Peer Into the Abyss on the Ozark Trail

Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Missouri
blue spring

Blue Spring (Photo by Erin Blumer/Flickr)

A salamander peeking from a rotten log; beads of dew dripping down a cliff wallpapered with moss; morning mist floating over a silent forest. While many national park units evoke images of sweeping vistas and soaring heights, a visit to this quiet corner of the Midwest turns your appreciation to the small things. Ozark National Scenic Riverways, encompassing the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers, preserve 134 miles of the most pristine riparian corridor in the central United States—a land of rocky glades, pine-covered plateaus, and limestone bluffs. “Caves, springs, sinkholes—the whole thing is just a big honeycomb beneath the surface,” says Dave Tobey, a former interpretive park ranger at ONSR.

Sample it on a 14-mile point-to-point from the Peck Ranch trailhead. Pick up the Ozark Trail near mile .6 and head to Rocky Falls, a 40-foot cascade that’s worth the .5-mile detour. Continue through dense oak-hickory forest and camp near Indian Creek at mile 8. Next day, follow the Current River upstream to 300-foot-deep Blue Spring before hitting the Powder Mill trailhead and shuttling back to your car.

Distance 14 miles, 2 days Trailhead 37.053180, -91.184300 Shuttle car 37.184954, -91.175161 (commercial option: Akers Ferry Canoe Rental; $50/two people) Season Year-round Permit None