Thirty Miles & Thirty Pounds: Three Days on the Ozark Trail
watering house plants were vague, far away chores. We banned all conversation about computers.
By the third and final day, dry socks and shoes were cause for celebration. The trail's only series of switchbacks - up Stegall Mountain - were history. Fording creeks over slick stepping stones was a breeze. Our packs had grown lighter with every meal. Hot spots and a few blisters were no worse than a mosquito bite. Our legs were sore, but stronger.
To hike the last few yards, we had to cross Highway 60 about 10 miles west of Van Buren. The hot pavement felt odd - almost too level - beneath our feet. But a dip in the Current River was just a short, welcome car ride away. We climbed gratefully into the car, hot and tired and happy.
Getting Ready for the Ozark Trail
Every backpacker or day hiker who sets out on the Ozark Trail will have a different experience, and that's the beauty of it. Butterflies, sore muscles, an incredible vista - every trip is unique, every person can call it his or her own.
The Ozark Trail stretches almost 300 miles through primarily public land, but also over some land belonging to cooperating private landowners. In the late 1970s, people working for state and federal land management agencies, trail user groups and landowners joined together to build a trail that would pass through some of the state and nation's most distinctive natural areas.
When entirely finished, the trail will begin near St. Louis, head south through Missouri, and join with a similar trail in Arkansas called the Ozark Highland Trail. An eastern loop will wind through the St. Francois Mountain region in southeastern Missouri. When complete, the Ozark Trail will stretch about 500 miles across the state. It eventually will extend all the way to the Arkansas-Oklahoma border.
Designers of the trail made efforts to lead hikers through aesthetically pleasing areas. For example, trails often pass vistas, along ridges, by unusual natural features, and near water sources such as springs, creeks or rivers. Several sections also are open to horseback riders and mountain bicyclists. Responsibility for maintaining the trail falls to the agency whose land the trail crosses. These agencies in turn enlist the invaluable help of volunteers. Scout groups, equestrian clubs and nature organizations all monitor trail conditions and help with maintenance.
The trail is designed to be used by people with varying levels of hiking experience, for afternoon excursions or week-long backpacking trips. To find a stretch suitable for you, take time to do a little research. Begin by studying a section map. Before setting off, familiarize yourself with the map, noting landmarks and features along your chosen route. Especially pay close attention to the availability of water. Water sources along the trail can be sporadic and always must be treated either with a water purifier or iodine tablets. Maps for sections of the Ozark Trail are available by writing the Ozark Trail Coordinator, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Historic Preservation, P.O. Box 176, Jefferson City, 65102, or call toll-free, 1-800-337-6946.