The eight wilderness areas are spread primarily across the southern part of the Show-Me state. Most, but not all, are south of Interstate 44. Most have hiking trails that will take you into their interior and all emphasize the “Leave No Trace” ethic. First, we will take a quick look at each, and then look at the Leave No Trace “rules.”
1. Bell Mountain Wilderness
Bell Mountain Wilderness is approximately 9000 acres in size. It is located in the St. Francois Mountains which comprise the highest mountains in Missouri. The highest point is 1702 feet at Bell Mountain. Part of the trail system in the Bell Mountain Wilderness is a portion of the Ozark Trail (about one mile total). From there, the trail turns off and heads up Bell Mountain. There is a total of 12 miles of trail, mostly very difficult in nature, and camping must be done at least 100 feet from the trail. Other camping issues will be discussed later.
The closest route to the Wilderness can be found from Potosi, Missouri and is about a 20 mile drive. More precise directions can be found via the USFS website.
2. Devils Backbone Wilderness
Devils Backbone Wilderness Area is just under 7000 acres total. It is located in South central Missouri near West Plains (approximately 15 mile drive). There is approximately 13 miles of trail used by foot and is also open to equestrian traffic. Its name is for the central ridge where most of the trail is located, at its highest point reaching 1020 feet in elevation. The trail system is reasonably doable for the moderately “in-shape” hiker/camper. The North Fork Recreation Area provides a campsite area if the visitor wishes to camp there and simply hike the wilderness area. Otherwise, general wilderness area rules apply. More precise directions as well as maps can be obtained through the USFS.
3. Hercules Glad Wilderness Area
This stunningly beautiful area is located in the deep southern reaches of Missouri. This wilderness is over 12,000 acres in size and may be one of the most beautiful areas in the Midwest. The area can be reached leaving from Bradleyville or Forsyth, and is about 8 miles from each. This wonderful area has over 30 miles of maintained trails, but if one wishes, day or afternoon excursions can be done on short branches of this trail system. It should be noted that many streams are not equipped with bridges and trails range from moderately to very difficult. Again, more information, directions, and maps are available through the USFS.
4. Irish Wilderness
The Irish Wilderness has a lot going for it. It has rich history, it has many water related recreational opportunities (the Eleven Point River), and a great trail system. The Irish Wilderness has over 16,000 designated wilderness acres. There are 3 major trail heads in the wilderness, but one is only accessible after a float in on the Eleven Point River (White Trail head). The Camp Five Pond Trail head is usually accessed leaving out of Doniphan, Missouri, and is about a 35 mile drive. It should be noted that this trail is used extensively by horseback riders. The Brawley Pond Trail head is a ways past the Camp Five Pond Trail head and receives a little less equestrian traffic in our experience.
5. Mingo Wilderness
This area is a little less than 8000 acres and is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It is a portion of a much larger Mingo Wildlife Refuge and a refuge for many migratory waterfowl. It is a diverse area interspersed with marsh areas as well as typical Ozark geography. It is located in Missouri’s “bootheel” region.
6. Paddy Creek Wilderness Area
Approximately 7000 acres in size, and is in the beautiful Big Piney River area. There is a trail system that is a loop of about 17 miles in total. Markings on this trail are not prominent, so a map, compass, and/or GPS are a must (never rely solely on a GPS unit). The trail begins at the Roby Lake Recreational area. There is also the Paddy Creek Recreational area with 21 single sites. The area is located approximately 20 miles from Roby, Missouri and specific directions and maps are available through the USFS.
7. Piney Creek Wilderness Area
The Piney Creek Wilderness is approximately 8000 acres in size and is about 35 miles from Branson, Missouri. There are over 13 miles of trails in this wilderness area. This wilderness area contains the watershed for Piney Creek and feeds Missouri’s famous Table Rock Lake. More information is available through the USFS.
8. Rockpile Wilderness Area
This is Missouri’s smallest wilderness area (around 4,000 acres) and is mostly surrounded by private property. Despite this, it is a beautiful area. There are no permanent water sources, save some ponds built prior to its designation as wilderness, to trap springwater and provide watering holes for the abundant wildlife. There is only 2 miles of designated trail but some abandoned logging roads from years past. It is named for a pile of granite stone erected by some human inhabitant from years ago. More information can be found through the USFS.
Leave No Trace Ethic
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
These principles are bare minimums for these fragile areas.