While Eric was hiking on Memorial Day Weekend, I was spending some more relaxed time outdoors with my family. Although we have owned property near Ellington, MO for almost a year now, we have been so busy spending time on the property that this was one of our first forays into the surrounding community. We checked out three springs near Van Buren, MO: Big Spring, Blue Spring, and Falling Spring.
Aptly named, Big Spring is the biggest spring in Missouri, with a flow of 286 million gallons per day, and one of three contenders for the title of Biggest Spring in America. The state park is located just 4 miles south of downtown Van Buren, and has areas to camp and park RVs as well as have a picnic. The spring is just a short walk down a paved path from the parking lot, and the view will probably take your breath away. Big spring, like many springs in the area, is the result of Karst topography, resulting from the dissolution of soluble rock (in this case dolomite), and characterized by a complex system of underground caverns that have been hollowed out by water. The large amounts of magnesium dissolved in the water from the dolomite give Big Spring its distinct blue color.
One of the things I liked most about Big Spring is the trail that goes around the whole spring. I would recommend wearing shoes with good traction when you visit because parts of the stone path are wet and slick. The path takes you above the mouth of the spring and through what feels like a tropical oasis. The spray from the spring gush keeps the air moist enough for copious amounts of ferns and moss to thrive. When we visited, the bridge over the spring was under construction, but this does not affect your ability to reach the spring, and you can still walk most of the trail around it. Along the trail, I found some adorable blue Mycena mushrooms growing on a log!
Blue Spring, my personal favorite of the day, is the deepest spring in Missouri, at 310 feet deep. There are two ways to reach the spring. We drove down 106 from Ellington before turning on a gravel road, Country Road 535, which takes you right to the trailhead. From there, its about a 1.5-mile walk to the spring. The trail itself is not terribly noteworthy, it is a bit muddy at times and pretty flat. But the spring is so worth the short walk. It’s beautiful and incredibly blue (from the dissolved dolomite). There is a small dock that juts out over the water, and some stone steps that lead down to the spring. However, wading and swimming in the spring are prohibited in order to preserve the ecosystem and the beauty of the spring.
When we visited Blue Spring, it was Golden Hour, when the sun is just beginning to set, and the spring was gushing more water than normal due to the recent rain. These two factors combined made for a simply magical experience at the spring, and we stayed there staring at the water for about half an hour.
Located near Winona, MO, Falling Spring is a bit different than Big Spring or Blue Spring in that its power was harnessed by people for many years. There is a lot of historical significance to Falling Spring, in addition to natural significance. The Falling Spring area was homesteaded by Thomas and Jane Brown in 1851, who came from Tennessee. Their cabin still stands next to the short path between the parking lot and the spring itself. Falling Spring Mill, built in the 1920s and used to grind corn, saw wood, and generate electricity, still stands next to the spring, with its gears and wheel intact.
When driving to Falling Spring, you may feel as though you are headed out to the middle of nowhere, so don’t worry when the paved road turns into a gravel road, which narrows into an almost one-way road. We enjoyed our stop at Falling Spring for its historical significance, although the spring is not quite as impressive as Big Spring or Blue Spring. But let’s be honest, they are two of the most amazing springs in the state. There is a small cave off to the side of Falling Spring as well, which is worth checking out.
Check out more excursions here.