Explore the Ozark Trail in Missouri

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Immerse yourself in the rugged beauty of the Missouri Ozarks on the Ozark Trail. The 430-mile trail system is comprised of mostly linked trail sections that wind through rolling hills and valleys, past stone bluffs and along sparkling streams. The route extends from the St. Louis metropolitan area southwest through the Ozarks.

The entire trail is open to hikers and offers easy and moderate hiking conditions. Much of it is also accessible for mountain biking and horseback riding.

The Ozark Trail Association marks and improves the trail and ensures campsites are well maintained.

A cascade of water flows over Rocky Falls in the Missouri Ozarks.
Rocky Falls is part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

Hiking the Ozark Trail

Exploring Missouri’s scenic backcountry is one of the best reasons to head out on the Ozark Trail. The area offers many things to see and experience, including 1.5 billion-year-old mountains, pristine rivers and some of largest freshwater springs in the United States.

At mile 15 in the Trace Creek section, you will find the scenic Council Bluff Recreation Area, which includes a lake and a 12-mile loop to explore the beautiful landscape of southeast Missouri. 

The Ozark Trail connects two of Missouri’s most famous natural wonders: Taum Sauk Mountain and Johnson’s Shut-Ins. Taum Sauk Mountain State Park is home to the highest natural point in Missouri and Mina Sauk Falls, the tallest wet-weather waterfall in the state. Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is a natural water park where visitors can play in the chutes and water pools along the Black River.

Further south, you can find Klepzig Mill, a historic building constructed nearly 100 years ago along the banks of Rocky Creek. A short detour off the main trail will take hikers to Rocky Falls, an impressive cascade that flows into a natural pool perfect for swimming.   

Planning Your Trip

A successful hiking trip starts with good planning. The Ozark Trail Trip Planner is a fantastic resource to help you get out and enjoy the trail. These questions can help you get started:

  • How long will your trip be? Are you taking a day trip, or will you be hiking for multiple days? 
  • If this is your first overnight hiking trip, go easy on yourself. You might be able to handle a 15-mile day hike without issue, but that same hike will likely be more challenging with a backpack loaded with camping gear, food, clothing and other supplies. 
  • Will you be hiking out and back, or will you need to coordinate transportation from point A to point B? 
  • What is the terrain of your hike? Will you have to cross rivers or streams? Is your footwear adequate to handle the trail? 
  • What is the weather forecast? Will you be traveling during a season with temperature swings? Is there potential for inclement weather?

What to Pack: Gearing Up for your Ozark Trail Hike

A tent in the middle of the forest under a starry sky.
Camp in the wilderness along the Ozark Trail.

Eating and Cooking

One of the best parts of hiking is settling around a campfire at the end of the day and enjoying a hot meal. You may find it helpful to make a list of meals for each day you are out on the trail to ensure that you are not over- or under-packing for your trip. 

A backpacking stove is a convenient way to boil water for dehydrated meals and instant coffee without adding a lot of weight to your pack. 

Bring a dedicated bear canister or hang a bear bag for all food and other aromatic items that might attract a bear’s attention.

Staying Hydrated

Bring enough water for your trip or a way to purify water to make it safe to drink. Many of the creeks and streams look crystal clear, but it’s still smart to make sure any impurities are removed with pumps or tablets before drinking the water. 

Water sources such as rivers and streams may only be available seasonally. Ozark Trail maps are a great resource to help identify places where you can access water. 

Sleep, Shelter and Clothing

Tent, hammock or open-air camping — choose your camping style based on experience and comfort level. Be prepared to face changing weather conditions out in the wilderness.

Temperatures can swing from chilly mornings to sweltering afternoons. Consider bringing several sets of clothing so you have options for hiking and spending time at camp. Wear layers to be comfortable in any weather, and pack rain gear to stay dry.


If you’re on a multi-day hike, toilet paper and a cathole shovel are necessities. When you have to answer nature’s call, make sure to stay at least 200 yards away from a water source and bury any solid waste at least 6 inches deep. 

Insect Repellent, Sunscreen and First Aid

You’ll encounter a variety of insects, including mosquitoes and ticks, throughout the Ozarks. Use a repellent with DEET to keep unwanted insects away. 

While much of the trail is under a shady tree canopy, you’ll still want to use sunscreen to prevent any burns.

Be sure to pack a first aid kit that includes over-the-counter pain medication, bandages, antiseptic pads for cleaning wounds, antibiotic cream, an antidiarrheal medicine, antihistamine medicine, scissors, tweezers, hand sanitizer, a splint and any personal medications you need.


The Ozark Trail Association maintains a number of maps to help you traverse each section of the trail. If you are using your phone for navigation, pack a paper copy of a map in case you lose signal or find yourself without battery. Trail maps are free to print at home or are available for purchase at the online store. 

Preparing for Departure

Before you leave home be sure to let a friend or family member know where you’re going and what you’ll be doing. Indicate how many days you will be gone and approximately where you plan to stay each night. Fill out a hiking card at dedicated trailheads.

Ozark Trail Safety and Guidelines

Trail Safety

Cuts, nicks, bruises, aches and bug bites are normal issues for any hiking adventure. A well-equipped first aid kit will help you deal with these common problems so they don’t derail your trip. It is also helpful to take a wilderness first aid class.

Natural Hazards

You may encounter some natural hazards when hiking through the wilderness, but it shouldn’t deter you from enjoying the outdoors. Being prepared is key to staying safe.

  • Flash flooding – Changes in weather can result in flash flooding. Never attempt to cross a stream during high water.
  • Irritating plants – Learn to identify poison ivy, poison oak and sumac and avoid contact with your skin and clothing.
  • Snakes – Most snake species in Missouri are harmless. The best way to avoid snakes is to stay away from their habitat such as brushy areas, rock piles and sunny ledges.
  • Bears – The black bear population is growing in Missouri, so keep yourself, your trail mates and local wildlife safe by staying bear aware.

Trail Signs

The Ozark Trail passes through areas owned by several different organizations and governmental agencies, so the route may be marked with different signs. Common signs include the white and green Ozarks Trail sign and a brown sign with a white silhouette of a hiker or a silver diamond, both used as markers by the U.S. Forest Service.

Follow the signs to stay on established paths to reduce your chances of getting lost. Staying on the trail also helps prevent erosion and damage to fragile plant life.

Trail Etiquette

It is important to be considerate of hikers and preserve the beauty of the Ozark Trail so it can be enjoyed by future generations.

  • Travel only on designated trails. Do not take shortcuts.
  • Mountain bikers should yield to hikers, and hikers should yield to horseback riders.
  • Camp at least 100 feet from the trail, water and scenic areas.
  • Leave nothing behind. Carry out whatever you carry in.
  • Build a fire only if necessary. Use plenty of water to make sure you drown the fire completely before leaving the area.

Leave No Trace

Learn the seven principles of Leave No Trace to keep the backcountry beautiful.

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts.
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of others.

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