Why Visit the Ozarks?


I’m proud to share posts written this month for Menasha Ridge Press. Below are links to each of these fall-focused posts. Come enjoy the beauty of fall in the Ozarks. I’d be honored to guide you on the trails with my new book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.

Part I: Top Reasons to Visit the Ozarks This Fall

Part II: Why Visit the Ozark Mountains? All the Fall Colors! 

Part III: Why Visit the Ozarks? The Rich History of the People of the Ozark Mountains 


When in Doubt

Thank you to the award winning author, Marla Cantrell, for sharing my story in the October issue of Do South Magazine.

“When in doubt, take a step.” – Jim Warnock’s mom

Jim Warnock has worn down the soles of hiking shoes until they are as smooth as a pair of loafers. The erosion takes place over months, as he walks across hills, through valleys, beside waterfalls that catch the sun’s rays, throwing diamonds of light across an already breathtaking landscape.

When he thinks about what it means to hike… Continue reading


Lake Alma Trail With Hiker-dog


Yesterday afternoon was warm, and I felt lazy. Hiker-dog, my personal trainer, forcefully said, “Let’s go!,” and so we went. Following her lead is usually wise where trails are concerned.

As we descended toward Lake Alma shaded by the bluffs, temperatures dropped, and a slight breeze danced across our path. I felt renewed and looked forward to the climb on the other side of Little Clear Creek.

The photo above was just prior to our arrival beside “Little Snake Bluff.” When Hiker-dog first joined our family, this was the spot where I remember thinking, “She really is a good dog.”

This is one of the few places I’ve named. When the Lake Alma Trail was new, I passed this short bluff with several shelves that almost grazed my ear. Curled on one shelf was a large snakeskin. This caught my attention. I like seeing snakes in the woods but don’t expect to view them, or their leftover skin, right next to my ear. When writing the trail description, “Little Snake Bluff” seemed like the right name.

hiker-1016-2rr After dropping back down to lake level, I led my buddy to the water’s edge so she could take a cooling dip. Hiker lowered herself ceremoniously into the water and drank from the surface before rising and looking toward the west. She helps me recognize gifts from the trail I might otherwise miss. I stood and looked to the west for a moment, thankful for this renewing walk.

Why the Ozarks?


Yellow Rock Bluff, Arkansas

While selecting photos for a presentation to the Trailblazers of Fort Smith, I realized the Ozarks could hold their own following the High Sierras of California. The day of the program, photos transitioned smoothly from the John Muir Trail to the Ozarks and the audience appreciated the beauty and uniqueness of both regions without any “let down” as we moved into the Ozarks.

Why the Ozarks?

How about an extended hiking season and a variety of beauty? When mountainous regions around the United States are becoming impassable due to snow, the Ozark Mountains are beginning their long hiking season with a fall transformation to red and golden foliage.


Alley Spring, Missouri

Lake Alma Sunset

A fall sunset over Lake Alma in Arkansas

Fall leaves on rock

Fall color on sandstone

As winter approaches and leaves drop, majestic vistas and towering rock formations are revealed.


Pedestal Rocks Scenic Area, Arkansas


wild iris

Seasonal rains bring beautiful waterfalls year round but especially in the spring when wildflowers sparkle throughout the region, especially in open glades and along steep hillsides.



Long Creek Falls, Missouri


Shepherd Spring Waterfall at Lake Fort Smith State Park, Arkansas

Natural springs flow year-round, often showing some of their most lovely character during the “off season” of winter. You’ll also find smaller crowds in the Ozarks during the winter months.


Cascade below Maramec Spring, Missouri

I’m often asked my favorite trail. My answer is, “The last trail I hiked.” While I do enjoy the larger than life bucket-list trails offered by California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Montana, I always look forward to returning to the Ozarks. They hold their own in comparison with landscapes anywhere in the United States. If you’re looking for scenic beauty, an extended hiking season and smaller crowds, explore the Ozarks!


Clifty Creek Natural Arch, Missouri


Kessler Mountain Rock City, Arkansas


Big Spring, Missouri


Young hiker taking in the views near Whitaker Point, Arkansas


Early morning coffee in the Ozarks

5-Star Ozarks cover

If you want to explore some of the trails pictured in this post, check out Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.

A few k-9 thoughts on Five Star Trails: The Ozarks


“I’m ready to hit the trail!”

