A Tour Through Missouri Wilderness

Missouri is probably not what comes to mind when you are thinking about taking a hike through the wilderness for an adventure. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is what used to come to my mind when I would think about Missouri but after spending time in southern Missouri for several months I can say, there is so much more to Missouri than the arch. Southern Missouri is full of small towns and big trucks, but it is also filled with more natural beauty than you can imagine. There are gorgeous springs, picturesque rivers, and fun trails around every corner.

The Mark Twain National Forest lies in the heart of the Ozarks and contains 7 wilderness areas. Hiking through each of these wilderness areas has similarities and yet, each one has its own special character.

Paddy Creek Wilderness is aptly named as it is known for its creeks, Big Paddy and Little Paddy. This Wilderness compels you to fully enjoy the creeks by requiring you to hike right through them. On a hot summer day, this is the best and most refreshing thing the trail could offer. It is also the only wilderness in the Mark Twain National Forest that has an array of mushrooms to admire while you follow the trail.

Bell Mountain Wilderness is part of the St. Francois Mountains, one of the oldest landforms in North America. As one of the tallest peaks in Missouri, Bell Mountain provides a beautiful view of the forest and granite glades below.

Hercules Glades Wilderness is known for its wildflower-filled area of glades. However, a beautiful waterfall, “The Falls”, is the most common attraction in this wilderness. The Falls does not have water flowing over its edge all year round, but it is always a lovely spot to enjoy lunch or set up a tent to stay overnight.

Devil’s Backbone Wilderness was named for the long narrow ridge supporting the center of the wilderness. Trails follow the backbone as well as four other ridges, which drop off into surrounding hollows. The trail that follows the Devil’s Backbone is a commonly used equestrian trial and it eventually drops down to meet the Nork Fork River. The river is fed by three springs and it is a stunning and peaceful place to enjoy the scenery without much noise or distractions, except the occasional kayaker that floats by.  

Rockpile Mountain Wilderness is the smallest of the wilderness areas in Mark Twain National Forest but if you are looking for peace and solitude, it is the best place. You are unlikely to run into another person while hiking the 2 miles of maintained trail in this Wilderness.

Irish Wilderness has a variety of landscapes you will traverse as you hike along including forest, grasslands, and dried creek beds. This wilderness also has a unique point of entry, the western boundary is the Eleven Point National Scenic River. Most visitors pass through on kayaks, putting in upriver and making their way down to the Irish, exploring for a bit before continuing along downriver.

Finally, Piney Creek Wilderness is situated just off of Table Rock Lake. It is just a short drive from the loud music and shows found in Branson, MO so it’s an excellent spot to take in the beautiful scenery and enjoy the quiet sounds of nature around you.

The forest itself does not change dramatically from wilderness to wilderness but each area presents something special and different. There is something here for everyone. Now when I think about Missouri, I don’t think about the Arch. I think about the beautiful Mark Twain National Forest and all the amazing adventure it has to offer.


Hannah Espinosa is a Wilderness Fellow in USFS Region 9 working on 7 Wilderness Areas in the Mark Twain National Forest.

Hannah grew up in Kentucky at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, which led to her appreciation of the beautiful natural world around her.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology and her Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry from the University of Kentucky. She recently graduated with her Masters of Science in Biodiversity, Evolution, and Conservation in Action from Middlesex University in London, England.  Her undergraduate and graduate studies led her to study in diverse ecosystems all over the world including Australia, Mauritius, England, and Jersey. These experiences and those growing up surrounded by nature have led to her love of the environment and the beauty it has to offer. While traveling abroad she saw the bad effects as well as the positive impacts humans can have.  It showed her the possibilities and changes she could make to better the environment around her.  This has led to her desire to work in the field of conservation; to work with people and the environment and hopefully make a change for the better. Hannah believes that a healthy and successful environment can not only enhance the natural world but also the quality of life for all those living in it.  She plans to work in the field of conservation to help create a more natural and sustainable future. In her free time you will most likely find Hannah running to the airport for another adventure, in the kitchen cooking for her family, or enjoying the outdoors. 

Scroll to Top

The Society for Wilderness Stewardship is a non-profit, charitable organization under the 501 (c)(3) section of the Internal Revenue Code.