Ozark Mountain Country

As much as I would love to buy plane tickets and travel incessantly, it is just not realistic for my lifestyle. As much as I yearn for frequent new trips and destinations, I have a “home base” where my family, friends, and career (that pays for my wanderlust regime) reside.

One way to feed a nomadic soul with a home base is to seek out nearby destinations and road trip for the weekend. My love for getting lost in nature, hiking, and camping made the Missouri Ozark Mountain Country (2ish hour drive south from my home in Lake St. Louis) the perfect destination to get lost for the weekend. Another bonus is our dogs were welcome too! And it’s CHEAP.

Ozark Mountain Country spans over 5 states; Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Illinois. Southeast Missouri inhabits Sam A. Baker State Park, which was named after a former Missouri governor who motivated the creation of the park during his term in 1926. The Park is lovely. It’s surrounded by two cool and clear (for Missouri) rivers, St. Francis and Big Creek, with hiking trails that lead through the pine forests and include ancient mountain views, beautiful flowers, and fresh air.

You can camp at one of the campgrounds in the park for $13 a night, or if you like saving money, you can go to the Mudlick Trail and hike to one of the three historic stone shelters built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930s, and set up camp there. Mudlick Mountain Trail is the primary hiking trail in Sam A. Baker Park, wrapping around the park for 12 miles at 1,300 foot elevation. The stone shelters are available to stay in on a first come first serve basis from Oct – mid May. You might be thinking, “It’s getting too cold to camp in the fall/winter”, but these shelters have fireplaces to keep you toasty.

Lack of funds is another main reason wanderlusts are staying put, so finding opportunities such as this one, is the perfect way to cut back on expenses. And who wouldn’t want to sleep in a historic stone shelter built in the 1930s just before WWII?!

Headstand Eagle Pose

The shelter was filled with small paintings and signatures dating back to the early 70s

After settling in at our stone shelter, we visited with many hikers that passed by. Note to self: if you want any privacy, don’t stay in Shelter #1. It is only about a 35 minute hike to the first shelter which offers beautiful views of the bluffs above Big Creek, making it a popular pausing destination for hikers.

Later in the day, we decided to explore the surrounding area and hiked the Shut-Ins Trail, which led us to a swimming hole in the Big Creek River. To get there, we went straight north of our shelter, following the blue arrows on trees to mark the path, until we reached the creek. This would be the perfect place to waste the day in the summertime with a few cold ones. As for fall, the place is deserted, and we have this time to ourselves. The dogs spent awhile trekking through the cold waters and sniffing out the surrounding area, while I practiced some yoga in the serene environment.

By the time we arrived back to our shelter it was time for dinner. The dogs were fed and we heated up our Campbell’s soup cans in the fireplace. Classy, eh?

The evening was extremely relaxing as I read a book, Ryan soaked in the beautiful views and practiced some warrior poses, and the dogs napped.

The sun set around 6:45pm. We were prepared with a lantern and branches to keep our fire going. Many called us brave today, for sleeping alone on the trail, but we found it very tranquil to be away from the crowded campsites. At bed time, there were no issues getting the dogs in the tent with us. We have very snuggly dogs, and in this situation it proved to be no different.

Unfortunately we only had the time to spend one day and night at this picturesque park, but we made sure to leave our mark. And we are already making plans to return.

Sometimes the most beautiful places are right under your nose. If $$ is keeping you from roving, get creative. If time is keeping you at home, get in the car and drive.

“Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures”


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