“You wanna pick it up there, Tater?” That’s what I’m thinking when I turn to see my guardian (trail name Tater) stopping and talking into his little box. If the tripod comes out with that other little box on it, then I’m really in trouble because we’re probably not going anywhere for a while!”               ~ Hiker-dog

That’s Hiker-dog’s take on our experience of writing Five Star Trails: The Ozarks. Standing silently behind my tripod, I sometimes wondered what she was thinking, head tilted in curiosity.

She may have been frustrated by my slow and careful progress down the trails, but she loved exploring some of my favorites. Most were new to her since our friendship was relatively recent when we began this work.


Hiker-dog’s first overnighter with me in the Ozarks after regaining her health.

She adopted me at mile 138 of the Ozark Highlands Trail, and our friendship has grown around a shared love for hiking trails. The many hours spent together collecting data for the writing of this book deepened our friendship. We shared some great outdoor adventures and beautiful views along the way.

5-Star Ozarks cover

When the book cover photo was selected, I was thrilled. “Cover girl” is an appropriate way to celebrate this tenacious Lab’s journey from starvation and abandonment to health and a special place in our family.

It’s probably a good thing Hiker-dog can’t read, or she’d expect a salary beyond food, shelter, and veterinary care. She’s loved by the many Ozark hikers who’ve met her on the trail. Google “Hiker-dog” and she’ll pop right up. She even has her own signed bookmark to share with fellow hikers.


Shhhh…Don’t tell her that some trails don’t allow dogs. She hiked all but six that didn’t allow pets.

Working with the team of professionals at Menasha Ridge Press has been a joy at every step. We’ve worked hard on this book, but it has been creative and rewarding work! I’m proud of Five Star Trails: The Ozarks and know this is going to be a tool for those seeking the best trails in the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri for years to come!

A few trail scouting photos from our work on Five Star Trails: The Ozarks


Morning sun peeking through the natural bridge in the Marinoni Scenic Area, Arkansas Ozarks


A rainy hike on Long Creek in the Hercules Wilderness Area, Missouri Ozarks

Elephant Rocks 5_Hiker-dog at trailhead.jpg

Leashed and ready to see some Elephant Rocks in Missouri!


Taking a break on a bluff overlooking the Ozarks

Hiker on Hawksbille Cragr

A leashed Hiker-dog and Jim Warnock on Hawksbill Crag (photo by Eric Scowden)

To read more about Hiker-dog:

Hiker’s First Year 

What Makes Hiker a Good Trail Partner 

Five Star Trails: The Ozarks – available October 15, 2016

5-Star Ozarks coverFive-Star Trails: The Ozarks, has been a joy! After the final submission, I told editor Tim Jackson and managing editor Holly Cross that every part of this work has been a pleasure. I look forward to sharing some special trails with readers for years to come!

If you see us on the trail, I’ll have Hiker-dog’s paw print on a bookmark for your copy of The Ozarks.

Pre-order at Amazon.com or Barnes & Nobel

5-Star Ozarks cover2


Bookmark from Hiker-dog

A Few Steps in Paradise: The John Muir Trail



We began our twenty-one days on the trail from Tuolumne Meadows with a stroll through Lyell Canyon. We were excited to finally take steps on the trail after months of planning. At our first campsite, Mark Fincher, with 25 years experience as a park ranger, gave us some good advice about bears. Anything hanging from a tree signals food to a bear. Even tying your pack up could cause a bear to tamper with something they’d ignore if it were sitting on the ground and lacking a scent. From then on all packs sat unzipped next to tents and we stored scented items and food inside bear canisters. We never had a bear problem.


Approaching Donohue Pass

A first low:

My second day was most difficult. It was warm. I felt weak and allowed myself to become a little dehydrated. I forced dinner down and slept. This was going to be more difficult than I’d expected!

Bouncing back:

Felt much better for day 3 and fell into a rhythm that sustained. We breezed into Reds Meadow and had a wonderful lunch. During the afternoon, I felt guilty watching a hailstorm and rain through the grill’s window while enjoying blueberry pie and four scoops of ice cream. For the remaining twenty days on the trail, I thought of that blueberry pie every time I looked up at sunny blue skies.

JMT Red's Meadow hail

Hailstorm and rain at Reds Meadow

JMT Red's Meadow grill

A meal at Reds Meadow

Plumber Joe or Plunger?:

While in the restroom, a neighboring toilet became stopped up. The hiker calmly walked out and returned to the stall with a plunger and quickly cleared the problem. His buddy said, “Your trail name should be Plummer Joe.” I could tell he didn’t care for the name and suggested Plunger as a possible name. He liked Plunger because it was open to many interpretations. They were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I wonder if the name stuck?

