view of the sunset from the top of Bell Mountain

Bell Mountain Loop Trail: Missouri’s Best Sunrise

For Eric’s birthday, we decided to check out the 11.6-mile Bell Mountain Loop Trail, which had been on our list to check out for a while. Eric was off work on Friday (state holidays are great) but was moving slowly that morning; so, after the three-hour drive and an extremely curvy road, we pulled into the parking lot around 2 pm. The parking lot is a bit easy to miss since it’s on the other side of the road from the Bell Mountain Wilderness sign.

Where’s the Trail?

We encountered our first snafu before we even hit the trail. After signing the registry, we crossed the road over to where we thought the trailhead would be, next to the Bell Mountain Wilderness sign. However, we quickly realized we were not in the right place. If you plan to hike the Bell Mountain Loop Trail, its important to note that the trailhead is across the street and down the road just a short way from the parking lot. The trailhead is not where the sign is. We were lucky to get some assistance from two guys in the parking lot who had been there before, and after our short detour we started up the trail.

the start of bell mountain loop trail
This is (misleadingly) not the Trailhead.

A River Runs Through It

The first two miles are actually part of the Ozark Trail and are, in my opinion, the second-most challenging part of the hike. They are entirely uphill and rather rocky. However, the woods are beautiful and you should be fully energized at the beginning of your hike, aiding your ascent. There had been a lot of rain the night before we hiked this trail, and all the excess water turned the rocky trail into a quaint, although unusual, stream. It was quite pretty. Unfortunately, the excess of rain also made much of the trail muddy as well.

Right or Left at the Fork?

There are two forks in the Bell Mountain Loop Trail. The first, at about 2 miles, is where the Bell Mountain Loop Trail officially starts and branches off from the Ozark Trail. This fork is well marked with a sign pointing left for the Bell Mountain Loop. The second fork, at about 3 miles, is where you can either go right to the mountain summit, or left down into the valley. For those looking for a day hike, the Bell Mountain Loop can be shortened to 8 miles if you go right at the second fork, hike to the summit, and then turn around and hike back out the same way. However, if you are looking to backpack and spend the night at the summit, we recommend going left at the fork. This makes for a longer hike the first day, with only about 4 miles to hike back out the next morning.

Down in the Valley

We went left at the second fork, which takes you almost all the way back down to the elevation at which you started the trail into a quiet valley. There is a decent-sized stream down here where backpackers should be able to get water even if it hasn’t rained recently. We took a break by the stream to sit and eat some cuties while enjoying the sound of the water.

the view from the top of bell mountain loop trail
The view from the top of Bell Mountain.

The Hardest Part

After a nice flat stroll through the valley, you encounter the hardest portion of the trail: another 2-mile ascent where you gain back all the elevation you lost going down into the valley and then some. Although not as rocky and windy as the first big ascent, a couple portions of this part are pretty steep. But once you reach the top, you have a great view and a good night’s rest awaiting you.

Picking a Campsite

The main camping area is right at the summit of Bell Mountain and has room for several tents on the cliff shelf looking out over the Ozark valley. There’s no sign pointing to the camping area, but the path is pretty well-traveled. There are plenty of other camping spots, however, if the main area is full or if you prefer a more private location. We hiked off of the trail towards the cliff face and found several spots with great views and rings for a campfire. These more tucked-away locations are also great if you visit Bell Mountain on a cold night and want to avoid the strong winds at the main campground.

bell mountain loop trail
Settling in for the evening at our campsite.

Nothing Beats a Warm Fire

The night we stayed on Bell Mountain, it almost dropped below freezing. So a campfire was essential if Eric didn’t want me sitting in my sleeping bag in the tent all evening to keep warm. Finding firewood on Bell Mountain isn’t as easy as we were used to since it is such a popular trail, but there is still plenty to go around as long as you are willing to wander a little farther away from the campsite. Although Bell Mountain faces east, we were still able to enjoy the glow from the sunset before we settled in for a chilly night.

Missouri’s Best Sunrise

Knowing we were set up for an amazing sunrise view, Eric set his alarm for 5:50 am to watch the sun come up. Although I am not a morning person, it was well worth it. I won’t even try to describe it; you’ll just have to see it for yourself.

bell mountain loop trail
What a sunrise!

Pack Up and Head Out

After watching the sunrise, we made our oatmeal and packed up all our gear before departing for the four-mile hike out. Overall, the trek out is pretty easy since it is largely downhill. We passed lots of day-hikers and even some turkey hunters on our way out, reaching the parking lot around 10 am.

The Bell Mountain Loop Trail is a great spot for day-hiking and backpacking alike. The wilderness area is beautiful, although there is clearly some wild boar activity, and the view at the top of the mountain will be well worth the climb!

Find more great trails here.


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