Becky Denney

Don’t Miss Hiking in These Missouri State Parks!
You’ll Find More Than Cultural History and Short Trails


Allison Vaughn, natural resource steward for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MO DNR), turned out to be a great voice for backcountry hiking and natural areas in our state when she spoke at the Eastern Missouri Group general meeting on September 23. She described some parks that we know well such as Hawn State Park, Cuivre River State Park and Meramec State Park but was especially enthusiastic about a few others such as Trail of Tears State Park. With over 3,400 acres this park is more than a tribute to the suffering of the Cherokees and offers a variety of trails with overlooks on the Mississippi River.

Trail of Tears State Park offers views and bluffs toward the Mississippi River and down Vancill Hollow as well. Vancill Hollow Natural area entices with slopes and bluffs facing east and an overlook 300 feet above the Mississippi River. This 300 acre natural area is forested with trees found in the southern Appalachian forest instead of what we are used to in the Ozarks to the west. American beech, tulip poplar and cucumber magnolia trees grow on the loamy soil. There is habitat here for salamanders, such as the western slimy salamander, long-tailed salamander, and southern red-backed salamander. The Audubon Society Club considers this a IBA (Important Bird Area) because the habitat is so good for migrating birds on the Mississippi flyway.

There is no trail through the Vancill Hollow Natural Area but Sheppard Point Trail, a rugged 3 mile trail has similar opportunities for viewing the Mississippi River and the plant life. There is also the 10 mile Peewah Trail which goes through the Indian Creek Wild Area.

Allison Vaughn was especially enthusiastic about our largest state park---the 17,626 acre Lake of the Ozarks State Park. Lake of the Ozarks State Park has short trails and several longer trails such as the Woodland Trail (choice of 2 miles, 4 miles or 6 miles) through the Patterson Hollow Wild Area. This 1,275 acre area has small springs and seeps even during the summer but is predominately oak-hickory and old fields in different stages of forest succession. Patterson Hollow itself only has water after heavy rains. There are numerous other trails—the Trail of Four Winds with a variety of views and habitat has connector trails or the longer version which is 16.5 miles.

Another natural area Allison was excited about was at Ha Ha Tonka State Park. Ha Ha Tonka is small with its 3,709 acres compared to Lake of the Ozarks State Park but big in interesting places to visit with the ruins of Ha Ha Tonka Castle and a short, fun trail along the Lake of the Ozarks to the spring.

The Missouri State Park page says Ha Ha Tonka Oak Woodland Natural Area includes “one of the best oak woodland landscapes in Missouri.” Here the woods have been managed with prescribed fire for over 20 years so 150+ years old post oaks, white and chinkapin oaks grow in an open understory as the Ozarks were described in the early 1800’s often called presettlement times. Native grasses, sedges and woodland wildflowers grow in the understory. The natural area of 953 acres offers a variety of rugged terrain and forest habitat with steep north facing slopes and sinkholes and moisture enough for northern red oak, slippery elm, and basswood. There are also dry-mesic woodlands dominated by white oaks and dry dolomite glades with plants and animals adapted to a xeric environment. 500 native plant species are documented to grow here. A backpacking camp has been built along the 7 mile Turkey Pen Hollow Trail which winds through the natural area.

Allison reminded us of grand vistas, natural landscapes and plant and animal communities which we can visit and could become our favorites as well as hers.

But she couldn’t cover everything even a few of our parks have to offer. For instance, the Ha Ha Tonka Spring is Missouri’s 12th largest spring. The Osage River Hills landscape which includes both Lake of the Ozarks and Ha Ha Tonka are karst landscapes. In fact, the picture of Ha Ha Tonka spring on “Springs of Missouri” by Vineyard and Feder is called “Ha Ha Tonka Chasm.” Evidently when we look down the 250 feet toward the spring from Ha Ha Tonka Castle we are really looking across where there was once a great cavern roof collapse. That could be another program in itself.

Missouri State Park Locator: http://www.mostateparks.com/statemap.htm

Trail of Tears State Park Vancil Hollow Natural area http://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places-go/natural-areas/vancill-hollow

Lake of the Ozarks State Park Patterson Hollow Wild Area http://www.mostateparks.com/lakeozark/trails.htm

Ha Ha Tonka Oak State Park
Ha Ha Tonka Oak Woodland http://www.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places-go/natural-areas/ha-ha-tonka-oak-woodland