I have never set out to follow Route 66 across the U.S.. But I did stumble upon this iconic roadway on a hiking trip in the Missouri Ozarks. Looking for a breakfast diner, we found Shelly’s in Cuba, MO. Cuba is in Crawford County and like many of the Route 66 towns, it has been passed over by time. This quiet little town calls itself Mural City because of its collection of public art. The Wagon Wheel Motel has been offering lodging to Route 66 travelers since 1935. Just a few miles south of Route 66 is the beginning of the Missouri Ozarks and our destination, the Mark Twain National Forest.
Let’s Go! Learn Things in the Missouri Ozarks…
The Ozarks region is a large plateau of highlands, which stretch across south central Missouri, into northern Arkansas and portions of Oklahoma. Visitors to this beautiful region will find rolling foothills, hardwood peaks, floatable rivers, countless caves and underground streams.
The region of the Missouri Ozarks enjoys milder weather than most other Midwest states. Missouri Ozarks offers only 7 inches average snowfall and a low temperature above 45 degrees, making it a great place to head in the early spring and late fall when other states are socked in with endless winter. Living in Wisconsin, we are always looking for places that are within a day’s drive to escape. Hiking Missouri’s Ozark Trail in April while the snow was still flurrying in Milwaukee was an extraordinary treat. Although we happened to find Route 66, our real destination was the Mark Twain National Forest and The Ozark Trail.
Mark Twain National Forest
The Mark Twain National Forest has over 750 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. With more than 350 miles of perennial streams, the region is perfect for “floating” whether in a canoe, kayak or tube. Images of Huckleberry Finn floating down the Ole’ Mississip’ and Tom Sawyer lost in a labyrinth of caves guided our planning. We found a wonderful VRBO in Steelville, MO and did our exploring from there.
The Ozark Trail
There are several “thru-hiking” trails across the U.S. The Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail are two of the best known long distance hiking trails. Several states have started creating similar trails to traverse the breadth or width of their state. Arizona Trail and Ice Age Trail are part of the National Scenic Trail System in the National Park Service. In the 1970’s Missouri decided to create a trail that would wonder through the Ozark region. Development of the Ozark Trail has progressed slowly, but decades later there are now 400 miles of hiking available through the forests and streams of southern Missouri. Like many of these long distance trails, it is made up of shorter segments that can be enjoyed by day hikers.
Our first day of hiking, we started at the Bass River Resort and traveled west along the confluence of the Meramec River, Huzzah Creek and Courtois Creek. The next day we headed further south to the Taum Sauk Mountain area. We started at the Taum Sauk Mountain Trailhead and followed the loop to the Mina Sauk Falls.
Missouri Ozarks “Indoor” Activities
Our first day in the Missouri Ozarks was a wet stormy day so we decided to literally “go underground” at the Onondaga Cave State Park. Missouri is known as the Cave State with over 5000 caves buried across the state. This park sits just six miles south of Route 66 in Leasburg, MO. The Meramec River flows through the park and drips down into the cave system. There are several hiking trails, camping areas and two daily cave tours. We chose the Onondaga Cave tour, which was 1 hour led by a ranger. This was a spectacular tour and the ranger guide was obviously proud and protective of his cave.
Discover the Missouri Ozarks
We only covered a few miles of the 250+ miles The Ozark trail traverses. All level of hiker will enjoy exploring the Ozark Trail. The entire region is rich with outdoor adventures from spelunking to paddling to hiking. Whether you are traveling Route 66 or just looking for some adventure, the Mark Twain National Forest is full of opportunities.
Learn More: Ozark National Scenic Riverway