Hiking in the Ozarks

A hiking trail leads into the woods. The trees are a mix of yellows and greens.
Hiking in the Ozarks is most popular in fall. Visitors can enjoy cooler weather, peaceful trails, and beautiful colors.

NPS Photo


Trails of the Ozarks

The hills and hollows of the Ozarks invite hikers from across the nation. They are renown for their beautiful fall colors, intriguing landscapes, and remote nature. There are few trails on earth that offer the same amount of peace, quiet, and intimacy with nature.

There are a variety of trails along the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers. They are maintained by the park or volunteers, like the Ozark Trail Association. In addition, all dirt roads and old traces are open to hiking. Except for occasional horseback riders, there is not much traffic in the Ozarks. A few common sense guidelines will make for a relaxing, enjoyable trip through the mountains of Missouri.

First, check out the National Park Service page on hiking essentials. That article covers general guidelines for hiking in the parks. For park-specific topics, click on the tabs below for more information:

The National Park Service and Ozark Trail Association are in the process of marking trails. However, many remain unmarked to this day. In the meantime, a topographical map and navigation tools will help.

A map, compass, and flashlight should be the bare minimum a hiker brings on the trail. A phone does not substitute for any of these items. There is often no cell phone service, and the flashlight will drain the battery quickly. Hike smart and over-prepare!

Most hiking injuries are caused by off-trail hazards. To avoid exposure to pests, harmful plants, or dangerous terrain, please stay on the trail at all times. Many trails also leave the park and cross private or state lands. Respect the landowners in each area by staying on the designated path.

Pets are welcome on almost all trails apart from horse trails. Most dogs love hiking through the hills of the Ozarks. However, extra precaution is needed to protect both pets and wildlife. 

Dogs must remain on a 6-foot leash, even when the area seems empty. There are often unseen threats to your pet’s health and safety: 

  • Other animals such as bears or venomous snakes. 

  • Poisonous plants and substances. 

  • Dangerous terrain. 

  • Other visitors and pets that could appear suddenly. 

Pets can easily become lost, exhausted, or injured, especially in an unfamiliar environment. Each year, thousands of pets go missing in parks. Without microchips or tags, there is an 85% chance that a lost dog will not be returned to its owner. With that statistic in mind, always keep your pet on a leash. 

Ticks are abundant in spring, summer, and fall. They can be even be picked up during the winter months. As such, it's crucial to take the following measures:

  • Regularly check yourself, your family members, and any pets for ticks.
  • Wear light-colored clothing and try to close "gaps" where possible.
  • Stay away from high grass or dense brush if possible.
  • Use insect repellent with DEET or another active ingredient. Be sure to spray legs, ankles, socks, and other exposed areas.

Other pests, such as chiggers, are also present throughout the park. Follow the same tips above and stay on the trail to reduce your exposure risk.

Some venomous snakes are found in the area, but they are rarely a problem. Most snakebites occur when people try to catch, kill, or otherwise interact with a snake. If you see a snake, walk around their location in a wide circle and leave them alone.

Killing snakes is prohibited in Missouri.

Poison ivy and other harmful plants are spread throughout the region. As with the other hazards mentioned in this list, the best form of prevention is to wear long pants/sleeves and stay on the trail. There is nothing off the trail that is worth ruining your week/month for.

Speaking of plants: while foraging is allowed in the park, we must remind visitors to never consume something which they cannot 100% identify. Mushrooms, berries, and fruits often have toxic lookalikes. Some of these lookalikes can be fatal even in low doses.


Ozark Trail Maps

Lower Current River Trails

Big Spring Trail System:

Slough Trail:1.2 miles round trip. Wheelchair accessible. An easy stroll that begins just north of the 'Big Spring'. The route traverses a stand of cane and riparian forest along the slough with impoundments constructed by the CCC. Interpretive exhibits explain history, pre-history, and natural habitat of the immediate area.Hikers can cross Peavine Road and continue north along the Current River by taking the River's Edge Trail which leads to the Big Spring Campground.

