American Long Distance Hiking Association - West

The Ozark Trail

19 Jan 2017 10:03 AM | Kate Hoch (Administrator)

by Charles Baker

The Ozarks are a beautiful and rugged region, known for mountain vistas, folk culture and running streams. The vast and rugged slopes and tributaries of the Ozarks are home to many legends. The forests are mainly hardwood with stands of pine – Spring hiking delivers serviceberry, redbuds and dogwoods painting the landscape in pinks and whites. Fall hiking offers up color and much beauty. If you enjoy photographing wildflowers and wildlife, the variety of both will provide hours of entertainment. Of the animals which call this area home, there are about 320 species of birds, 75 species of mammals and 125 species of amphibians and reptiles. Some may think they need to go to the ends of the earth to see wondrous, exotic landscapes, but they are here in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks. It contains the Earth’s largest collection of giant springs, each with a daily flow of more than 65 million gallons of water. If you camp along the Current River, you may catch sight of wild horses descending from the forest for a morning drink. After dark, expect a coyote chorus and the “who cooks for you” hoot of barred owls.

Glade Coneflower

Rather than having section numbers or point-to-point names, the Ozark Trail utilizes section names. Multiple land managers originally formed the Ozark Trail Council, each having responsibility for a section of the trail. In some cases, they used existing trails, so the existing trail names became the section names. The popular Karkaghne section, with a difficulty rating of “moderate,” is a 29-mile-long, mainly side-slope trail, running just below the ridge-tops and named from a mythical creature in forest folklore – “The Ozark Howler.”

“Purported to live,” was enough motivation for my clan to hit the trails and search for this beast. Commonly described as being bear sized with a thick body, stocky legs, black shaggy hair, glowing eyes, and sometimes having horns. The description of its cry is said to be a combination of a wolf’s howl and an elk’s bugle. For parts of the OT, you are trekking through the Mark Twain National Forest, not far from our home. So off we went in search of Ozark Howler sign.

Day hiking with a purpose 

 Big dog recommended for “Howler” hunting

The OT has over 390 miles of trails plus numerous spurs. Link up with its cousin, the Ozark Highland Trail, in Arkansas, and you have a 700-mile trek. The OT has thirteen, mostly joined sections. The Ozark Trail Council makes the determination of the trail route. The Council consists of seven agencies – the National Forest Service, the Missouri State Parks Department, the Missouri Conservation Commission, plus several environmental groups and one (large) private land owner. In 2008, the OT received the designation of a National Recreation Trail.

The creation of the Ozark Trail Association happened in 2002. As the trail advocate, the OTA has service projects and events almost year-round. They are planning an event, May 6, 2017, “The Ozark Trail Challenge Hike,” which sounds like a blast. For more information, please visit their website: The site is very active and offers trail and planning support.

A "Howler” den – we think…

Space alien bones! A “Howler” den for sure.

Whether looking for a day, section, through hike, or maybe a 100-Mile point to point endurance run, the OT provides plenty of diversity and challenge. The trail crosses parts of these public lands:

* Eleven Point National Wild and Scenic River

* Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park

* Mark Twain National Forest

* Onondaga Cave State Park

* Ozark National Scenic Riverways

* Roger Prior Pioneer Backcountry

* Sam A. Baker State Park

* Taum Sauk Mountain State Park

Just look for the green and white trail signs.

And always remember, the OT may have its own brand of “trail magic.”

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ALDHA-West is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

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