The Mark Twain National Forest is popular with hunters, trappers, anglers and persons who enjoy observing, studying and photographing wildflowers and wildlife. The Forest has about 320 species of birds, 75 species of mammals and 125 species of amphibians and reptiles. Game species include whitetail deer, turkey, quail, woodcocks, doves, ducks, geese, rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, opossums, woodchucks, bobcats, and coyotes.

Named after Missouri native, Mark Twain, the Mark Twain National Forest is located in 29 counties across southern and central Missouri. Our St. Francois Mountain section is known for its clear spring-fed rivers and streams, lakes, rocky bluffs, pastoral views and shaded trails. The forest gets a variety of visitors through the year including spring and fall, when color changes the forest. In the spring, serviceberry, redbuds and dogwoods paint the winter landscape in pinks and whites. In the fall starting mid September, the oak hickory forest transforms from greens to yellows, peaches, reds, burgundies and dark purples. The height of fall color is usually mid-October. Directions to the recreation areas within the magnificent Mark Twain National Forest follow each description.

A two-fold wildlife goal of Mark Twain National Forest is to maintain viable populations of all species while also affording a medley of activities that will allow humans to enjoy them — everything from hunting and fishing to wildlife viewing and photography.” USDA Forest Service

Except where posted otherwise, hunting and fishing with a valid Missouri license is permitted on National Forest lands.

Bicycles and mountain bikes are generally permitted on trails but may be prohibited, such as in designated wilderness areas. Motorized vehicles may be used only on open Forest roads or designated ATV trails. There are designated trails for ATV use (permit required) at Sutton Bluff Recreation Area. All other use of motor vehicles is prohibited.

Bell Mountain Wilderness Area and Trail

Activities: horseback riding, hiking, bird-watching

This rugged wilderness was named for the highest peak in the area, Bell Mountain (elevation: 1702) and was designated by the United States Congress in 1980 as a federally protected and preserved area which “generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable…” Popular for experienced hikers and equestrians, there are 9027 acres with tall peaks, Shut-in Creek and a spring-fed stream with several gorges along its course.  Gnarled blackjack and post oak, black hickory, and a few winged elms are found in the harsh environment of the granite glades within the Wilderness.  Pileated woodpeckers, wood thrush and ovenbirds are abundant. White tailed deer, wild turkeys and squirrels can be found. There are 14 miles of designated trails established for hikers and equestrian use within the wilderness. Bell Mountain Wilderness Trail, is concurrent with a section of the Ozark Trail for about one mile, then splits and turns northward to the summit of Bell Mountain peak.  Joe’s creek cuts deeply into the west slope of Bell Mountain; clefts and boulders form the basic landscape. The area is rugged and suitable for experienced hikers only.  Be prepared with adequate supplies and water.  A separate two-mile trail begins on the east and leads to the top of Lindsey Mountain. No hunting is allowed within this federally designated wilderness area. Located at State Route A & 32.

Sutton Bluff Recreation Area

Activities: hiking, bird-watching, hunting (ATV and motorcycles with permit)

Sutton Bluff is named for R. G. Sutton, who settled this valley in Reynolds County along the west fork of the Black River in 1888. Three generations of Suttons farmed the river bottoms below the impressive bluff (see right). Sutton Bluff is a wonderful place for hiking, picnicking, mountain biking, swimming and bird watching. The Black River curls around the 35 campsites that are available and the Ozark Trail passes nearby. Water and toilet facilities are also available at Sutton Bluff Campground. Located between Lesterville and Centerville, MO off of Highway 21. Enter Forest Road 2233 at the Forest Service sign, turn there and go 7 miles, then turn on Forest Road 2236. The campground is another 3 miles.

Crane Lake Conservation Area and Trails

Activities: fishing, horseback riding, hiking, bird-watching

This clear blue 100 acre lake was formed by impounding Crane Pond Creek with an earth fill dam at the upstream end of a “shut-ins” or narrow gorge cut in the granite bedrock. Picnic along the lakeshore, fish from the gentle banks, canoe the waters and hike the coves. Fish for largemouth bass, channel catfish and panfish. Crane Lake is one of the most beautiful small lakes in the area with a 12 mile hiking and biking trail around the lake, picnic areas, and great fishing. Crane Lake (North loop) and Crane Pond (south loop) trails are peaceful. The south loop trail connects to the Marble Creek Section of the Ozark Trail. Hiking Hwy E to Crane Pond Lake Road. 14 miles from 21 and 221 in Arcadia via 21 South, “E” East and County Road 131.