Falling into the rhythm of the trail:

Part of the rhythm of the JMT is thinking in terms of seven miles of up or down rather than lots of shorter ups and downs as we often see in the Ozarks. Bookmarking the patterns of the trail were high passes and stair-stepped glacier-formed lakes. Each pass was an adventure and held unknown challenges of snow, water, boulders, and climbs. Each series of lakes continued to surprise as we ascended only to learn that the map was correct, and another lake was draining into the one we just passed. Each glacial lake was a visual ornament that sparkled and reflected its surrounding beauty.







Muir Hut at Muir Pass

IMG_3667rrWay, way down to the Muir Trail Ranch:

We descended a series of switchbacks, and the isolation of Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) became a reality to me. I expected to see a large sign at the junction marking the spur to the ranch, but this modest sign marked the way.



We had reservations for two cabins. Thus began a true zero-day that was a delight. The outdoor shower was wonderful, and it was a pleasure to wash and hang clothes to dry. The dining hall served baked salmon and salad, an amazing feast considering our remote location.

A change of plans:

After our zero-day, one of our partners spent the night throwing up and felt very ill the following morning. We suggested camping an additional night for recovery time, but Nick wisely decided to leave the trail. He also took his two sons, so our group of five was now two. His departure from the trail was not easy. It involved a 9:00 a.m. horseback ride lasting over two hours, then taking a ferry across Florence Lake and a shuttle on a narrow hazardous road before finally arriving in Fresno, California at 6:00 p.m.


Nick and his sons prepare to depart Muir Trail Ranch

For a couple of days, there seemed to be a sense of gloom over the trail because our three friends were not with us. The beauty of the wilderness was still stunning, and acceptance took hold as we continued our trek, knowing they’d made the right decision for health and safety.

We camped close to McClure Meadows and walked through Evolution Valley before finally arriving a Wanda Lake and camping at 11,434 feet. I took a quick dip in the lake to wash off the trail grunge. I felt revived by the cold water but was unaware of the beauty that Wanda Lake had planned for us the next morning in 32-degree temperatures. Bob was the first to notice the glassy mirror in the early morning stillness.


Morning light hitting the mountains surrounding Wanda Lake



Equipment failure:

Though minor, my Sawyer squeeze bag sprang a leak. Bob’s water filter was functioning, so pure water wasn’t a problem, but I didn’t like depending on someone else for water. I carefully dried my bag and repaired it with seam seal and Tenacious Tape. The bag worked the following day but soon failed again. More repairs followed, but it was obvious that they did not work.

An unlikely trail angel:


Sawyer squeeze bladder next to a Vapur water bladder.

The next two days we shared Bob’s filter while crossing Mather Pass and Pinchot Pass. We then had a seven-mile trudge upward, camping at Woods Creek next to a masterfully-built suspended bridge.

While taking down my tent the next morning, a neighboring hiker learned that my Sawyer bladder had failed. A few minutes later, he walked up and held out a 16 oz. bladder that was in new condition. I thanked him and immediately began to enjoy water independence as I proceeded down the trail. I learned his name was Joe.  Each time I filtered water, I wondered if he had any idea how much his gift was appreciated. Bob reminded me to pass the good deed forward when the opportunity presented itself.

Our next resupply was Onion Valley near the mall town of Independence. Topping out at Kearsarge Pass and seeing automobiles in the distance felt surreal. The sun’s reflection on the windshields in the distance seemed out of place. We enjoyed visiting with a couple who worked in California’s wine industry. We later met another couple camping in a van that was several years old but appeared to be in new condition.

News from the outside world: 

I noticed the campground host’s US Flag was a half-mast and asked a camper why. She looked surprised and said, “You must have been on the trail for several days.”  Police officers in Dallas had been killed by a sniper. This news jarred me because I’d been immersed in a world that contained such beauty but was now reminded that it could also hold meanness and disregard for the lives of innocent law enforcement officers doing their duty.

JMT Independence 1

Breakfast at the Food Coop

The trail provides us with a new friend:

The next morning while waiting for Bob’s wife to shuttle us to Independence, a hiker sat down at the end of the parking lot. We learned he was injured and needed a lift, so Bob asked him to join us. We spent three hours visiting over breakfast at the Food Coop in Independence. Keith, our new friend, was able to get a room at the Mount Williamson Motel where we had reservations. We enjoyed getting to know he and his wife who arrived later that evening.