River's Edge Trail: 1.8 miles round trip. This easy meandering trail, much of it through a stand of cane, provides a connection between Big Spring Campground and Peavine Picnic Shelter where one can catch the Slough Trail which leads to the Big Spring.Following the bank of the Current River it offers an excellent opportunity to spot Bald Eagles (in winter months) Kingfishers, Blue Herons, and numerous song birds that nest in the riparian area or migrate through in spring & fall. Offers intimate views of the river.

Stone Ridge Trail:1.2 miles long.This moderate to mildly strenuous hike ascends the limestone bluff to the ridgeline above the Big Spring, then descends through swales and hollows down to link up with the Slough Trail. Segments of this trail consist of stone steps constructed by the "CCC boys" during the Depression era when Big Spring was an early State Park. The trail travels through dry upland oak woods with numerous dolomite outcroppings and several opportunities for scenic views.

Spring Branch Trail:1 mile round trip. This short rocky (in some sections) trail connects Big Spring to the Historic Dining Lodge built by the "CCC boys." The trail lies at the base of the limestone cliff from which Big Spring emerges, loops around the spring, then follows the spring branch as it delivers 280 million gallons of crystal clear water into the Current River. Spring wildflowers, lichens, mosses, and ferns cling to the cliff-side. It intersects the Stone Ridge Trail before crossing the paved road then proceeds south to the Dining Lodge.

Chubb Hollow Trail: 3.8 mile loop trail. This trail offers a wide range of experiences. Sections of this hike pass through the Big Spring Pines State Natural Area---one of the most outstanding pine-oak forests in the Lower Ozarks. The trail begins at the historic Big Spring Dining Lodge (built by the CCC) and travels along the bank of the Current River out to the Chubb Hollow Picnic Pavilion, following the base of a high cliff at the river's edge, then ascends the ridge to circumvent the "hollow" passing through upland pine/oak forest.Midway along the ridgetop visitors encounter the Big Spring Lookout Tower (used during the mid-20th century as part of a regional fire protection system).The tower, scheduled to be refurbished, will offer a spectacular 360° panoramic view of the Ozark Plateau. Looping back to the dining lodge, the trail passes through the site of the CCC encampment where CCC boys lived during the period of the Big Spring State Park construction in the early 1930s, and then descends the slope past the timber/stone cabins (which they also built). Both the Partney Ridge Trail and the Kinnard Hollow Trail intersect the Chubb Hollow Trail---for a longer more ambitious trek.

Partney Ridge Trail: 3.3 miles long. This is a long but moderate hike with minimal grade change that traverses upland ridgetop forest (oak/hickory/pine) as well as an early farmstead---where both open fields and an old home (staff residence) provide park visitors with a glimpse of the bottomland habitation patterns once indicative of small farming settlements along the riverways. Excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing (turkey, deer, numerous song birds and raptors) exist as the trail nears the Current River floodplain and passes by open fields.

Kinnard Hollow Trail: 3.5 miles long.The Kinnard Trail must be accessed via the Chubb Hollow Trail, the Spring Valley Trail, or the Chilton Trail. A moderate, but long hike, this trail was once part of the route patrolled by a "Range Rider" when Big Spring, one of Missouri's first state parks, served as a wildlife "refuge" during the era of early conservation. Three fourths of the trail winds along a stream bed until ascending the ridge up to the Big Spring Lookout Tower. In the near future, hikers will be able to access the 200+ mile regional Ozark Trail from the Kinnard Hollow Trail via a 'spur' trail connecting the Between the Rivers Section of the Ozark Trail to the Big Spring trail system.

Chilton Creek Trail: 3.4 mile loop trail. This moderate trail parallels Chilton Creek as it travels up McSpadden Hollow before ascending a ridgetop. The trail follows an old trace much of the way, with hand laid stone crib walls constructed years ago where intermittent streams descend the ridge. Dipping into a second stream bed which drains into Water Hollow, the trail loops back to the north where it intersects Hwy. Z. At this point one can cross the road, catching the Partney Ridge Trail, or turn north along side Hwy. Z to complete the Chilton Creek loop.

