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.

Maramec Spring: A Missouri Ozarks Surprise


Cascade below the Maramec Spring in early morning light

While driving Missouri Highway 8 toward another hiking location, a quick stop for a few photos turned into several hours of exploration, rich with beauty and history. Maramec Spring was a delightful surprise!

I had read of no trails in the area, and hiking wasn’t listed as an available activity on the Maramec Spring website, so I was puzzled to see two ladies beginning their morning walk. They said they enjoyed the paths around the spring and walking down Maramec Creek with cameras in hand. I quickly scanned the area and started my GPS, hoping to record a pleasant route.


Maramec Spring

My walk led directly to the Maramec Spring, a gentle and broad spring whose strength isn’t realized until a nearby cascade demonstrates the volume of water flowing from the ground. Park literature indicates this is Missouri’s fifth-largest spring with an average daily output of 100 million gallons. Another source listed the volume as 90 million gallons and the sixth or seventh largest spring in the state. Regardless of size, its beauty is top of the line.


Cascade below Maramec Spring

Another demonstration of flow-rate is on display at a bridged spillway downstream. This water will travel about 165 river miles to where the Maramec River empties into the Mississippi.



Cypress knees border  Maramec Creek where fly fishing begins

The flow from Maramec Spring eventually widens into a creek channel where fly fishermen enjoy their pursuit of trout, visible just below the clear cold currents.

Where the paved paths end, dirt trails begin, bordering both sides of the creek and crossing a bridge several tenths of a mile downstream. Conditions were right for the formation of early morning frost flowers, a visual treat for early morning winter hikers.

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Maramec Spring’s natural beauty is complemented by a fascinating history. Portions of the paved paths take you through an outdoor museum of the Maramec Ironworks. Thomas James, an Ohio businessman, began construction in 1826 by. In 1843, Thomas sent his son, William James, to operate the ironworks.

The Civil War increased the demand for iron from the plant in spite of the transportation challenges of this remote location. At its peak, the plant town was reported to have close to 500 residents. The Maramec Ironworks ceased operation in 1876.


Maramec Ironworks casting arch



Powerhouse with Maramec Spring in the background



Maramec Ironworks Museum

While hiking the Maramec Spring in winter is a pleasure, you’ll miss out on visiting the Ironworks Museum, closed at the end of October and reopening in the spring.

I felt a tinge of sadness as I drove away from Maramec Spring, but hope to visit again someday. I’m thankful that William James’ granddaughter, Lucy Wortham James, chose to protect this area for us to see today.


“As this is considered to be the most beautiful spot in Missouri, it is my great hope that you will arrange that it may ever be in private, considerate control, and ever open to the enjoyment of the people.”

~Lucy Wortham James