Hike the Heart of Missouri

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Published on: May. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

The only way to learn a landscape is to walk over it.

To kneel and inspect the minutiae below your feet--mushroom, stone, centipede, moss. To pause and absorb the vista before you. To crane your neck and watch slim maples ascend.

Abandon the car. Trust your feet. Treat your senses. Hike.

Hike mid-Missouri, where the Ozarks meet the plains, where the Missouri River flows. Glimpse parts of our state that appear today much as they did before Europeans arrived and began changing the landscape.

Summer is a fine time to hike, but perhaps not the best: the industrious chiggers, ticks, mosquitoes and poison ivy seem to think this is their season to monopolize. And who wants to hike in 90 degree weather when the humidity makes the air feel like you're walking in bathwater? Autumn and spring are perhaps better suited for hiking. Autumn's foliage and blue skies can be breathtaking. In spring, there are flowers appearing, buds bursting, brooks gushing clean water. Don't rule out winter; it has its own brand of beauty.

Whatever the season, dress appropriately. Make sure your footwear is comfortable. Take water. Take a compass if you have one. Maps are available at most trailheads. If you're not accustomed to reading topographical maps, ask a friend or read "Follow the Lines" in the June 1997 Conservationist.

Above all, enjoy.

Painted Rock Conservation Area

One of the most gorgeous views in mid-Missouri is accessible via the Osage Bluff Scenic Trail. This 1.6-mile trail in the Painted Rock Conservation Area is easy to hike in an hour, and the first half mile of the trail (the northern side) is flat, smooth and wide and takes you to a scenic overlook. Here, and at other points along the trail, an observation deck perched on the clifftop provides a comfortable vantage point from which to absorb the broad, sparkling swath of the Osage River far below you and the apron of bottomlands and picturesque hills across the water. South of the first overlook, the trail becomes occasionally rocky and steep. Because of the trail's proximity to cliffs, parents should supervise children closely.

Pick up a booklet at the trailhead to learn more about points of interest along the hike: the Indian burial cairn, Bloody Island and timber improvement efforts.

Painted Rock Conservation Area is 7 miles southwest of Westphalia on Highway 133.

Prairie Home Conservation Area

To view a patchwork of Missouri landscapes, visit Prairie Home Conservation Area. This 1,461-acre parcel contains

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