I thought about the kindness of Joe in replacing my damaged water filter bladder and Bob’s offer of a ride to Keith, thus beginning a friendship. Goodwill seems to float around and expand on the John Muir Trail. In every case, we receive much more than we give when sharing that goodwill.


Below are a few scenes from the small town of Independence. When Chris Chater (trail name Strider) purchased the Mt. Williamson Motel three years ago, those who knew her thought she’d lost of mind. She’d say it was one of the best decisions of her life. Her trail name is a result of her fast hiking pace and her 21 consecutive years of hiking the John Muir Trail.

Back to the trail for the final push:

We hiked back across Kearsarge Pass and by early afternoon I was exhausted. Bob could tell by the way I ducked into my tent that I wasn’t feeling well. While filtering water that evening, he spotted a bear clawing at a dead tree for grubs. The bear continued through the woods oblivious to campers in the area. I missed the bear but was pleased that he’d seen it.

After a good night’s sleep, I felt much stronger. My little episode of weakness made me appreciate all of the other days that I felt strong.

John Muir was one tough dude and his trail was, too: 

My little time of weakness on the trail was embarrassing when I thought of John Muir exploring this area before there were trails. He was known to grab a loaf of dry bread and take off to explore for a week or so. Muir wrote more than 300 articles and several books about his favorite natural areas. He was co-founder of the Sierra Club and served as president of the organization until his death.

IMG_4300rrConstruction on this trail that carries Muir’s name began in 1915, the year after his death. The trail was completed in 1938. It is a marvel to walk, especially if you’ve ever done any trail maintenance and realize the difficulty of this work. In some places the trail is blasted from solid rock and in other places, the path is easy and clear. The construction of stairs impressed me. They could be a challenge when the itinerary called for a multi-mile downhill walk.


Tools left by workers next to the trail near Forester Pass

Approaching the summit of Mt. Whitney: 

IMG_4676rrAfter crossing Forester Pass, we camped at 12,200 feet. The next day was a shorter mileage day, and we rested to gain energy for the approaching Mount Whitney. We camped at Guitar Lake above tree line in the shadow of Mount Whitney. During the night we could see the headlamps of hikers approaching the mountain from the other side.


A small lake below Mt. Whitney glistened in the morning sunlight.

The hike up Mount Whitney went well, and it felt good to drop the pack at the junction and take the spur to the summit. I was relieved to see the roof of that little Survey Hut and trail register. We were now standing at 14,494 feet.


Sitting on the edge of the summit of Mt. Whitney – My version of a selfie.

While returning from the summit, a couple of young ladies asked, “Are you Jim?” They then said they’d shared a campsite with Dana, Bob’s wife. They raved about how much they liked Dana and how helpful she was. For a second I wondered how they’d recognized Bob and then thought of his one-of-a-kind beard.

We camped at the Outpost Camp where the approaching departure from the trail began to feel real. We agreed to take our time the next morning before breaking camp. I was looking forward to some early morning camera time.


A 5:30 a.m. photo using my headlamp to illuminate the foreground.


Waterfall near the Outpost Camp


Cascades below the waterfall

Endings and the walk to Whitney Portal:

As we hiked the final four miles to complete the JMT, Bob said, “If you see a tear in my eye, it’s just dust from the trail.” We felt a sense of sadness to be leaving the John Muir Trail but knew that our 210-miles of steps in paradise were drawing to an end.


Bob and Dana offered rides to the two young ladies Dana had shared a campsite with earlier in the week as well as a young man from Romania living in Dallas who had completed a large section of the John Muir Trail. He began his hike carrying a small cast iron pan because he enjoyed cooking. The pan was dropped off at a resupply, and he joked that there wasn’t time to be a creative chef on the John Muir Trail.


Energy and enthusiasm filled the van as we made the drive toward Bishop. As the senior member of the group, I felt thankfulness that I was able to complete the journey without injury or illness.



After dropping the young people at a local hostel, we drove to the home of the California host family who had stored my Jeep during our hike and would prepare an evening meal for us before we began our drives back to Arkansas. The Wilders’ hospitality was overwhelming and provided important support for the ending of this wonderful adventure. Their kindness was another example of the trail providing just what was needed when it was needed. Our little walk through paradise was over, but the memories would last a lifetime.

More photos from the trail: Slideshow #1

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If you want to see more photos of the trail: Slideshow #2

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