Spring Valley Trail: 2.1 miles long.This trail begins just south of Hwy 103 west of the CCC Museum. Hikers can park near the museum. The trail is moderate, but long---and will intersect the Kinnard Trail, which in turn will intersect the Chubb Hollow Trail, taking one back to the parking lot. A portion of this trail lies within the Big Spring Pines State Natural Area—containing one of the most outstanding pine-oak forests in the Lower Ozarks.

Cave Spring River Trail: 0.8 miles round trip. This easy trail begins at the day-use picnic area near Cave Spring on the Lower Current located west of the small community of Hunter (take Hwy 21 south and Hwy E west out of Hunter). Cave Spring River Trail passes through dense riparian habitat along the banks of the spring branch fed by waters issuing from the large vaulted entrance of the cave. This trail follows the spring branch east to the Current River.

Upper Current River Trails

Susie Nichols Cabin Trail: 0.6 miles round trip. This easy walk leads from the gate at the parking area up the old "home place" road to the farmstead of Susie Nichols, who up until her death in 1959 chose to keep "the old ways". Living without electricity and relying on her horse "ol' Don" she remained independent and self-sufficient. The park maintains her board & batten cabin and several outbuildings---the Nichols homestead being a cultural landscape typical of Ozark lifeways.

Welch Spring Trail: 0.8 miles round trip. The trail is located off Hwy. K north of Akers.It is an easy walk from the trailhead parking area north along a rock/earth impoundment out to Welch Spring which emits 78.2 million gallons of crystal clear water a day from a cave at the base of a dolomite cliff. An old impoundment contains the flow, then water tumbles into the Current River over rock debris. Of interest the stone ruins of an old hospital can be seen across the containment pond where tuberculosis "cures" were sought with convalescing patients breathing in the thick, cold, damp vapors which welled up from the cave.

Cave Spring Trail 4.6 mile loop trail. This trail is moderate but long with short stretches classed as difficult as the trail climbs over the cliff presenting a challenging 'scramble'. Follow signs on KK east of Akers where a gravel access road leads to Devils Well (an ancient sinkhole at the bottom of which lies an underground lake the size of a football field).The loop trail, beginning at the Devils Well traverses oak-pine forest ridges, a dolomite glade, winds through hollows and crosses intermittent streams as it brings hikers down to the mouth of Cave Spring on the Current River. The 'Cliff' segment of this loop trail traverses the side of a high dolomite bluff overlooking the Current River with spectacular views, then returns to Devils Well via Parker Hollow alongside an intermittent stream bed. For more information on Cave Spring.

Pulltite Nature Trail: 1.5 mile loop trail.This trail presents a moderate challenge. The trailhead is located near the terminus of the campground road near the Group Camping Area at Pulltite. It is a 'self-guided' nature walk with interpretive panels along the trail. The trail ascends the ridge through oak/pine upland forest---passing close to a dolomite cave. On decent from the ridgetop the trail parallels the Current River through riparian habitat.

Pulltite Cabin Trail: 0.2 miles round trip. Located across the Current River from the Pulltite campground, this very short trail is accessible by boat (or wading if the river is low enough). From the river bank the trail circles around a fern and moss covered dolomite bluff to Pulltite Spring and a log cabin that was constructed as a "retreat" by city folk who traveled to the Ozarks to "float the river" in the early 20th century. Park staff have recently refurbished the log framework. The setting, seemingly remote, with access limited to the river---gives today's visitor a glimpse of the rustic natural character that has captivated Ozark "tourists" and settlers alike.

