Explore Ozark County’s trails this winter season

Delilah Dreckman, 5, takes a turn on the balance beam “fit station” at the Lutie Memorial Trail, a quarter mile paved walking trail with 20 exercise stations built along the way.

The winter season might not be the most obvious time to check out the local trails in and around Ozark County, but conditions are great to get outside with warm afternoons paired with the lack of various summertime irritants (dreaded ticks and chiggers, poison ivy and the like). 

Ozark County boasts several different trails of varying lengths and difficulty among its over 700 square miles, so there’s something for everyone. We’re providing a short description of some of the available trail options in hopes of inspiring readers to get out and explore. 


Lutie Memorial Trail

1/4 to 1/2-mile, Theodosia

The Lutie Memorial Trail is a great option for either a quick stop or an afternoon of fun in the Theodosia area. The asphalt walkway runs for a little over a quarter mile (a gravel connecting loop brings it to just under a half mile). Along the way, there are 20  “Fit Trail” exercise stations, which feature mounted directions for various exercises and stretches. The trail also features a butterfly garden, park benches, picnic areas, a bike rack, a pavilion and various memorials honoring former Lutie students or Theodosia residents who have died. 

The trail is accessed from a road off Highway 160 in Theodosia between Dollar General and Boyd Garrison’s DX Station. A sign is located at the highway signaling where to turn.


Gainesville City Park Trail

1 mile wooded walk, Gainesville

The Gainesville City Park walking trail was established in 2021 thanks to the efforts of the Ozark County Wellness Committee and various grant funding opportunities, volunteer labor and private donors. The trail can be accessed from the looped road of the Hoerman Memorial Park, a Gainesville city-owned property off Highway 160 just west of the Gainesville Elementary School entrance.

The first part of the trail runs adjacent to one side of the track, before it curves down a hill and around a 1-mile loop. The trail is wide and easy to walk on, although there is a hill toward the end of the loop (when walking it clockwise) that adds some variety to the landscape. Most of the walk is wooded, first in a mature pine grove and later intermixed hardwood trees line the way. A small pond is located near the center of the 1-mile loop. The trail can be combined with the track or the looped city park road for additional mileage.

After exploring the trail, check out the park’s playground equipment, pickle ball and tennis courts, basketball courts and those who are familiar with geocaching should search a hidden cache out on the property. There are bathrooms available, but they may be closed during the colder months.

To get to the trail, park at the Hoerman Memorial Park and walk on the pathway behind the park bathrooms past the basketball court and into the woods near the track. 


Bryant Creek State Park trails

1.1 mile Pinewoods Trail or 4.5-mile Pike Hollow Trail

Bryant Creek State Park, located off N Highway just over the Ozark County line in the Rockbridge area, is a great place to explore. The Missouri State Park website describes the park as: “...home to impressively large oaks and shortleaf pines spanning rugged, steeply dissected river hills that front the stream for which it’s named. With over 2,900 acres, the park features many natural attributes, such as almost two miles of Bryant Creek frontage. Four tributary hollows go through uncut forest and sandstone outcrops, providing lots of character and scenic views. The park’s remote location, bountiful flora and fauna, and pristine creek make it a great place to experience the wonders of the Ozarks. Two hiking trails wind through the northern end of park, allowing users to see Missouri’s only species of native pine, and picnic tables provide visitors a place to relax and take in their surroundings.”

Visitors can opt for the easier 1.1-mile Pinewoods Trail and the more rugged 4.5- to 5-mile Pike Hollow Trail. 

The 1.1-mile Pinewoods Trail is blazed in yellow and offers a comfortable walk through a mature pine wooded area. Future plans include the trail being paved to allow it to be more accessible for those in wheelchairs. The state park’s website says that the park now offers an electronic off-road track chair that visitors with mobility issues can use on the Pinewoods Trail and the overlook. The track chair is available by calling the park at 573-546-3454 two days (48 hours) in advance. 

The 4.5-mile Pike Hollow Trail, which can be extended to over 5 miles by taking various spur off shoots, is blazed in red and takes hikers through a heavily forested area which showcases views of Bryant Creek, distinctive sandstone outcroppings, various ferns, mosses and lichens and a waterfall or two along the way. It’s recommended to bring a map, as there are some spur trail areas that are also blazed and can become confusing to hikers without a map. 

There are plans to continue to develop the state park land and build additional trails, including property that lies on the other side of N Highway in a more glade environment.

 For more information, visit mostateparks.com/park/bryant-creek-state-park. 


