Getting Lost in the Mark Twain National Forest

Mark Twain is most notable for spinning witty yarns about the fabric of American culture. Missouri’s native son is also the namesake for a sizeable national forest signed into existence during FDR’s conservation efforts of the 1930’s. Though he would be dead several decades before the Mark Twain Wilderness Area sprang about, one can easily imagine the writer sitting among the secluded oak and pine forests, scribbling furiously into a notebook.

Stretching over several counties and 75,000 acres of recreational scenic splendor, this outdoor playground features open glades, clear creeks and streams, majestic bluffs and pockets of rich history. Mr. Twain would have been proud of this expansive Midwestern forest region. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the attractions…

Hiking

Whether you’re a serious, back-packing trekker, or simply someone who likes to stroll through beautiful forests at a languid pace, there are a myriad of trails in this area suited for every temperament. This section of the Ozark Trail system includes many shaded paths featuring wildflowers, wildlife and idyllic views. The well-maintained Piney Creek Trails are among the most popular routes in the area, though they only allow access on foot or horseback – no dice this time, ATVers. Expect to catch a glimpse of a great blue heron, or perhaps an armadillo, among the bounty of creatures calling this area home.

Fishing

photo – Fishing in the park

Though part of the Mark Twain National Forest is a Wildlife Refuge, another section is a paradise for those looking to harvest their dinner, or perhaps just pass a few hours relaxing on the shoreline. The North Fork River is open year-round and offers some of the top-ranked trout fishing in the country. Trophy-sized rainbows flourish in the limestone-bottomed cold, fresh springs. Fly-fishing is extremely popular in this area, but I occasionally prefer just drifting along in a canoe with a packed picnic lunch and a cigar for dessert.

Hot springs

Speaking of drifting lazily, there are a couple of choice hot springs in the Mark Twain for soaking and soothing your soul in geothermal waters. After all, the Hot Springs Mountains are only a hundred miles or two from the Mark Twain, meaning this area is literally a hotbed of activity for bubbling mineral water. Markham Springs Recreation Area has been around since the 1800’s and features structures with elaborate stone masonry and some are even available as vacation rentals.

Camping

Photo- Beautiful fall colors in the park

Whether you’re travelling to the forest for a mind-cleansing nature retreat or a high-octane geocaching adventure, you’ll need to bed down somewhere – be it in a sleeping bag under the stars, your own RV or a rustic log cabin. If you’re a rugged sort who prefers getting your hands dirty and a little countryside isolation, there are numerous campgrounds scattered about the forest, so do a little research and find the best one for you. If having creature comforts nearby is more your speed, consider spending a few nights somewhere like the Branson cabins. If you prefer bringing your own accommodations along, there are tons of campsites with RV hookups that are still rural and surrounded by miles of natural beauty.

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