By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Recreational opportunities abound in this region that includes parts of Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
The Ozark Mountains lie at the northern edge of the American South, the western edge of Appalachia, and the eastern part of the Midwest. Translated, that means the Ozarks span southern Missouri, western Arkansas, and eastern Oklahoma. Some claim it has the best of all three states. Even if the statement is a slight exaggeration, the region certainly offers plenty of reasons for a visit.
With all those rivers, lakes, and ponds, it sometimes seems you’re seeing water, water everywhere, complete with fishing, boating, and canoeing enthusiasts, and plenty of swimmers. But the Ozarks feature many more enticements.
1. Hiking, anyone? This region certainly does not lack hiking trails. Missouri’s Ozark Trail is used by more than hikers – bikers and horseback riders also pedal and clop by. Still a work in progress, the trail will stretch from St. Louis all the way across Missouri to the Arkansas border when completed. Farther south, the Ozark Highlands Trail traverses 165 miles of northwestern Arkansas through some of the most remote and scenic portions of the Ozarks. Eventually, these two trails will join, resulting in more than 700 miles of trails. And that doesn’t include dozens of other Ozark trails, short and long.
2. Historic structures. Visitors will find historic places preserved for their education and enjoyment. The following three happen to be located in Missouri. The Iron County Courthouse in Ironton, built in 1858, is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Its role in Civil War history is proved by a cannonball mark visible on the front of the building. In Poplar Bluff, the Bloodworth House has been renovated as an 18th-century English country manor. And in Van Buren, the Carter County Historical Society Log Cabin is a good stop. Back when it was built, hand-hewn logs were used. Recently reconstructed, the cabin is furnished with 1850s antiques.
3. For those with special interests. Missouri has a wealth of antiques museums; here are three. In Rolla, you can visit the Memoryville U.S.A. Antique Car Museum and Auto Restoration Headquarters and view classic automobiles that have been or are in the process of being restored. The Antique Fire Truck, Automobile & Soda Museum in Willow Springs claims to house the largest antique fire truck and soda bottle collections in the Ozarks. And in Mountain View, the Calico Cupboard Toy Sewing Machine Museum contains more than 300 miniature sewing machines.
4. Alley Mill, Missouri. Located some 10 miles east of Alley Spring, the century-old Alley Mill is in the process of being restored, but tours are still offered. The famous Old Red Mill dates back to 1894 when it was built to process wheat flour. After you finish seeing it, head next door to Story’s Creek Schoolhouse, which is also a century old, and open on weekends in summer.
5. Springs. The Ozarks are particularly known for having natural springs. Blue Spring, located 14 miles east of Eminence, was called the “Spring of the Summer Sky” by local Indians. One of Missouri’s deepest springs, it originates some 300 feet below ground. To give you a frame of reference, should the Statue of Liberty be situated on the bottom of the spring, the top of the torch would still be underwater. Also in Missouri, Big Spring produces an average of 286 million gallons of water a day, making it one of the world’s largest. Seven additional springs in Montauk State Park form the headwaters of the Current River.
6. Caves. With more than 300 caverns in the Ozarks, the subterranean scenery is as majestic as that above ground. Some caves are very small, but one is nearly 7 miles long. In Arkansas it took 350 million years to sculpt the beauty of Bull Shoals Caverns, one of the world’s oldest caves. The artifacts and bones discovered in Hurricane River Cave show that humans used it for shelter more than 9,000 years ago. So did prehistoric bears and saber-toothed tigers. And we must mention Onondaga Cave State Park, near Leasburg, which has a campground as well as a cave.
7. Buffalo National River, Arkansas. The Buffalo River avoided being dammed when it was designated the nation’s first national river back in 1972. It meanders through 100,000 acres of protected, remote wilderness. This river and its surrounding streams contain some of the most photogenic waterfalls in the country. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy at least 100 miles of trails, and choose among 13 campgrounds. Ardent paddlers can bring their own canoes, while others can make arrangements to rent a canoe, kayak, or raft at one of the park’s concessions.
8. Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, Arkansas. The Ozark National Forest covers 1.2 million acres, mostly in the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas. It’s home to the tallest mountain in the state, Mount Magazine, and an incredible living cave, Blanchard Springs Caverns. St. Francis National Forest is much smaller, at only 22,000 acres. Both provide opportunities for camping, hiking, swimming, fishing, scenic drives, and wildlife viewing.
9. Float a boat, cast a hook, or just jump in. Numerous streams flow through this region. Among the most popular are the Meramec River and its tributaries, Huzzah Creek and Courtois Creek. To the south lie the Current and Jacks Fork rivers, which make up the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Excellent canoeing awaits on the Current River just below Montauk State Park, which also has great fishing. As you drift along, watch for this stream’s many springs and caves. The current slows as it reaches Doniphan, where floating in inner tubes is a favorite pastime.
10. The lakes. Clearwater and Wappapello in Missouri and Bull Shoals in Arkansas are the three of the largest lakes in the region. Clearwater Lake, near the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, provides boating, swimming, water skiing, and fishing opportunities. It’s surrounded by oak and hickory forests, steep shorelines, and high bluffs. Lake Wappapello, a favorite destination of visitors to southeast Missouri, provides all kinds of fun. According to the experts, the fishing is great. Bull Shoals Lake is huge, with 45,000 acres of water enclosed within a 1,000-mile shoreline.
11. Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Touted as Arkansas’ Victorian Mountain Village, Eureka Springs first drew attention with its natural springs. The city now is known for its art and Victorian-era architecture. It is packed with attractions such as gardens, home tours, an exotic wildlife ranch, and The Great Passion Play, which depicts the last week of Christ’s life. Boutiques offer antiques, fine art, contemporary and vintage clothing, and handmade crafts.
12. Mountain View, Arkansas. Only 14 miles away from Blanchard Springs Cavern, this small town claims to have the only park in America devoted to the preservation of Southern mountain folkways and music. Seems like everywhere you go, the area rings with the sound of mountain, folk, and bluegrass music. Musicians gather nightly during the season to play on the courthouse square. Enjoy spending the day at The Ozark Folk Center, dedicated to the preservation of the music and crafts of this culture.
13. Now, let’s hear it for the paddlefish. This is one of the oldest fishes known, with fossil records dating back as far as 400 million years. (That’s 50 million years before dinosaurs roamed the earth.) Anglers who reel them in from the Current River claim that paddlefish make a tasty meal.