Spout Spring Trail at Caney Mountain CA

3-mile out-and-back trail, five miles north of Gainesville

The Spout Spring Nature Trail at Caney Mountain Conservation Area, a Missouri Department of Conservation managed property on Highway 181 north of Gainesville, is around 3 miles total (1.5-miles each way out-and-back).

The trail traverses the shady depths of Caney Creek valley along a particularly scenic path. The trail has a couple picnic tables along the way that make a great spot for lunch or a short rest in nature. The creek is viewable from the trail most of the way, and it’s worth a few extra minutes going off-trail to get a better look of the water. 

It’s always good idea to bring waterproof shoes or sandals in summer, as there are multiple creek crossings. The trail is wide and easy to follow. 

After hiking, guests can check out the rest of the property including the half-mile Long Bald Nature Trail that traverses glades. Another hiking trail, which is not named on the map but is blazed, can be found cutting up the hill just a short distance before motorists arrive at the Spout Spring trailhead.

In addition to the hiking trails, Caney Mountain offers gravel roads closed to public vehicle use but open to hiking, biking and horseback riding, ample opportunity to check out Caney Creek, various food plots and wildlife viewing areas, archery, black powder and multi-purpose gun ranges, scenic vistas with picnic tables, camp sites and more. Visit mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places/caney-mountain-conservation-area to find out more. It’s recommended to print or download the area map before exploring, as printed maps are not usually available at the headquarters.

To get to Caney Mountain Conservation Headquarters off Highway 181 from Gainesville, travel five miles north on Highway 181. Look for the area sign, then go left (west) 0.5 mile on the gravel entrance road to the area headquarters. 


Blue Spring at North Fork Rec. Area 

1-mile round trip, out-and back

This short half-mile walk takes hikers from the campground at the North Fork Recreation Area, a Mark Twain National Forest property east of Dora (known locally as Hammond access), to the turquoise, ice-cold waters of Blue Spring. The trail parallels the North Fork of the White River and, after the spring, continues on into the Devil’s Backbone Wilderness area. 

Averaging 7 million gallons of cold, clear water each day, Blue Spring creates a deep, oval-shaped pool about 30 feet in diameter that’s surrounded on three sides by a stone wall of cherty Gasconade dolomite. Horses and motorized vehicles are prohibited from this area of the National Forest.

In the winter months, the gate is closed at the entrance to the recreation area, but hikers can park at the gate and walk down into the area to the trailhead. Restrooms, camp sites, parking, picnic areas and water are available during warmer months.

From Gainesville, take Highway 181 to CC Highway (east) just south of Dora; turn right on CC and travel 3 miles  until you pass over the bridge, then look for the sign. 


Devil’s Backbone Wilderness

4-mile hike to river, 10 or 13 mile loop options

The Devil’s Backbone Wilderness includes 13 miles of moderately difficult trails within the area accessible from Blue Spring Trailhead (see above), including a 10-mile loop or a 13-mile loop option. 

Accessed from the North Fork Recreation Area, known locally as Hammond access, visitors can follow the half-mile trail to Blue Spring (horses are prohibited in this trailhead and near Blue Spring), then travel along a bluffline and down to the North Fork River around mile 2. This stop provides a nice spot for a picnic and a 4-mile hiking option to return back to the trailhead for those desiring a shorter trek. After the river, hikers can take a left onto a trail to make a 10-mile loop or continue straight for a 13-mile loop. 

The other three trailheads – Raccoon Hollow on the south side of CC Highway about 1.5 miles east of Dora; McGarr Ridge Trailhead on the south side of CC Highway about 4 miles east of Dora; and Collins Ridge Trailhead on County Road KK/362 about 16 miles west of West Plains – provide options for point-to-point hikes as well. 

The terrain is sometimes steep, ranging in elevation from 1,020 to 680 feet. The area is officially a designated wilderness, meaning there are no signs or trail blazes along the way, and hikers are responsible for navigating themselves; therefore, visitors should bring a map and compass and be comfortable route-finding if continuing on past the 4-mile out-and-back hike. For more information or a map, visit www.ozarktrail.com/northfork.

Directions: From Gainesville, take Highway 181 to CC Highway just south of Dora; turn right onto CC east and continue 3 miles.


Other trail options to check out 

This article isn’t an exhaustive list of all available trail options in and near Ozark County. Other notable options to check out include those in the Hercules Glade Wilderness Area, Pigeon Creek Trail System, Glade Top Trail, Ridge Runner Trail and Noblett Lake. 

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423