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Mark Twain National Forest Hiking: Best Trails and Tips

Ever dreamed of wandering where the wild things are, with just you, your backpack, and maybe the ghost of Mark Twain nodding in approval? 

Alright, maybe not that last bit, but the Mark Twain National Forest? It’s the real deal. 

It’s a slice of the Show-Me State that’ll show you wonders you wouldn’t believe. 

From babbling brooks to majestic overlooks, it’s got it all. 

Now, I’ve stomped around more than a fair share of its trails, and I’m spillin’ the beans on the unmissable spots and pro-tips to make your trek top-notch. 

Lace up, y’all, we’re diving deep into Twain territory! 

Mark Twain National Forest Overview

mark twain national forest
Richard Ricciardi/Flickr, CC 2.0

Mark Twain National Forest, located in Missouri, spans across 1.5 million acres of diverse landscape.

As one of the National Parks managed by the United States government, it offers various outdoor recreational opportunities and protects a significant portion of the state’s native ecosystems, including oak-hickory forests, tall grass prairies, and pine woodlands.

As you explore the forest, you’ll find that the area is divided among several sections scattered throughout the state.

These sections are interspersed with private land and numerous counties, fostering a sense of diversity and unity in the region.

The vast expanse of the national forest allows visitors like you to indulge in various outdoor activities like hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and more, providing a unique experience with every visit.

The diverse landscape of Mark Twain National Forest is home to various tree species like oaks, hickories, and pines, highlighting the distinctive beauty and ecological significance of this region in the United States.

In addition to the wooded areas, the forest also conserves picturesque tall grass prairies, offering a one-of-a-kind habitat for native plant and animal species.

When you venture into the heart of this majestic national forest, you’ll notice that it offers over 700 miles of trails for hikers of all skill levels, making it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.

As you traverse its terrain, you will experience Missouri’s natural charm and appreciate the efforts of the United States government in preserving this remarkable haven.

Top Hiking Trails

Mark Twain National Forest trail marker

Mark Twain National Forest offers a variety of trails for hikers to explore.

With over 700 miles of trails, you’re sure to find something that suits your skill level and interests.

In this section, we’ll take a closer look at some popular hiking trails in the forest.

Berryman Trail

The Berryman Trail is a 24-mile loop that starts at Berryman Campground, an historic Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

Along the way, you’ll experience picturesque Ozark countryside.

This trail is an excellent choice for backpacking or a weekend adventure.

Lower Rock Creek Trail

Explore the serene beauty of Lower Rock Creek Trail, a moderate 10-mile trail that leads you through rich forest, near a sparkling creek, and passes by several cascades.

Keep an eye out for the unique rock formations as you make your way along this peaceful trail.

Council Bluff Lake Trail

Council Bluff Lake Trail is a 12-mile loop that encircles the tranquil Council Bluff Lake.

Offering diverse terrain and spectacular views of the lake, this moderately challenging trail is perfect for people looking to have a long day hike or a serene overnight trip.

Smith Creek Loop

Smith Creek Loop is a moderately difficult 7.5-mile trail that takes you through dense woodlands, along Smith Creek, and over a few ridges.

Expect some elevation gain as you explore this loop and take in the sights and sounds of the forest.

Greer Spring Trail

Take in the sights and sounds of Missouri’s second largest spring on the Greer Spring Trail.

This easy 1.2-mile trail winds through dense forest and along a crystal-clear spring, eventually leading you to the main attraction: Greer Spring.

Cedar Creek Trail System

The Cedar Creek Trail System consists of several interconnected trails spanning approximately 36 miles.

With varying levels of difficulty, there’s something for everyone in this trail system.

Take your pick from leisurely walks to more challenging hikes that will reward you with breathtaking views of the forests and creeks.

Moon Loop

The 6-mile Moon Loop trail provides a moderately challenging hike through beautiful hardwood forests, with opportunities to spot local wildlife and enjoy the serenity of the Ozark landscape.

Expect some elevation gain as you traverse this charming loop.

Ozark Trail: Taum Sauk Section

Considered one of the best hikes in Missouri, the 14.5-mile Taum Sauk Section of the Ozark Trail is not to be missed.

