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.

Trail Freestyling in Van Buren, Missouri



Rusty gold – An unexpected jewel of a trail just outside of Van Buren, MO

I enjoy watching Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz cruise the country in search of “rusty gold.” In mid-November, I experienced something of what the American Pickers must feel when “freestying.”

My scheduled hikes were completed. All that remained was a short visit to Big Spring in Van Buren, and then we’d make the drive back to Arkansas. My plan was to include Big Spring as a nearby attraction related to other trails since Big Spring was a tourist attraction rather than hiking destination.

As an afterthought, I decided to check on a trail I’d noticed in an old guide book to see if it was still in existence. The book indicated the trail hadn’t been maintained since 1994, so I wasn’t expecting to find it. The trail was on our way, so there we were, Hiker-dog and me driving Skyline Drive in a light rain a couple of miles south of Van Buren, looking for any sign of a trailhead.

We saw a pullout and a bench a short distance into the woods, but after having a look, I decided the trail had been abandoned and drove on, still eyeing the woods for signs of the other end of the trail.

Skyline Trailhead

Skyline Trailhead

When I saw another pullout and bench, I decided to take a short walk with GPS and my recorder in hand. I was delighted with what I found. Like Mike finding some antique signs, or Frank finding a vintage oil can, I slowly realized that this trail was a diamond in the rough.

The out-and-back was exactly three miles and followed a good grade, perfect for an early morning day hike.

Lichen-covered boulders littered the forest floor.

Lichen-covered boulders covered the forest floor.

Next, it was to be a quick stop at Big Spring for a few photos and then back to Arkansas. What we found at Big Spring captivated our attention. We stood in awe next to the power of Big Spring’s 288 million gallons of water a day.

Looking down on Big Spring from the trail

Looking down on Big Spring from the trail

We did the little trail at the spring for photos. Along the way, I noticed a set of stone steps that led up above the bluff line of Big Spring. Steps going up must be followed, so we ended up at a high point above the bluff with beautiful views to the east and west. The old roadbed with treated timber water bars circled back down the mountain to the entrance road not far from Big Spring Lodge. It gradually dawned on me that this was a “5-Star” hike.

Steps built by the CCC. Made to last!

Steps built by the CCC. Made to last!

Big Spring Lodge became the trailhead for this hike.

Big Spring Lodge became the trailhead for this hike.

Once back to the lodge, I determined a course and set out with GPS and recorder. This became a 3-mile figure-eight hike. It included views of Big Spring and Current River confluence, Big Spring itself, the woodsy mountain above and behind the spring, and some historic structures along the way. Every step was a delight!

Confluence of Big Spring with Eleven Points River

Confluence of Big Spring with Current River

Big Spring

Big Spring

Mike and Frank would be proud of the hidden and not-so-hidden treasures we found this day. What started out as a no-trail day resulted in two beautiful trails and about nine miles of walking since I hiked the Big Spring trail twice while experimenting with routes. Now for a long drive back to Arkansas for two happy hikers. Just wish I could split the driving with Hiker-dog.