Marble Creek Recreation Area and Trail

Activities: fishing, horseback riding, hiking, bird-watching

Visit the peaceful oasis of Marble Creek Recreation Area where you can relax among the deposits of pink dolamite native to the St. Francois Mountain range. Swim in an the old mill pool where the creek that now rushes 20 miles through the rugged mountains, was once harnessed to power an old grist mill. A reminder of the past, the concrete remains of the grist mill dam and building foundation, although crumbling, are still visible. Prior to 1935, the colored dolamites were mined as “Taum Sauk Marble” used in the building trades. Enjoy picnicking or go wade-fishing for smallmouth bass and panfish. Go hiking, biking or horseback riding! The trailhead for the Marble Creek Section of the Ozark Trail is here, beginning an 8-mile trek leading to Crane Lake. From Highway 221 and 21, go south on 21 then turn east at Hwy E and travel for 15.5 miles.

Council Bluff Lake Recreation Area and Trail

Activities: fishing, hunting, hiking, bird-watching

The largest lake in the Mark Twain National Forest serves anglers, campers, picnickers, hikers, bicyclists and swimmers. Fish year round in this 440 acre lake stocked with large mouth bass, redear sunfish, bluegill, crappie and catfish. Picnic or swim at the 54,000 sq. foot sand beach. At Chapel Hill Beach there is a concession stand, changing rooms, flush toilet, water fountains and showers. There is also a small play area near the beach. Additionally, there are canoes and paddle boats available for rent when the beach is open. Council Bluff Trail is a 12-mile loop along the lake shore providing hiking and mountain biking opportunities. The Trace Creek section of the Ozark Trail is located just west of the recreation area. Waterfowl hunting is permitted on the lake and there are upland game opportunities as well. 24.5 miles From Hwy 21 and 221 – Go west on Hwy 32, turn left at MO-C, turn left at MO-JJ, then slight right at Council Bluff Rd/CR-635. If beginning on Highway 49 in Reynolds County, turn right on Hwy 32, then left at MO-DD, take right on MO-C, then right at MO-JJ to Council Bluff Rd.

Silver Mines Recreation Area and Trail

Activities: fishing, hiking, bird-watching

Back in the 1920s this area was mined for silver and tungsten ore. Although long since played out, the remnants of two old abandoned mines are present at the site. Located on the banks of the St. Francis River, Silver Mines is near Millstream Gardens where whitewater enthusiasts from around the world bring their kayaks to enjoy the challenges of the river in March, during spring high water. There is a one-mile long trail along each side of the river. From Turkey Creek Picnic Area, a 1.2 mile trail to the north leads to Millstream Garden Conservation Area, managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Camping is also available at Silver Mines. From Ironton take Hwy 72 east to Hwy D. Go about 3 miles south on D to paved Forest Road 2510. You’ll see the Forest Service sign.

Missouri Conservation Areas and Missouri State Forests in our Black River Recreation Area and Arcadia Valley Region

stream through forest - Missouri Vacations

Millstream Gardens Conservation Area

Activities: fishing, hunting, hiking, bird-watching

This 614-acre tract of land boasts the Tiemann Shut-ins of the St. Francis River before it passes in to the Silver Mines Area. A wide variety of animals live here. Species vary from the rare collared lizard to the more common whitetail deer, turkey, dove, quail, rabbit and squirrels that inhabit the uplands. Fish for bass, crappie, walleye, goggle eye and sunfish. In March during high water, Missouri’s premier Whitewater Championships take place here. The granite riverbed and mini-gorges of the St. Francis, geologically termed “shut-ins,” are a delight to view. Predominantly a forest area, this wooded corridor is a part of Missouri’s Natural Area Systems. The facility features a boat ramp, picnic area, pavilion and archery range. 12.5 miles from 21 and 221 via 21 south, then Hwy 72 East.

Buford Mountain State Forest and Trail

Activities: hunting, hiking, bird-watching

Rich in history, this 3,743 acre forest is named after William Buford who acquired the land through a Spanish Land Grant in 1812. In the mid-to-late 1800s, the site served as the hub of the charcoal industry in our region. Old kilns still dot the entire mountain. Numerous Indian mounds, arrowheads and other artifacts have been found at the site. The Missouri Department of Conservation acquired Missouri’s 3rd highest mountain (1740 feet) and the surrounding property in 1979. A strenuous 10.2 mile hike on the Buford Mountain Trail provides incredible views of the Arcadia and Belleview Valleys. The areas most outstanding features are its glades, ranging in size from less than 1 acre to over 10 acres, providing scenic views and excellent opportunities to observe glade plants and animals. As the glades are very sensitive, activity is restricted to walking only. A favorite of turkey hunters, the area is suitable for deer hunting as well. 9.9 miles north of Highways 21 and 221.

