Sauntering in the Ozarks


Hiker-dog sauntering across a creek.

Hiking – I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! ~ John Muir 

Today was about checking my 4-mile adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail.  I’d recently read the above John Muir quote and planned to try a little sauntering. IMG_3109rrA drizzling rain wouldn’t interfere with maintenance plans since I was only doing light hand sawing and clearing. Almost every creek had pockets of water and about the time I was thinking this would be a great weekend for camping, I came upon a hammock. John, a thru-hiker I’d meet on my hike out in a few hours, was sleeping in during the light rain. I was proud that Hiker-dog ignored the hammock and continued across Jack Creek on the trail.

IMG_3126rrI purposefully stopped every few minutes to look and enjoy these woods I’ve passed through many times. This was my nod to Mr. Muir in my effort to “saunter.” Slowing down and pausing occasionally allowed me to notice things I’d typically miss like small fungi on a decaying log.

Two small mushrooms next to the trail glistened with moisture.


IMG_3100rrAfter scouting the trail and beginning my return trip, I came across muscadines hanging right over the trail I hadn’t noticed my first time through. I picked a few and enjoyed their sweet centers and tart chewy skins as I walked along remembering muscadine jelly on toast. The rain had stopped and I was now sauntering along with a hand full of muscadines and blueberry cookies. A wonderful feast!

Spider webs covering greenery held water droplets that sparkled like diamonds next to the trail.


Hiker-dog was elated to be on the trail for six hours. She enjoyed exploring rocky crags above the trail and staying wet from running through underbrush.


Something fascinating in every pile of rocks. 

…these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them. ~ John Muir

I enjoyed my day of sauntering and a little trail maintenance, too.  I can relate to Muir’s comment about walking through the mountains with an attitude of reverence. I ended this day with a mind full of thankfulness.  Thankful for the gifts of sight, sound, smell, and especially taste. Time for some muscadine jelly! 

Windows on the John Muir Trail

WordPress Photo Challenge: Windows


My window on Wanda Lake while hiking the John Muir Trail in the High Sierras of California.

JMT Red's Meadow hail

This was my view through the window of the cafe at Reds Meadow resupply on the John Muir Trail. While having blueberry pie and ice cream, rain then hale fell for several minutes. This was the only precipitation I experienced on the John Muir Trail. I thought of blueberry pie and ice cream every time I looked up at the blue skies and puffy clouds while hiking the remainder of the 210-mile trek.

No Nonsense Guide to Day Hiking – Do I Go or Do I Stay?


Darian, Delaney, and Trey enjoying a fall day on an Ozarks trail.

What do I wear? What do I take with me? Where and when should I go? Will a bear get me?

Many questions come to mind when you consider going on a hike, especially if it’s your first. Thinking about a few good questions can ensure that you want to continue hiking after your early experiences in the woods.

This is not a comprehensive day hiking guide, but my thoughts come from personal experience and a few mistakes along the way. If you want more information about hiking and trails, pick up a hiking guide for your area.

What do I wear?

You can wear almost anything and get away with it on the trail. Let function, not fashion, be your guide.  We’ll look at this from the ground up since happy feet are essential for success.

  1. Wool blend socks are among a hiker’s most important pieces of clothing. Use wool blend socks and avoid cotton unless you like blisters and soggy, smelly feet. Any tennis shoes of reasonable strength are fine for day hiking.
  2. Clothing – If the weather is nice, any clothes will do. If there’s a chance it might be cold and/or wet, avoid cotton. Cotton gets wet (making you colder) and then will not dry out in the humid Ozarks. For added insurance against the elements, put warm gloves and a hat in a rain jacket pocket and stuff it in the bottom of your daypack.

What do I take with me?

As little as possible is my short answer, but there are ten essentials you’ll want to have with you on every outing.

  1. Water and access to water – Put your water in a bottle or a bladder in your pack. Rather than purchase a bottle, you can recycle any plastic water bottle. I carry a small Sawyer water filter in my daypack in case I run low. It doesn’t add much weight and has made me a few friends on the trail when others needed water.
  2. Food – Snacks that you’re used to eating are what you should take on the trail. This is no time to try something new in the food department.
  3. Extra clothing – Think protection from the elements. If it looks like cold, rainy weather, carry an extra layer and be sure that rain jacket is stuffed in the bottom of your pack.
  4. Navigation – Don’t assume that you can’t get lost on a well-used trail. Like Jeremiah Johnson, “I’ve never been lost, just confused for a month or so.” Fortunately, I’ve only been confused an hour or so, but it can be a little scary if you’re not prepared. A photocopy of the appropriate pages from a trail guide in a zip-lock bag is always a good idea, and a compass can help you avoid confusion. Don’t count on the compass app or GPS on your phone. Batteries don’t last.
  5. Illumination – A small headlamp or flashlight in your pack can be a big help if a hike takes longer than anticipated. I carry a small LED light in my daypack at all times.
  6. Sun and bug protection – A little sunscreen can make you a happy and healthy hiker. Bug spray around the cuffs of your pants will discourage ticks and other crawling insects. Check for ticks often, even in cooler weather. I can usually feel the little guys climbing up my legs and pick them off before they attach.
  7. First Aid supplies – I like a zip-lock with some bandaids and any medicines I might need if stranded for a while. Keep it simple and light then forget about it until you need it.
  8. Fire – I always carry a lighter just in case.
  9. Emergency shelter – Cut an 8-10-inch hole close to the bottom of a large trash bag then stuff it in the bottom of your pack and forget about it. If you need shelter, sit on top of your daypack with the bag over you like a small tent. The opening allows you to see and breath but protects from the elements. It’s like having cheap insurance policy on your trip.
  10. Most ten essentials lists include repair kit, but for day hiking a small pocketknife is sufficient. One of my hiking poles has some duct tape wrapped around it for emergencies. I’ve used this twice to reattach shoe soles for other hikers.


