramen, bananas, and tuna fish with crackers.  I also like those cracker packs with either tuna salad or chicken salad that are available at Aldi for about a dollar.  When hiking it’s important to stay hydrated and have high energy foods available.

Rushing Sac River

Anyone want to cross here?

Of course, the location and duration of your hike will dictate your needs.  For a short hike in a well-traveled location it’s not as essential to have a big first aid kit or lots of food.  Water yes, food not so much.  On our recent hike to Ha Ha Tonka State Park, we took essentials only and kept our packs small and lightweight.  We traveled 1.75 miles in about 2 hours and had a good time.  I’ll post more about this trip in 2 weeks.

Sac River Trail off Hwy 13

The Sac River Trail off Hwy 13 is a great place to hike or mountain bike.

With my own backpack for day hikes-I never sleep rough-I usually carry a whistle and first aid kit along with water, bug spray, a decent flashlight, rope, sunscreen and a few snacks.  I also have mace, a small army knife, and Chapstick.  I have been lost before when hiking and been down to the last half hour before sunset wondering if I was going to make it back to the car before it got dark.  I’ve also had friends get caught out in weather, remember it is SWMO and weather here can be unpredictable especially in the spring.  I’ve also had friends get caught out overnight with essentially no gear and no food, because what started out as a well-marked trail got less so after a few miles-not fun.

Day Hike Supplies

Minimal supplies for a short day hike

Remember too, your cell phone may not work out in the back country.  You may get a spotty signal if you find a high enough hill, but nothing beats being prepared before you leave the house.  Also, it’s a good idea to always let someone know where you’re going to be hiking and a general time of when you will be back, especially if you are taking off for a few days.

The Ozarks region is filled with beautiful places to hike for a day or a week so get out there!

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

Hiking in Crawford County

Crawford County hiking