It’s only a matter of time: Fall and all its glory will soon explode across the Ozarks. While great color can undoubtedly be found down many a lane and neighborhood, the most spectacular hues are discovered far from any city limit. If you’re in the mood to hit the road and get away (but not go too far from home) here are a few places to put on your must-see list.
Glade Top Trail
The Glade Top Trail, Missouri’s only National Forest Scenic Byway, is 23 miles of pure Ozarks gorgeousness. The gravel road was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and has changed very little since its birth 80 or so years ago. Seven overlook spots offer panoramic views reaching the Springfield Plateau and even 40 miles away to Arkansas’ Boston Mountains.
Where is it?
The Glade Top Trail is located approximately 60 miles southeast of Springfield. Three entry points admit visitors: The most popular is the northeast entry located near the Douglas/Ozark County line about ten miles southwest of Ava. It is accessed off State Highway 5 by State Highway A and County Road A-409.
Caney Mountain Conservation Area
While you’re in that neck of the woods, be sure to veer off the beaten path and check out the Caney Mountain Conservation Area. It’s a nearly 8,000-acre wonderland jam-packed with trails, caves (a new species — yes, of caves — was discovered here in 1999), springs and gorgeous vistas. Those things and more offer a perfect excuse to pack a hamper and eat lunch at the site’s picnic area.
An iconic landmark is the Caney Fire Lookout Tower, which while inaccessible to the public, is nice to be on the lookout for (no pun intended). If you’re in an adventurous mood, wear your hiking boots and take to the trails — or even climb High Rock Mountain, which offers a bird’s-eye view of Caney Creek 400 feet below.
Where is it?
From Gainesville, take Highway 181 north 5 miles, then a gravel entrance road west 0.5 mile to the area.
Float for foliage
Anyone can float during summer: Dipping a paddle during fall, however, offers a perspective far fewer can boast. Just imagine slowly meandering down some of the Ozarks’ most beautiful waterways, surrounded by color that only autumn can offer.
Interested? Here’s a suggestion: Take a trip to Eminence and put in on the Jacks Fork River. This river is part of Ozarks National Scenic Riverways, and can take you to a variety of destinations. One to keep in mind is Alley Spring; its lower portion can be floated this time of year down to Two Rivers. Another nearby landmark is Rocky Falls Shut-In, a steep cascading waterfall that is great for summer swimming. (So start planning ahead for next year!)
Where is it?
From Springfield, get on U.S. 60 and head east. When you get to Bartlett, take State Hwy E. After that, take MO 106 E and County Rd. 106-308 straight to Eminence.
Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area
While “The Beverly Hillbillies” Clampett clan spent much of their airtime out west, there’s a good guess as to to their original homestead’s location — at least in the mind of the show’s creator, Paul Henning. After all, Henning loved the land around Branson so much that he made sure the Missouri Department of Conservation got more than 1,500 acres of it. A Missouri native, he saw the area rapidly changing and wanted to ensure that at least a slice of its natural beauty didn’t keep up with the times.
But the Clampetts aren’t the only famous names to call the Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area home. The land also contains several features immortalized in Harold Bell Wright’s “The Shepherd of the Hills,” including Dewey Bald, Boulder Bald, a portion of the “trail that is nobody knows how old,” Sammy Lane’s Lookout, The Signal Tree, and Little Pete’s Cave.
Where is it?
From the west side of Branson, take Highway 76 west 0.75 mile from the Highway 376/Highway 76 intersection. To access the Homesteaders Trail on the north end of the area, from the intersection of Highway 248 and Shepherd of the Hills Expressway in Branson, take Highway 248 north 3.70 miles, then Sycamore Log Church Road south 3.40 miles to a gravel parking lot adjacent to Roark Creek.
Little Switzerland of the Ozarks — also known as Eureka Springs — isn’t a secret, but that doesn’t mean it’s a spot to skip. The picturesque drive is reason enough to go — and then there’s reason to stay once you arrive. A multitude of quirky dining and shopping options lead a like a trail through the up-and-down town, one that’s engulfed of a blaze of color this time of year.
If the hues weren’t enough (and they are!) the town is also especially fun to visit for its plethora of spooky spots. A few at the top of the list include the well-known Crescent Hotel, the Basin Park Hotel and even the local cemetery, which doesn’t need ghost stories to be spooky when visited in the middle of the night (not that we know from personal experience or anything, of course).
Where is it?
From Springfield, a trip to Eureka Springs comes in at a little less than two hours drive-time. But you may just want to use Google Maps for this one.
Frisco Highline Trail
A trip down the Frisco Highline Trail offers travelers the same experience Harry S Truman had back in 1948 when he traveled between Springfield and Bolivar. Well, except for the fact that was on the train, and they’re on a bike. The trail’s history goes all the way back to 1884, when the track was completed and offered a new link between the two towns.
The whole shebang is 35 miles, and begins and still ends in Springfield and Bolivar. However, with trailheads in Willard and Walnut Grove to break up the trek, those just wanting a taste of the trail can go for as little as six miles.
Where is it?
In Springfield: A small paved trailhead parking lot is located in northwest Springfield, on West Kearney Street and Eldon Rd., just west of US-160 (West Bypass).
In Bolivar: Go north on Highway 13 to Bolivar. Take the Highway 32 exit (Business 13). Go east. Just before the downtown square, the street passes under the mural-painted former railroad bridge (now the northernmost trail bridge). Immediately east of the underpass, make a right into the trailhead parking area.