Round Spring Trails: Round Spring Trail - A short walk (0.1 mile) from the Round Spring Picnic area takes visitors to an overlook where visitors can view the deep blue-green waters of Round Spring which lies at the base of a moss/fern covered limestone bluff. Interpretive exhibits provide information on geology and an overview of prehistoric peoples who once lived in the area.
Round Spring Cave Trail - A short walk from the cave parking area (0.1 mile) through the woods along the spring branch takes visitors to the Round Spring Caverns for a tour of the cave. Guided tours (from Memorial Day to Labor Day) led by a park ranger explore the subterranean world of stalagmites, stalactites, bats, and cave salamanders---typical of hundreds of caves found throughout the park. A cave tour takes approximately 2 hours.

Lick Log Trail: 1 mile loop trail---easy with no steep grades.Trailhead is located off Fox Pen Road (County Road 205) about two miles north of Eminence on Route 19. This trail lies within the Angeline State Conservation Area and is managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). This hike offers a wide range of Ozark habitats from an upland forest of oak-pine to dolomite glades, Rhyolite glades, fens (wetlands), and igneous "shut-ins"---each with unique flora and fauna.

Prairie Hollow Gorge Trail: 0.6 miles round trip.This short "scramble" over large boulders leads up the canyon of an igneous "shut-in" within the Prairie Hollow Gorge State Natural Area. It is located east of Hwy. V north of Hwy 106. There are numerous igneous glades and the area presents a prime example of igneous upland forest dominated by short leaf pine and white oak. The rocky understory is notable for a lush carpet of moss, lichen, and blueberry bushes.The stream which passes through the gorge flows intermittently with deep pools carved into the rock and enormous boulders.

Ozark Trail Maps: The 200 + miles of the Ozark Trail runs from Onondaga State Park south through the Ozark Plateau. Upon completion it will cross the Arkansas border north of Mountain Home, AR and Norfork Lake to connect to the Ozark Highland Trail. The Ozark Trail (OT) offers some of the most spectacular hiking in the Midwest. Scenic overlooks, wooded ridge-tops with panoramic views, igneous and chert forests, dolomite glades, and dark bottomland forested hollows, numerous springs, igneous rock "shut-ins" channeling spring-fed crystal clear waters over massive boulders---bring the hiker through the best of what the Ozarks has to offer. The Current River Section passes through both the Mill Mountain State Natural Area and the Stegall Mountain State Natural Area.Trailhead parking is available at Powder Mill for hikers wanting to access the Ozark Trail. The Current River Section & the lower portion of the Blair Creek Section are open to hikers only. Detailed maps of each OT section can be downloaded from the Ozark Trail Association (OTA) website.

Blue Spring Trail: 1 mile round trip. This easy to moderate hike may be accessed at Powder Mill or from the picnic area at the Blue Spring Trailhead & Picnic Area. The trail skirts the bottomland riparian forest along the Current River between Powder Mill and the Blue Spring State Natural Area---where the trail parallels the spring branch out to Blue Spring. As the name of this spring indicates---Blue Spring is deemed the "bluest" spring in Missouri and at a depth of around 300 feet---it is Missouri's deepest.

Rocky Falls Trail: 0.4 miles long. This short, easy walk links Rocky Falls, a significant geologic feature, to the Ozark Trail. The trail passes through upland pine-oak-cedar forest in the Stegall Mountain State Natural Area. This level "spur" trail follows an old trace as it approaches the Rocky Falls "shut-ins" where a wide 40 foot high cascade of water from Rocky Creek descends over massive pink and purple porphyry igneous rock formations---putting on a spectacular show during spring and summer months following heavy rain. A very short segment of trail brings visitors from the picnic area and parking lot off Hwy NN to the falls.

Jacks Fork River Trails

Alley Spring Trail: 0.3 mile loop.This easy hike begins at the historic Alley Mill located on the banks of Alley Spring. Following a tour of the old turbine powered grist mill, visitors can walk the perimeter of the deep blue spring along a trail that hugs the base of a massive dolomite cliff. The remnants of the old stone impoundment and mill sluice send the 81 million gallons of water per day that flow from Alley Spring cascading into the spring branch. The trail continues for a short distance along the spring branch past a series of small caves and moss covered rock outcroppings, crosses a wood foot bridge to return to the Mill or continues down the branch to the visitor parking area.

