If variety adds spice to life, this 16.5-mile loop through 7,019-acre Paddy Creek Wilderness in south-central Missouri has habanero heat. You’ll track through dense hardwood- and pine-shaded forest, past fountain-clear freshwater springs, and out onto exposed rocky bluffs leaning over the Ozarks’ vast karst landscape. The trailhead (1) is .1 mile northeast across a meadow from the parking area at Roby Lake, 90 miles east of Springfield. At mile .9, take the right spur (2) at the junction of the trail’s north and south loops. Your first creek crossing comes at mile 2.7, over Little Paddy Creek (3), one of several eponymous landmarks named for Sylvester Paddy, an Irishman who first logged the area in the early 1800s. Join the old Military Road (4) briefly for .4 mile before delving back into the wilderness at mile four (5). Ford knee-deep Big Paddy Creek at mile 6.2 (6), then ascend a steep slope framed with dogwoods, maples, and redbuds that explode in shades of magenta in May. Cross FR 220 and overnight at the 28-site, first come, first served Paddy Creek Campground (7). “The creek here is deep enough for a refreshing dip when it’s hot,” advises Danny McMurphy (next page). On day two, set out alongside Big Paddy Creek and follow the trail as it doglegs back up the ridge to a pine-topped bluff at mile 8.7 (8), with a view across a bend in the Big Piney River (on which Sylvester Paddy floated his lumber northeast to St. Louis). From the overlook, turn west beneath the oak and hickory canopy, recrossing FR 220 (9) where it intersects the trail’s north loop. Continue 2.1 miles and hang a right on Military Road (10) where a cutoff emerges from the gully shading Little Paddy Creek. Leave Military Road at mile 13.1 (11) to start a two-mile section that climbs up and crosses over several ravines before passing a waterfall at mile 15.1 (12). Nice spot to add on a night. Otherwise close the lollipop at mile 15.6 (13).
Get there From I-44, take MO 17 south for 27 miles to Roby Lake Recreation Area. Parking area is next to the NE corner of Roby Lake, just before the turnaround.
Season “Piney gets beautiful weather into early December and again come mid-February,” says Charlie Williams (next page).
Gear up Ozark Adventures, 1328 E. Republic Rd., Springfield; (417) 889-6633, ozarkadventures.com
Contact Houston Ranger District: (417) 967-4194; fs.fed.us/r9/marktwain
KEY SKILL: Avoid poisonous plants
Know thy enemy Trails and camping spots here can be overgrown with brush, particularly from spring through summer. Which spells bad news for urushiol-phobes—aka the 75 percent of the population that has some sort of reaction to summer’s axis of evil: poison ivy (A), poison oak (B), and poison sumac (C). Contact with any of these climbing plants can leave urushiol, a poisonous oil, on your skin, causing itchy red bumps or blisters in as little as two to six hours after contact. The rash usually lasts 10 days to two weeks.
Prevent Identify and avoid: The old adage, “Leaves of three, let them be,” is a good place to start. Nearly all poison ivy and oak grow in threes with the middle leaf protruding farther than the other two. The exception is sumac: It grows in a complex pattern of seven to 13 paired leaves. Wear long pants and sleeves to help mitigate trailside brush-ups.
Ground zero “The worst poison ivy stretch is on the north side of Big Paddy Creek after the crossing at the campground,” says McMurphy.
Treat Significant swelling or airway problems? Severe reaction on the face or nether regions? Evacuate and get to a doctor. Otherwise, rinse exposed areas with cold water and soap. If you have white gas, soak a swatch of cotton bandana and dab the area to remove the oil. Dispose of cloth afterward— skin contact after the gas dries can redeposit urushiol. Soak another swatch and give your skin a good rub.
Ursus americanus were once common throughout the forests of the Midwest—neighboring Arkansas was known as the “Bear State”—but loss of habitat and overhunting all but eliminated the animal from Missouri by the 1930s. A pioneering reintroduction effort led by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in 1958 has since helped bear numbers stabilize and even grow throughout the region, with more than 4,000 bears now estimated to be roaming the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains.
“Creeks here rise and fall fast,” says McMurphy. “Any will be difficult to cross after a heavy rain. But all you have to do is wait. Once the rain stops, streams will drop to normal levels within a day, even hours.” A bigger problem than gushers? Little and Big Paddy, typically dependable water sources, can run dry by mid- to late summer in high-temperture, low-precipitation years. “I’ve seen it so low that Paddy Creek wasn’t even reaching the Big Piney River,” notes McMurphy. Call the ranger station for levels, and tank up with two liters per hiker at mile four if Big Paddy is low.
THE EXPERTSDanny McMurphy, 61, founded MOtrails.com to highlight Missouri’s best hiking. “On Big Piney, my favorite spot is the ridge overlooking Big Paddy Creek.”
Charlie Williams, 59, has been hiking the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains for 20 years.
ON THE MENU
Breakfast 1 On the road
Lunch 1 Bagels with salami, Gruyère
Dinner 1 Midwest Melting Pot Pasta
Breakfast 2 Bagels with peanut butter
Lunch 2 Croque-Monsieur
Snacks Pecans, dried mango
Midwest Melting Pot Pasta
Energy-packed comfort food
6 ounces rigatoni
8 ounces summer sausage
2 Liberty apples, diced
½ cup milk (from powder)
½ cup blue cheese crumbles
4 tablespoons olive oil
Cook pasta until al dente. Drain, drizzle with olive oil. Fry sausage until lightly browned; add oil and apples and cook until they’re lightly golden. Stir in cooked pasta, milk, and cheese. Heat throughout and eat. Serves 2.
A tasty French café sandwich
4 slices bread
4 slices ham
2.5 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ cup milk (from powder)
Gruyère, sliced thin
Dijon, mayo, pepper
Butter one side of each bread slice. Put Dijon and ham on one side, mayo and Gruyère on the other. Mix butter, flour, and milk; dip sandwich in mix, then fry until golden. Serves 2.
The Grocery List
[ ] bagels (bakery)
[ ] bread (bakery)
[ ] blue cheese crumbles (dairy)
[ ] butter (dairy)
[ ] Gruyère cheese (dairy)
[ ] ham (deli)
[ ] salami (deli)
[ ] sausage (deli)
[ ] apples (produce)
[ ] dried mango slices (produce)
[ ] peanut butter (4)
[ ] powdered milk (4)
[ ] rigatoni (6)
[ ] pecans (8)
Pack Travel sachets of Dijon mustard and
mayonnaise, olive oil,
flour, salt, and pepper
NEAREST GROCERY STORE
PRICE CUTTER PLUS
300 Ichord Ave., Waynesville, MO;
PIT STOP Rolla’s new Public House Brewing Company brings craft beers—with a focus on seasonal German-style lagers—to the heart of the Midwest. Stop by for a pint and a Ploughman’s Plate. (573) 426-2337; publichousebrewery.com