On Saturday I hiked the 10-mile Whispering Pine Trail at Hawn State Park. This park is between Ste. Genevieve and Farmington Missouri. Major drainages include Pickle Creek, which is spring-fed yet stained with tannins, and River Aux Vases, a small river on the park’s far south side. This is arguably the best 10-mile trail in Missouri, including forests, creeks, and numerous formations of Lamotte sandstone.

It’s also difficult for a state park trail, with three large hills, several wet creek crossings depending on weather, and one ridiculous but short area on the south loop where your choices are essentially between stepping in the River Aux Vases or slipping on the steep, narrow band of sandstone that forms the trail beneath a small overhang. I chose…poorly…and ended up with one wet boot for the final 5 miles. I’d read that the Sierra Club (the original designers of the trail) were scheduled to work on the trail for 4 days in April. The lousy until recently weather may have kept them from doing so, but they really should re-route this area over the hill. Other than that, it’s worth the effort you’ll put into it. There’s also a 6-mile option if you only do the north loop, the 1-mile Pickle Creek Trail (which despite its short length is rocky and difficult), and the 4-mile White Oak Trail, which now connects to the Whispering Pine Trail.

The trail is open to backpackers, too. There’s several official campsites, and others that have sprung up by areas of running water. There’s a no fire rule, but fire rings are everywhere.

The pictures above include lots of piney avenues, flowing water, rock formations, and dogwoods. Also, two box turtles. They’re on the move this time of year, and they’ll hold still for a picture. I missed the wild azaleas and yellow lady slipper orchids the park is known for, although I don’t know if I was too early or too late. The sign says allow 9 hours. I did it in 5 and a half, including lunches and breaks, FWIW.

For a shorter, easier, but just as spectacular hike, try the Trail through Time at Pickle Springs Natural Area between Hawn and Farmington. It’s a two-mile trail, and much less rocky or strenous.

If hiking the 6- or 10-mile Whispering Pine Trail, bring plenty of water (I drank 100 ounces before I ran out). Take breaks. Also, bring snacks. I hiked this trail 2 years ago thinking it was no big deal and brought water but no food. About 8 miles in, after hiking to the top of Evans Knob (the steepest hill on the trail) and then down the side, I bonked, I hit the wall. I sat on a stump and literally couldn’t move for a half hour. Respect this trail.

By the way, the very last hill is about a mile from the end. It’s psychologically a pain, because you can see and hear people having fun in the park campground, while you hike up, and up, and up. It’s one of those Missouri hills–you think you’ve reached the crest, only to turn a corner and find the trail continuing up. If you were really hurting, you could wade across the creek to the campground and walk to the parking lot from there to avoid this final hill, but it is not as difficult as Evans Knob.


I took the occasion of this hike as a chance to try out some energy bars. I normally don’t go that route, especially since I’m doing a low-carb thing, but I thought it would be a good chance to try some out. Here’s my non-scientific assessment.

The Gels:

Gu Roctane Blueberry Pomegranate: Tasted neither like blueberries or pomegranates–had the same molasses-y taste of the Clif gels. However, its energy came on astonishingly quickly.

100 calories

25 g carbs

55 mg potassium

35 mg caffeine

Clif Shot Mocha/Clif Shot Razz: Again, didn’t taste much like coffee or raspberry. These two tasted really strongly of molasses, which isn’t a bad flavor. Main ingredient is “organic brown rice syrup,” so I sort of wonder if one couldn’t cheaply replicate the whole power gel thing by putting some molasses in a squeeze bottle from a camping store. The main upside to these gels seems to be the smaller likelihood of them making a mess in your pack. The energy does come quickly, and given their light weight, if one didn’t go the molasses route, it seems worthwhile to stow a couple of these in your pack for if you ever really need a little boost.

100 calories

25 g carbs

30 mg potassium

The Bars:

Clif Bar Chocolate Brownie: Lost the wrapper for this one, so no vital stats. Moist, chewy, didn’t taste a lot like a chocolate brownie but instead had an almost applesauce flavor. Still, not bad.

Power Bar Chocolate Brownie: Undeniably good for you, but pretty awful tasting. Tastes a lot like sugar-free chocolate, and the texture was really dry. I needed to drink water with it.

