Ozark Trail Current River Section: A Surprisingly Dry Excursion
What You Must Know
- You WILL need a good GPS to make it through this trail. There are many areas where the trail is unrecognizable and instances when there is a quarter-mile or more between blazes.
- This is a 35-mile trail, not a 30-mile trail.
- There may be no water after the southern portion of Peck Ranch until a stream very near Mint Spring, and you aren’t allowed to camp on Peck Ranch. So, you may go six or more miles before finding water.
Over Memorial Day Weekend, my cousins, John, Alex, and Phillip, and I decided we wanted to hike the Current River Section of the Ozark Trail: an ambitious, 30-mile excursion through true Ozark wilderness. This noteworthy section of the trail provides several opportunities for adventure and recreation along the way. Although the maps on the Ozark Trail Association website and other sources say this is a 30-mile trail, the mileage is understated. If you decide to hike this section, you can reasonably expect to walk 35 miles or more even if you skip out on side adventures, such as the half-mile spur trail to Rocky Falls. In other words, this should be a three-night excursion, not a two-night excursion, unless you are an advanced backpacker.
We parked my car at the Highway 60 Trailhead at the bottom of the trail before driving north to the Powder Mill Trailhead along Highway 106, where we started our hike. There is less elevation gain hiking this section north to south. We weren’t able to begin our trek until around 1:00 PM on Saturday, but we still managed to log roughly 8 miles before nightfall, with time for a swim. The beginning of the trail is just across the Current River near the 106 bridge. The first couple miles of the trail are tough to follow and covered in plenty of stinging nettles. We nearly stepped on a turkey hen and her chick, who were nested along the trail, which was a fun surprise.
Lots of Water
The next several miles between the MDC Lot Trailhead across from Blue Spring and Buzzard Mountain Shut-Ins were lush and packed with exotic creatures and wood ear mushrooms. I also came across some oyster mushrooms, chicken mushrooms, and a luna moth. There was a beautiful campsite overlooking the Current River, as well as a unique staircase waterfall feeding into Indian Creek on the north side of Barnett Mountain. Although Klepzig Mill and Rocky Falls are both impressive, we settled for a campsite near the more private and equally beautiful Buzzard Mountain Shut-Ins. For those who seek a quiet beautiful swimming hole, this is my favorite I’ve come across in Missouri. This area is worth the hike. I even revisited it with my dad and sister the next weekend. Later that night, my head popped off my pillow when I realized I’d left my car key in Phillip’s car at the top of the trail.
A Morning Swim
After enjoying our secluded campsite with almost no ticks or mosquitoes (unlike the rest of the trail), we packed up camp, walked a couple of miles, and took the spur trail to Rocky Falls. The water in Rocky Creek is so refreshing! We may or may not have made some tourists feel slightly uncomfortable. I mean, if I saw four mountain men emerge from the forest in their underwear I’d get a little uncomfortable. I’m sure they understood we were just some friendly Ozark Trail-goers.
Hot and Sweaty
By the time we had gotten our fix of the cold water at Rocky Falls, the heat of the day was building, and we still had some serious ground to cover. We continued south after topping off our water (when hiking a trail this long, water filtration is key) and having a snack. A few miles later, we enjoyed lunch atop Stegall Mountain. The view is phenomenal and there was little shade, but we managed to squeeze together under a pine tree to eat while staring off into the distance. The trail continues over Stegall Mountain before descending into an impressive stand of pines that serve as the entrance to Peck Ranch. We resupplied our water at a stream that paralleled the trail before Roger’s Creek, preparing for the long slough through the elk ranch.
From Roger’s Creek to the State Service Rd near Pritchard Hollow, the terrain is very rough and tick-ridden. The trail is almost non-existent at times. Before reaching the service road, John identified some seemingly animate sensitive briar. After appreciating this fascinating plant, we decided we wouldn’t be missing out on much if we took an easier route on a gravel road restricted to traffic, rather than the trail, for a few miles. It was 86 and HUMID at this point, and we weren’t very near the end of our 20-mile day. The detour led us to a beautiful pasture where we saw one lonely elk.
Where’s the Water?
Unfortunately, our detour bypassed a pond that proved to be a crucial water resupply point. As we exited Peck Ranch and whittled away at the last several miles of our day, our water supplies dwindled and some of us had to generously share some of our water with those who had none. Our feet were tender, and we were all exhausted, but there was something wonderful about this very real, serious, human situation. After crossing many dry creek beds, we finally reached a flowing stream about a half-mile before Mint Spring. Although the water was a relief, that last stretch of trail was challenging.
When we arrived at Mint Spring, some of us began to unpack and set up camp, while others simply collapsed from heat exhaustion. Later that evening, those who had been most dehydrated even struggled to keep food down. But that night had something in store for us as well. A slightly terrifying thunderstorm rolled through, and I coped with the anxiety of the situation by singing in my hammock under the tarp. John chimed in, and with my anxiety calmed, I fell asleep before the storm passed.
The Home Stretch
The last six miles of the trail were beautiful, and I found some perfectly ripe chicken mushrooms! Near the end, we came across some stones laid down in the shape of the number 30. I was tempted to change it to 35 but respected the work of the artist. We walked through the Highway 60 tunnel and euphorically reached my locked car in the parking area. Mollie and her mom luckily came to our rescue and drove us back to the north parking lot to get my car key.
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It was quite the trip! Great job with the article, Eric.