One of my father’s perennial Christmas gifts to my brothers and me is a renewed subscription to Backpacker Magazine. After my March issue came in the mail, he texted me; “Check out page 61.” I flipped through the glossy pages of gear and gorgeous views to find that someone at Backpacker Magazine had learned what Missouri hikers have long known—the overnight-distance trail between Peck Ranch Conservation Area and the Current River is a walk not soon forgotten.
The trail begins at the very edge of the Peck Ranch Wildlife Refuge, deep in the heart of the Missouri Department of Conservation elk restoration zone. Hikers set out from the trailhead parking lot down a gravel road to meet up with the Ozark Trail, their home for the next two days. To the right is the boundary of the legendary Peck Ranch—the land that fostered the rebirth and restoration of Missouri’s wild turkey, whitetail deer, and native elk population. Its boundary is a simple hog fence, a relic of early conservationists’ efforts to keep free-range pigs out. When hiked in early mornings during the fall, hikers might even hear the sound of a bull elk bugling over the gravel crunching underfoot.
After a sharp left off the road and onto the trail, hikers find themselves in the solitude of the Ozarks. Two miles and a steep climb later, they’re gazing out over the tree-covered hills where Missouri conservation cut its teeth. A descent on the other side leads them down a mossy northern slope and finally to Rocky Falls, a favorite sight of locals and tourists alike, after a quick half-mile jaunt off the Ozark Trail. Back on the trail now, our hikers continue north through the fields and bottoms where the famous wild horses of Shannon County are common to see.
Camping here means an early morning creek crossing at the historic site of Klepzig Mill, where Little Rocky Creek flows over and around car-size boulders, forming pools just big enough for a refreshing dip in the summer. After rock hopping along the picturesque creek, our hikers dry the Ozark’s spring water from their feet before lacing up and heading north. The Ozark Trail has bluff views, bedrock-creek crossings, and, finally, an evening date with the Current River for our hikers before their day is over.
It was around this time of year several years ago that my dad (an MDC volunteer, especially when it comes to backpacking and teaching others to do so) and I set out to finish up this section of the trail that we were scouting for an upcoming backpacking program. Snow was falling and the temperature hovered around 30 degrees when we slipped bare feet into Little Rocky Creek at Klepzig Mill. I don’t remember how cold the water was, but I do remember how beautiful the creek was in the freshly fallen snow.
Twin Pines Conservation Education Center still hosts this backpacking program every October to teach newcomers how to stay their first night out on the trail with nothing but what’s on their backs. For more information call 573-325-1381.