DRIVE TIME: The northern Noblett Lake trailhead is 200 miles (3 1/2 hours) southwest of St. Louis and 270 miles (5 hours) southeast of Kansas City.
THE WAY: From Springfield, drive 80 miles east on US 60 to Willow Springs. Then take MO 76 west to MO 181 and turn left. Drive south for a mile to Rt. AP. Turn left onto AP and look for Noblett Lake signs after 3 miles.
TRAILS: The 22-mile Ridge Runner Trail incorporates parts of two shorter loop routes at Noblett Lake (8 miles) and North Fork Recreation Area (12 miles). For a longer trek, use the Ozark Trail, which branches off at Blue Hole Hollow (midway) and heads east 12 miles to Pomona. Trails also extend into the Devil’s Backbone Wilderness (at the southern end). The Ridge Runner Trail is multiple-use, with both mountain bikes and equestrians allowed.
ELEVATION: The Ridge Runner ranges from 800 to 1,100 feet.
CAN’T MISS: The ethereal blue mist that floats through Blue Hole Hollow in the morning.
CROWD CONTROL: Although off-road vehicles sometimes appear on the old logging roads intersecting the trail, you’ll likely have the hike to yourself. Call for the dates of hunting season (November).
GUIDES: The Willow Springs Ranger District publishes a very basic map of the Ridge Runner Trail (see Contact below). USGS 7.5-minute quads (Dyestone Mountain, Siloam Springs, and Dora) are available, but out-of-date (888-ASK-USGS; http://ask.usgs.gov; $4 each). One Hundred Nature Walks in the Missouri Ozarks, by Alan McPherson (Cache River Press, 888-862-2243; www.cacheriverpress.com; $17.95).
WALK SOFTLY: Backcountry camping is allowed anywhere, but avoid setting up on wet meadows.
CONTACT: Mark Twain National Forest, Willow Springs Ranger District, (417) 469-3155; http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/marktwain.