You’ll experience breathtaking views, unique geological features like Mina Sauk Falls, and the chance to summit Missouri’s highest point, Taum Sauk Mountain.

This moderately difficult trail is perfect for a full day’s adventure.

Using hand-curated trail maps, reading reviews, and browsing photos are excellent ways to familiarize yourself with each trail before embarking on your hike.

Remember to always be aware of your surroundings, respect the environment, and have fun exploring the beautiful landscapes of Mark Twain National Forest.

Exploring the Wilderness

Mark Twain National Forest sign

Mark Twain National Forest offers a vast expanse of wilderness areas for you to explore and enjoy.

As you venture into these remote regions, you’ll discover a variety of landscapes, from dense woods and open grasslands to pristine springs and enchanting old structures.

The Forest Service has preserved these areas to provide a serene, natural environment for visitors seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

One such wilderness area worth exploring is the 16,500-acre Irish Wilderness, accessible via the 18.6-mile Whites Creek Trail.

Here, you’ll find untouched springs, the picturesque Camp Five Pond, and of course, the meandering Whites Creek.

While traversing the wilderness areas, you might also come across some remnants of old structures, a testament to the human history that once thrived in these parts.

Throughout your journey, you’ll encounter varying terrains such as muddy trails and dense overgrowth, as well as picturesque streams that offer a refreshing respite.

When navigating these diverse landscapes, be prepared with appropriate gear and footwear to ensure a comfortable and safe experience.

As you hike along the trails, you’ll also be rewarded with a mix of dense woods, giving you a sense of seclusion, and open grassland where you can stretch your legs and truly appreciate the beauty of nature.

Remember to always stay on the designated pathways to protect the fragile ecosystems that make these wilderness areas truly remarkable.

In addition to Whites Creek Trail, consider checking out the Greer Springs Trail, a 1.4-mile hike that takes you through old-growth forests and leads you to the pristine Greer Springs, Missouri’s second-largest spring, with a daily flow of 220 million gallons.

Whether you choose to spend a day or an entire weekend, exploring the untamed beauty of the Mark Twain National Forest’s wilderness areas is sure to be a memorable and fulfilling adventure.

Camping in the Forest

Paddy Creek camp site
camping at Paddy Creek


When camping in the Potosi area of Mark Twain National Forest, you’ll find a variety of campsites to suit your needs.

Some of the campgrounds are first come, first served, while others can be reserved in advance.

Tents and RVs are welcome, so you’ll have options depending on your camping preferences.

In Potosi, you can explore the beautiful Bell Mountain Wilderness and enjoy hiking or backpacking on the Lindsey Mountain Trail.

If you’d like an additional experience, consider stopping by the Berryman Campground, Brazil Creek Trailhead, or the popular Wild Boar Boat Launch and Trailhead.

The Potosi area is perfect for those looking to immerse themselves in outdoor adventures.

Cedar Creek

The Cedar Creek area offers fantastic camping opportunities, with numerous campsites that cater to both tents and RVs.

You can visit the local campgrounds and find the right spot for you, whether you prefer a secluded site or proximity to trailheads.

While you’re camping in Cedar Creek, be sure to explore the diverse outdoor activities available, such as hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.

Make time to take a break and go for a leisurely walk along the peaceful Cedar Creek, or if you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at canoeing or fishing in the pristine waters.

Eleven Point

Eleven Point offers a fantastic camping experience in Mark Twain National Forest, with a variety of campsites for both tents and RVs to choose from.

You’ll find options for first come, first served sites, as well as reservable campsites, depending on your preference and planning.

While enjoying your camping trip in Eleven Point, take advantage of the many recreational activities, such as hiking, canoeing, or bird watching.

The Eleven Point section of the forest is home to numerous trails and waterways that cater to a wide range of interests.

If you’re looking for a more relaxed experience, simply set up camp, make a fire, and enjoy a night under the stars in this picturesque wilderness.

Mountain Biking Opportunities

Mark Twain National Forest mountain biking

When exploring Mark Twain National Forest, don’t miss the chance to experience some of the best mountain biking trails in the area.