360 calories

33 g carbs

11 g fat

30 g protein

Luna Lemon Zest: We have a winner! The best energy thing I had on the trail. Tastes like a lemony Rice Krispie Treat. Consumed with relish on the top of Evans Knob. Highly, highly recommended.

180 calories

26 g carbs

4.5 g fat

10 g protein

170 mg potassium

Here’s the second of Missouri’s eight wilderness areas. I hike Hercules Glades with friends in February, and last weekend we did Bell Mountain Wilderness in Iron County with two friends.

One of us (*cough* me *cough*) foolishly left the tent behind when we piled into the carpool vehicle, so we didn’t get to backpack as intended. Instead, we did the point-to-point trail in a day, then got a room at an Ironton motel. Probably for the best, as it _poured_ rain all night.

It rained during the hike, too, for about an hour and a half of the six hours. Not cold or windy, just steady. That’s why there’s no pictures from the summit glade. Bell is almost as high as Missouri’s highest point, Taum Sauk Mountain, but it’s far more exposed, and therefore in weather like last weekend’s, the top is in the clouds. So, there was no view. The rest of the pictures turned out reasonably well, though.

We hiked from the upper trailhead off of the forest road, reaching the summit in about two hours. We had lunch there, in a steady rain, then started heading south to the Ozark Trail trailhead on Highway A, where we’d left another car. That area is dry as a bone most of the year, but because of the rain and the cold, wet, miserable spring we’ve had so far, the granite of the Ozark Trail was slippery as hell. Muddy, too.

It was an awesome hike, nevertheless. However, I think the Missouri Conservation Department may have spoken too soon when it declared victory over feral hogs. We never saw them, but we saw a great deal of their sign–scrapes on trees and rooted-up areas near the trail. Take care when hiking here, and keep in mind it’s an open season on feral hogs because of the damage they do to the environment.

I had a chance to get out to Sullivan, Missouri, last Sunday to hike the Wilderness Trail at Meramec State Park. This is an easy 10-miler (as opposed to, say, Hawn State Park, which has a more difficult 10-mile trail). It is a backpacking trail with eight established camps. I day-hiked it in about 4 hours, though. It extends through glades, pine forests, bluffs, and (at least this early in the spring) numerous clear spring-fed creeks. It also passes through Copper Hollow and Copper Hollow Cave and spring (where I photographed the lush mats of watercress).

While I was out, I saw only one other hiker, who was mushroom hunting. It was early in the spring, and the weather turned cold and windy later in the day, but it was pretty cool to see green and flowers returning to the forest after a long winter.

If you ever hike it–be sure to take “The Long Way” as the sign phrases it. Otherwise, you’ll miss Copper Hollow and a view of the Meramec River, and you’ll only skip one relatively easy hill.

The ex-armadillo was right where the shortcut spur re-connected with the main trail. Missouri has a great many dead armadillos, but I’ve never seen a live one.

People who aren’t from here (and probably a lot of people who are), are generally not aware that Missouri has Wilderness Areas. Actually, it has eight–Bell Mountain, Rockpile Mountain, Paddy Creek, Piney Creek, Irish, Devil’s Backbone, Mingo…and Hercules Glades. I’ve been to all except for Paddy Creek, Devil’s Backbone, and the Irish (which I hope to remedy this spring). Mingo is a swamp and cannot be hiked. Hercules Glades, which I backpacked with four friends last weekend, must be one of the largest. It’s in the Ozarks, about 60 miles from Branson. If you’ve read any of Daniel Woodrell’s novels, this is the sort of land the Dollys inhabit.

It was very cold at night–high teens or low twenties, but my down sleeping bag seemed to do the trick. It was an ordeal to get out of the warmth in the morning, but good companionship and awe-inspiring surroundings made it more than worthwhile, and both days became sunny cool hiking days. It was a relatively short one–only about 10 miles. There were two hills that tested my fitness, but other than that we made excellent time. Our guide seemed to know everything there was to know about the Glades, certainly more than we can learn on one trip. I’m sure we’ll be back. The glades, old homesteads, rock formations, and gin-clear creeks were extraordinary.

Don’t tell anyone how awesome Missouri is–it’ll be our secret. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures. 🙂