Where should I go?

Fortunately for those in the River Valley and Ozarks, the answer is, “Hike anywhere your feet will take you.” We live in one of the best locations in the country for hiking, especially through the fall and winter.

Begin with 1-2 trail miles. I say trail miles because hiking on most trails is more demanding than walking a paved path.  I learned this lesson many years ago on the Seven Hollows Trail at Petit Jean State Park. I was sure we could do four miles in just over an hour since that was our pace on pavement. Two hours later as it was getting dark, my wife and I finished our exhausting hike. Even as an experienced hiker, I always allow about one hour for every two miles of hiking distance.


Copperhead in the Marinoni Scenic Area

What about the bears and snakes?

Bear sightings are rare because our sounds and smells alert bears to our presence. I’ve only seen two bears in Arkansas, and both were at a distance. They avoid humans when possible.

Many fear snakes, but they also avoid people. Just don’t step on or antagonize a snake and you shouldn’t have a problem.

Deer season coincides with some of the best times of year to hike. I tie a hunter-orange bandanna to my daypack year round and avoid impersonating a deer while in the woods. I’ve never had a problem.

Creek crossings are a real danger in the woods. If you have any doubts about crossing safely, turn around and go back the way you came or go upstream looking for wide areas in the creek bed.

Always tell a friend or family member your itinerary, even if it’s a short day hike. Do this whether hiking alone or with a group.

Do I go or do I stay?

Hiking has enriched my life, enhanced my health, and connected me with some great folks. It’s a great big beautiful world out there. Get out and enjoy!


Jim Warnock authored Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, a trail guidebook that covers the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri. He has thru-hiked the 180-mile Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas as well as the 210-mile John Muir Trail in California. The Ouachita Trail is next on his list. Follow his adventures at


Five Star Trails: The Ozarks is in bookstores and available online.

Novice hiker prescription for healthy and happy hiking: Hike the Lake Alma Trail from the picnic area to the waterfall and back (2-mile round trip). Next outing, hike to the Hexagon House and back (3-mile round trip). Gradually work up to hiking the entire 4.2-mile loop. Many trails lend themselves to this approach for increasing distance and endurance.

A map for the Lake Alma Trail is on page 2 of this link:  CAS900 Alma Park

LAT Map 2

Sharing the Trails

Five Star Trails Poster 092917 Springfield Nat CenterDuring a phone visit with Kyle Kellams of KUAF, I mentioned how hiking and writing about trails go together for me. I couldn’t imagine doing one without the other. He said, “So, in addition to being a thru-hiker, you’re a ‘thru-writer.'” I thought, what a cool trail name that would be!

An extension to writing about trails is speaking about them. Writing Five Star Trails: The Ozarks has opened many opportunities to share. 

Last weekend, I presented to a group of 68 folks at Hobbs State Park, close to Beaver Lake in Rogers, Arkansas. The group was diverse and included several trail runners, a few experienced thru-hikers, many day hikers, and a 99-year old who’d hiked many miles. She asked a good question about water availability on the John Muir Trail.

This coming Friday at 7 p.m., I’ll be sharing at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center. I catch myself wondering what questions they will have. Here are a few often asked.

  1. Have you seen a bear? Two in Arkansas, both moving away from me. Several out west.
  2. How heavy is your pack? Depends on the season. Getting lighter the older I get…
  3. Do you worry about snakes? I like seeing snakes but avoid stepping on or irritating them.
  4. How’s Hiker-dog? I enjoy giving updates on Hike-dog’s adventures.
  5. How do you do “number 2” out there? I added this question because it’s the one I used to want to ask of distance hikers, but never would. If I’m asked in a group setting, I’ll dodge the specifics by saying it depends on the type of environment and rules for the trail you’re hiking. A whole book has been written on this subject.

Looking forward to questions and conversations with other souls who love hiking and the outdoors! If you need a presenter for a group, I’ll jump at the chance to share. All I need is a darkened room for viewing photos and a power outlet. Contact me through the Feedback tab at the top of the page.


Sharing with 68 folks at Hobbs State Park – “Pack this, not that: a few lessons from the JMT.”

Here’s a pdf of the flier if you’d like to print or forward and share for this Friday’s session.  Five Star Trails Poster 092917 Springfield Nat Center 

Ozarks at Large Radio Interview


I never thought to put “radio interview” on my bucket list, but now I can add it and check it off. Kyle Kellams with KUAF did a good job of making me feel at ease. It was fun to share a few thoughts about the challenges and joys of thru-hiking.