With a variety of terrains and difficulty levels, you can find a trail that suits your skill and adventure preference.

Berryman Trail offers a 27.1-mile loop, ideal for those looking for a multi-day biking adventure.

This trail takes you through the scenic Ozark Hill Country and offers numerous rocky and rugged sections along the way.

For those seeking an exciting destination, check out the Council Bluff Recreation Area.

This beautiful spot provides both hiking and mountain biking trails along the picturesque Council Bluff Lake shore, making it a perfect outdoor adventure area for all skill levels.

Plus, take advantage of the opportunity to fish in the lake, which is stocked with various species of fish.

When it comes to the Chadwick Riding Area, this location caters specifically to off-road enthusiasts.

With more than 80 miles of trails open to mountain bikers, motorcyclists, and ATVs, this area offers diverse terrain and a thrilling experience for riders of all abilities.

Here’s a quick summary of some popular mountain biking spots in Mark Twain National Forest:

  • Berryman Trail: 27.1-mile loop, suitable for multi-day trips
  • Council Bluff Recreation Area: Trails by the lake shore, fishing opportunities
  • Chadwick Riding Area: Over 80 miles of off-road trails, open to motorized and non-motorized users

Remember, before hitting the trails, make sure you have the appropriate gear, check trail conditions, and know the area’s rules and regulations.

Most importantly, enjoy the adrenaline rush and soak in the breathtaking natural beauty of Mark Twain National Forest on your mountain biking adventure.

Getting Around

Hazel Creek area
Hazel Creek area

Mark Twain National Forest offers over 700 miles of trails for hikers of all ages and skill levels.

To make your hiking experience a smooth one, it’s essential to be well-prepared with accurate trail maps and information on forest service roads.

Before you embark on your adventure, consider visiting the official US Forest Service website or AllTrails to find the perfect trail for your hike.

Both of these resources offer hand-curated trail maps, photos, and reviews from nature lovers like yourself.

This will help you choose a hike that suits your skill level and interests, making your time in the forest both enjoyable and memorable.

On your hike, you’ll come across various forest service roads.

These roads are essential for access and management of the national forest.

Be aware that some roads may have seasonal closures or restrictions, so it’s crucial to check for updates before your trip.

You can find this information on the Mark Twain National Forest website or by contacting the Forest Service office in Rolla, MO at (573) 364-4621.

Don’t forget to take a physical trail map with you on your journey.

While digital maps are convenient, having a paper map ensures you have access to crucial information even in areas with poor cell reception or limited battery life.

Trail maps can be found at various visitor centers, ranger stations, or for purchase online.

Lastly, remember to practice outdoor safety during your time in the forest.

This includes staying on designated trails, respecting wildlife and vegetation, and following Leave No Trace principles.

By doing so, you’re contributing to the preservation of the beautiful trails in Mark Twain National Forest, allowing future generations to enjoy them just as you do.

Navigate the Districts

Marble Creek Recreation Area
Marble Creek Recreation Area

Mark Twain National Forest is divided into various districts, each offering a unique and diverse hiking experience for outdoor enthusiasts.

In this section, we’ll focus on the Southern Loop, which includes the Fredericktown Ranger District.

Southern Loop

In the Southern Loop, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the beautiful Fredericktown Ranger District.

The district offers many fantastic hiking trails that cater to a variety of skill levels, from leisurely strolls to challenging treks.

As you traverse these trails, expect to encounter stunning landscapes, including dense hardwood and softwood forests, as well as breathtaking mountain ranges.

While hiking in the Fredericktown Ranger District, it’s important to stay aware of your surroundings and follow trail guidelines.

This helps to ensure both your safety and the preservation of the natural environment.

To further enhance your experience, make sure to have a map or brochure on hand, which you can obtain at the District Offices or the Forest Supervisor’s Office.

Some noteworthy trails to explore within the Southern Loop include:

  • Bell Mountain Wilderness: A challenging hiking destination featuring rugged terrain and incredible scenery.
  • Lindsey Mountain Trailhead: A moderate-difficulty hike that offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
  • Berryman Campground: A popular campground with nearby trails, perfect for a weekend getaway in the heart of Mark Twain National Forest.
  • Brazil Creek Trailhead: An ideal starting point for exploring the diverse landscape of the Southern Loop.