Ketcherside Mountain Conservation Area and the Royal Gorge

Activities: hunting, horseback riding, hiking, bird-watching

The Royal Gorge Natural Area (visible from Highway 21 just south of Ironton), is a portion of this 3,276 acre segment of the St. Fancois Mountains Natural Area. Hike or backpack through igneous (ryolite) glades and cliffs, scarlet oak-pine forest, oak-hickory forest and a headwaters stream of the Ozark Natural Division. Mostly forest, birdwatchers will find glade and forest birds. Hunt for deer, squirrel or turkey. With a special use permit, furbearer trapping is also allowed. Horseback riding is permitted on roads open to vehicles. The Taum Sauk section of the Ozark Trail passes through Ketcherside Mountain Conservation Area (Horseback riding is prohibited on this section of trail). Nuts, berries, fruits, mushrooms and wild greens can be found in abundance and may be taken for personal use. Highway 21, 5 miles south of Arcadia/Ironton.

Grasshopper Hollow

Activities: hiking (please tread lightly)

This is the largest, most significant fen complex in unglaciated North America and the largest known prairie fen in Missouri. A fen is a low, marsh-like area where water plays an important role in how the ecosystem functions. It is usually very wet and grassy with a variety of plant and animal species. Grasshopper Hollow is controlled by the Nature Conservancy whose mission is “to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth” by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. This 223 acre tract has a self-guided one-half mile long trail with 10 interpretive stations including an observation deck. Its wet, stony ground (in knee-deep water) is laced with beaver runs among a rich assemblage of native grasses and sedges. Among many native forbs and grasses, a visitor may find swamp agrimony, arrowleaved tear-thumb, prairie cordgrass, big bluestem, swamp aster, rough-leaf goldenrod and Michigan lily. Notable animal species include beavers, the rare four-toed salamander and the rare wood frog. In 2000, the federally endangered Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly was discovered to be breeding at this site (renowned for its beautiful emerald green eyes, it is the only dragonfly on the Federal list of endangered species). A spur of the Ozark Trail borders the preserve. Two miles south of Centerville on Highway 21, take Highway 72 west. Approximately one mile past the Highway B intersection at Reynolds, turn right on County Road 860 and proceed about 0.6 miles to the parking area.

Logan Creek Conservation Area

Activities: hunting, hiking, bird-watching

Totalling approximately 12,000 acres in Reynolds County, Logan Creek Conservation Area lies south of the Black River and north of the Current River. Heavily forested with shortleaf pine growth and white oak, there are sinkholes, fens and seeps in the water areas where buttonbush, swamp rose, bulrush, groundnut, sedges and panic grass can be found. When hiking, you may see a 1/2 acre shrub swamp, a gasconade dolomite sinkhole, two roubidoux dolomite sink holes and a roubidoux dolomite glade. Pond shrub swamp communities occur only in sinkholes and other natural upland depressions. They are endangered natural communities in Missouri. The area is a popular place for hunters seeking deer, turkey and squirrel. There are no designated trails, but area access roads may be hiked. Hwy 21 to Hwy 106, north of Ellington. The main tract is 3 miles north of Highway 106 on Route B.

Deer Run Conservation Area

Activities: fishing, hunting, hiking, bird-watching

Historically significant in our region, Deer Run offers many recreational opportunities for public use. Hunting, fishing, hiking, primitive camping, sightseeing and photography may be enjoyed during all seasons of the year. This 7,475 -acre tract of land lies in the middle of the vast Ozark forest and is typical of the heavily timbered Ozark hills. It supports healthy stands of pine and oak. About 0.6 miles north on the logging road rests the remains an important piece of Missouri’s Civil War history. This fortification, a type of earthen fort or Reden, is also known as Fort Barnesville. For more on Fort Barnesville, on the National Register of Historic Places, please see our Missouri Civil War page. In addition the first steel fire tower in Missouri was erected on the site in 1926. One of the first steps in fire prevention in Missouri, the fire tower is still used today. Covering three acres, Buford Pond (a manmade pond thought to have been built by the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company and named for Senator Wilbur Buford from Ellington) is stocked with large mouth bass and channel catfish. The pond has several shaded picnic tables surrounding it and is the perfect serenely beautiful location to have lunch or just relax. Deer Run also has a firearms shooting range and provides shooters with 25-, 50- and 100-yard shooting stations and a shotgun range. Restroom facilities are also located here. The Civilian Conservation Corps, founded in 1933 as one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, had a camp at Deer Run. The rock house that still stands on the property was an administrative center for the camp. Go 3 miles west of Ellington on Highway 106. There are 3 entrances: one is located 3 miles west of Ellington on Hwy 106. Another is located on South Road in Ellington. The other is located on Reynolds County Road 626.