I've heard that some people fastpack Whispering Pine Trail in a day. My question is: Why? This small gem pinned to the heart of the Ozarks deserves a leisurely two-day visit so you have time to sniff the wild azaleas and soak up some sun on the outcrops.
Located in southeast Missouri, Whispering Pine consists of two connected loops that vaguely resemble the symbol for infinity. Twisting through hardwood forest and ancient sandstone formations, the trail follows Pickle Creek and River aux Vases. Short, steep climbs lead to several knobs, which is Ozark parlance for a rounded, isolated hill, often bald on top.
Three camps are spaced out on separate spurs shown on the park map. The camps are first come, first served, though they're rarely occupied. After a night of lullabies from the whippoorwills and hoot owls, finish the final leg of a counter-clockwise trip by paralleling a Pickle Creek tributary as it slips beneath dogwoods and redbuds.
LENGTH: 11 miles in two connected loops. Allow two days.
RATING: Easy to moderate, with short but steep climbs and loose rock on knobs.
WHERE: The trail is in Missouri's Hawn State Park, 80 miles (11/2 hours) south of St. Louis. The trailhead is off MO 144, which leaves MO 32 east of Farmington.
MAP: The free Hawn State Park Trail and Wild Area Guide (available at the trailhead or from the contact below) is excellent and includes a reproduction of a topo.
CONTACT: Park Superintendent, Hawn State Park, Rt. 3, Box 124, Ste. Genevieve, MO 63670; (573) 883-3603.