Planning Your Trip

Council Bluff Lake Recreation Area
Council Bluff Lake Recreation Area

Before embarking on your hiking adventure in Mark Twain National Forest, it’s essential to plan your trip carefully.

With over 1.5 million acres and more than 700 miles of trails, the forest offers various hiking opportunities, ranging from leisurely day hikes to more challenging backpacking expeditions.

First, you’ll want to determine the type of hike you prefer.

For day hiking, there are numerous trails for all skill levels.

On the other hand, backpacking allows you to explore deeper into the forest and camp overnight.

Keep in mind the difference in necessary equipment and physical demands when choosing between these two options.

Make sure you’re aware of any alerts in the forest, such as trail closures or safety concerns.

You can find this information on the US Forest Service website for Mark Twain National Forest.

Some recreation areas within the forest may require a recreation pass.

Researching pass options and purchasing them ahead of time will save you time and hassle.

The Forest Service website also provides information on required passes and permits.

Don’t forget to acquire a map or brochure of the hiking trails in the area you plan to explore. P

hysical copies are often available at national office locations or trailheads.

Additionally, you can access digital versions on the US Forest Service website.

If you plan to use any recreation areas, such as picnic sites, campsites, or riding areas, be sure to check if there are any online sales or reservations available to secure your spot.

This is particularly important during peak travel seasons when facilities may be in high demand.

Lastly, familiarize yourself with the various recreation activities available in Mark Twain National Forest.

This forest boasts not only beautiful hikes but also opportunities for fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, and more.

Knowing your options ahead of time will help you make the most of your visit.

By following these guidelines, you’ll be well-prepared for a memorable hiking experience in Mark Twain National Forest. Enjoy the adventure!

Frequently Asked Questions

Middle Trailhead

How many miles of trails does Mark Twain National Forest have?

Mark Twain National Forest offers over 700 miles of trails for hikers of all ages and skill levels.

Whether you’re interested in day hikes or longer backpacking adventures, you’ll find plenty of options to explore.

What are the best trails for hiking in Mark Twain National Forest?

There are numerous trails for hiking in Mark Twain National Forest, and choosing the best ones depends on your personal preferences and abilities.

AllTrails currently lists 69 top-rated trails in the area, with detailed trail maps, reviews, and photos from fellow hikers to help you decide.

Which campgrounds are recommended for hikers?

Many campgrounds are available within Mark Twain National Forest, offering a range of amenities and proximity to popular hiking trails.

The best campground for you will depend on your preferred location, desired facilities, and level of accessibility to your chosen hiking trails.

Are there any overnight backpacking trails in the forest?

Yes, Mark Twain National Forest offers several overnight backpacking trails for those seeking a more extended adventure.

Just make sure to plan your trip accordingly and be prepared for camping in the backcountry.

What are the must-see sights and views while hiking?

The must-see sights and views in Mark Twain National Forest vary by trail, but you can expect to encounter dense forests, mountain summits, and breathtaking overlooks.

Some trails may also lead you to unique geological features, historical sites, or serene lake vistas.

Do I need any permits or passes for hiking and camping?

Though most day hikes in Mark Twain National Forest don’t require any permits or passes, you may need one for some specific campgrounds, or if you’re planning to stay overnight in one of the forest’s wilderness areas.

It’s always a good idea to double-check pass and permit requirements before heading out on your adventure.

How challenging are the hiking trails in Mark Twain National Forest?

The hiking trails in Mark Twain National Forest accommodate various skill levels, from short and relatively flat walks to more strenuous uphill climbs and cross-country treks.

It’s essential to choose a trail suitable for your abilities and make sure you’re adequately prepared for the challenge.

Is Mark Twain National Forest part of the Ozarks?

Yes, Mark Twain National Forest is located in the heart of the Ozarks in Missouri.

As such, the area offers many opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to explore and connect with nature in a vibrant and diverse landscape.

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