Alley Overlook Trail: 1.3 mile loop trail. This hike begins at Alley Mill. There is a steep rocky ascent that climbs the limestone bluff from which Alley Spring emerges.The short climb brings one to a scenic overlook they have a birds-eye view of the red Alley Mill below and the crystalline blue waters of Alley Spring. An interpretive wayside at the overlook reveals the extent of this once thriving 19th century community with a general store, a blacksmith shop, and a farmstead with corn fields and fence rows on the rolling slopes beyond Alley Mill. The trail continues along the ridge top through an upland pine-oak forest and this long segment of trail is level and easy walking. Following the ridge southward the trail dips down a series of switchbacks into the floodplain where Alley Spring Branch flows towards the Jacks Fork River. Hikers may return to the parking area or complete the "loop" back to Alley Mill along the spring branch.

Horse Trails

Ozark National Scenic Riverways offers equestrians four designated horse trail loops totaling 25.5 miles of trail. The trails are marked with color coded blazes. The park provides two staging areas (Broadfoot and Shawnee), each with a restroom and hitching rails, where riders may park their trailers. Additional horseback riding opportunities exist west of the park within the Angeline Conservation Area managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). MDC maintains approximately 9 miles of horse trails and a trailhead staging area north of Eminence off County Road 205. The MDC staging area provides restrooms, hitching rails, and parking for horse trailers.

Horseback riding offers an excellent opportunity to experience the Ozark landscape---from open fields where one may encounter feral horses, forested riparian bottomland where one can observe song birds, raptors and water fowl, and upland oak-pine ridges with panoramic views of the river below. Remember---equestrians are restricted to blazed designated horse trails and numbered county gravel roads ONLY! Segments of some of the designated horse trails traverse private land.Out of courtesy and respect for private landowners, public lands, and the environment---all riders are asked to KEEP TO THE BLAZED TRAILS!

SAFETY NOTE:River fords are signed---and riders are to cross only at these designated fords. For the safety of both rider and mount---always release tie-downs before crossing a river ford. Never attempt to cross any stream or river during periods of high water.

Jerktail Loop Trail: This 5.2 mile loop trail is classified as moderate to difficult. There are two designated fords where the trail crosses the Current River. Several scenic overlooks offer expansive views of the Current River from atop high bluffs.

Broadfoot Loop Trail:This 5.9 mile loop trail is classified as moderate.The Broadfoot loop offers excellent opportunities to view a herd of wild horses which are protected within the park.There are two designated fords where the Broadfoot trail crosses the Current River. The majority of this loop trail travels through Oak-Pine forest.The Broadfoot Staging area provides hitching posts, a restroom, and designated day-use parking for horse trailers.

Two Rivers Loop Trail: This 5.4 mile loop trail is classified as easy to moderate. Extended segments of this loop trail follow riparian corridors and afford views of both the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers. There are two designated fords that cross the Current River and a third designated ford that crosses the Jacks Fork River.

Shawnee Loop Trail: This 7 mile loop trail is classified as easy to moderate. The Shawnee Staging area provides hitching posts, a restroom, and designated day-use parking for horse trailers. The trail passes through riparian areas along the Jacks Fork and Current Rivers. A rocky climb along this route also takes riders to a bluff top with a spectacular view of the Jacks Fork River. There are two designated fords crossing the Current River and two fords crossing the Jacks Fork River.

Angeline Conservation Area Horse Trails: The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) supports a system of eleven interconnected short loop trails and connecting trails within the Angeline, totaling 8.7 miles, just north of Eminence and to the west of the park. All trails are marked with color coded blazes.The trailhead parking area provided by MDC has designated parking for 30 horse trailers. Brochures describing the trails will be available at the trailhead. Riders may also contact the MDC Eminence Office at (573) 226-3616 to obtain more information.


Last updated: September 28, 2023

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