Ozark Trail to Taum Sauk Mt

April 11, 2024.

20 mi. | 2850′ ele. gain | 10 hr.

Scour TH > Ozark Tr > Taum Sauk Mt > Hwy 21 TH

On the way to Taum Sauk Mountain

Photo album

When I realized we’d be in the general vicinity of the Missouri state highpoint, I dove into the research. Sadly, I found that you can drive to within a quarter mile of it. But…I learned that it is located off the Ozark Trail, which has multiple access points. I chose to get there via a long and scenic stretch of the trail with Aaron acting as my shuttle driver. I began my journey from the Scour trailhead located in Johnson’s Shut Ins State Park. I waved goodbye and set off into the forest.

It took me a while to settle into a rhythm, since I kept stopping to ogle unusual wildflowers that I was not used to seeing, like the bright red petals of the fire pink and some alien-looking trillium flowers. The forest was still waking up from its winter slumber, so much of my surroundings were damp leaves, barren deciduous trees and slimy rock. The area had gotten an incredible amount of water lately, so everything was overflowing. I was glad I decided to start the hike in my Bedrock sandals.

In the first five miles, I slipped and fell twice. That doesn’t count the innumerable times I wobbled, slid or otherwise lost my footing but did not smack the ground. The trail in these conditions were pretty treacherous despite having the right footwear and hiking poles. This seemingly chill Missouri trail was going to make me work for it.

There are no big peaks here, but the Ozark trail makes you feel like you’re in a rugged mountain range. The trail goes up, down, up, down, ad infinitum. And the surface of the trail never felt flat. Between the slippery leaves, rock boulders, gravel, roots and other obstacles, I had to watch every single step. Meanwhile, the birds were singing, the sun rays filtered through the barren trees and my smile grew and grew.

Many miles passed before I reached my first landmark: Devil’s Tollgate. Then, Mina Sauk Falls. This section of the trail was very beautiful and very, very wet. The trail felt like a stream and the stream felt like a river. I had to do a few wet crossings and I was again glad to have worn my sandals today.

Reaching the highpoint

Just before reaching the summit of Taum Sauk Mountain (a misnomer imo) I heard “peeppeeppeep” get louder and louder and louder. The sound became deafening. It was the loudest cacophony of spring peepers I’d ever heard! I ventured off trail a little bit to the pond in which they presumably had set up shop. But I never saw a single one of them. Frogs have such incredible camouflage; I often hear them and rarely see them.

I reached the paved trail leading to the plaque and summit register. I signed in, sat on the bench and ate a snack. It was 4:30 pm. I knew I still had about seven miles to go in order to meet Aaron at our pre-determined pickup location. Before setting out on this hike, I planned three possible hike lengths based on how I felt and how much I was enjoying the trail. I settled on the longest of the three because I was having such an amazing time! But as the sun started casting longer shadows and my poor feet began barking, I questioned my sanity for making that decision. Could I do it? Well, yeah, but should I?

What I’ve learned on this van trip is this: take the opportunities you have. So, I decided to stick with the plan and go for the long day. The weather was good, I had enough daylight, I had a supportive ride waiting for me who would change plans without question if I sent the signal. I reminded myself, “I can do hard things.”

And off I went. I continued watching my steps very carefully, as the trail tread was still very uneven and very wet. I passed a few people who were cheerfully coming up the trail with overnight packs on their backs, raising the number of humans I’d seen all day to ten. I walked by cool rocks and plants without stopping, because I was on a mission now. To make it out before dark.

Are we there yet?

With each step, my feet got crankier and crankier. Honestly, I was glad they had performed so well in sandals all day after not doing any long hikes in quite awhile. But eventually my long-ago broken left foot told me that enough it enough.

Within a mile from the trailhead, I stopped and put on my trail shoes that had been waiting their turn patiently on my backpack. This made an enormous difference and I picked up my pace as I finished the hike back to the van. Luckily, this part of the trail was not completely underwater, so I was able to keep my feet dry for the rest of the hike. When I reached the parking lot, I checked my mapping app: I had traveled 19.9 miles. I threw my pack on the ground and raced around the perimeter of the lot until the app clocked 20 miles!

I hope to come back to this area to hike more of the Ozark Trail and to see it later in the season when more flowers are blooming. I absolutely loved the landscapes, the rocks, creeks, flowers and solitude. When we planned our big road trip, Missouri was NOT on my mind. But now it is, and we’ll have to be sure to plan a return visit.

By that point, I was totally wiped out and ready for dinner. Aaron had scouted a nearby hotel restaurant that we could get to before closing. What a gem (both Aaron and the restaurant). I finished my long day with a burger and beer, then we rolled into a free campsite for the night.

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