Here’s a link to the 10-minute interview that aired today: Ozarks at Large KUAF

High Sierras and The Ozarks at Hobbs State Park on Sunday, Sept. 24

I’m looking forward to presenting the John Muir Trail and my book, The Ozarks, at Hobbs State Park! Please share with all who love the outdoors. A pdf is below the photo in case you’d like to print a flier. Five Star Trails Poster 092417 Hobbs State Park

Here’s a link to the Hobbs State Park description of the program. I’m honored to share in such a beautiful location!

Long Distance Hiking: Taking a Break or Getting Broken

Here’s a pdf of the flier if you’d like to print and share. Five Star Trails Poster 092417 Hobbs State Park 

New Strings?


My Keens weren’t allowed inside the Jeep until after a good airing out.

I knew this day would come. These shoes that accompanied me for so many miles were reaching their limits. How could we part?

I was surprised by the sense of loss I felt. Where does this strange emotional attachment to two ugly shoes come from? When I slip into my old Keens, suddenly I’m on the trail and memories of past hikes come to mind much easier.

Thankfully this attachment to things is limited. Limited in that I don’t feel an attachment to vehicles, pocket knives or typical items of clothing, but shoes are different.

I visited one of my favorite outfitters with my worn out shoes in tow. Placing them on the floor, I asked the salesperson for the same shoe or anything similar with a wide toe box.


The next morning I eagerly slipped into my new shoes and headed to my home trail just down the road. Every step felt fresh and bouncy. Those who play a stringed instrument will identify with what I was feeling. When you get new strings, there’s a richer resonance to the sound. While walking along, I thought of a bluegrass song by Ricky Skaggs, “Brand New Strings.”

My Keens* served me well on the John Muir Trail and many other trips before and since. They were with Hiker-dog for every step of writing Five Star Trails: The Ozarks. They took me every step of the 210-mile John Muir Trail from Tuolumne Meadows to Whitney Portal.

So, do I dispose of these old shoes? No way! They’ll take on the task of holding memories of the miles we hiked, the friends we made, and the beauty we’ve seen.


View from Mount Whitney on the John Muir Trail

* This is not an endorsement of Keen shoes. Wear what fits.

Photo Challenge: Waiting

Photo Challenge: Waiting IMG_2666rrIMG_2663rrYesterday I was on the Lake Alma Trail taking a photo of a spider when I realized that an impatient dog was standing silently on the trail behind me. She often strikes this pose as I pause to look carefully at something or take a photo. Hiker-dog rarely barks on the trail, but if I stand still for what she thinks is an unreasonable amount of time, she’ll let me know of her frustration with our pace.

I scanned through my photo library with “Waiting” as the topic and noticed several pics with hiking buddies waiting for something.IMG_3759rrBob and I enjoyed stopping on the John Muir Trail to enjoy the scenery, filter water, or rest our legs. Below is another photo of Bob waiting with Zen-like contentment alongside the Ozark Highlands Trail. When he’s with a group, he enjoys waiting for the rest of us to catch up with him. IMGP2228Hiking buddy, Dale, stopped at a switchback on one of our Grand Canyon backpacking trips. This photo of him waiting became one of my favorites from that time because it captured the sense of awe each of us felt on that winter trek. IMG_3535A few years ago, we were heading to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Our vehicle broke down, so we spent a day in Grainfield, Kansas. We ended up enjoying this day in a quiet town, rich in history and delicious pizza. We spent some time at the railroad tracks imagining what life as a hobo might be like. Shane was a good sport as we waited about 9 hours for repairs. IMGP5065Hiker-dog is waiting for sundown on her first planned backpacking trip on the Ozark Highlands Trail. This was about one month after she joined our family. Her story of adoption is in the second post of my OHT thru-hikeIMG_6371rrBelow, Hiker-dog waits on a bluff overlooking the Current River in Missouri. She hiked almost all of the sixty-plus trails we scouted before narrowing the list to forty-three trails included in Five Star Trails: The Ozarks. This was the photo selected for the book cover by Menasha Ridge Press.Current River Owls Bend Vista 1
IMG_1947rrMy last “waiting” photo is of my younger daughter waiting for clothes to dry on a family trip to the Grand Canyon. She stared at the dryer as if she might speed up the drying process. I think she inherited the impatience gene from her father.

Hiker-dog on the 2017 Arkansas Literary Festival Poster

final_online_AR_Gems_PosterI was pleased when Tanya, with Menasha Ridge Press, contacted me several months ago to say that my book would be included on the 2017 Arkansas Gems List poster. I never dreamed the poster would be so beautiful!

It pleased me to see Hiker-dog resting on a high bluff over the Current River in Missouri. On that fall day as we hiked the Ozark Trail, I couldn’t have imagined that the work giving us such pleasure would someday be shared with a full room at the Arkansas Literary Festival. Having this book appear on The 2017 Arkansas Gems List was icing on the cake! final_online_AR_Gems_Poster zoom
final_online_AR_Gems_Poster small crop