The Ozark Trail is a part of a vision, conceived in 1977, to build a scenic and varied route through the Missouri Ozarks, stretching from the St. Louis metropolitan area southwestward to the Arkansas border, eventually connecting to the Ozark Highlands trail-- creating a 700 mile thru-trail. Almost 550 miles of trail have been completed, with 350 miles in Missouri.
The Ozark Trail is the most popular backpacking trail in Missouri. The recently-completed Middle Fork Section opened up a 200-mile continuous trail through the rolling hills of southeast Missouri including the St. Francois Mountains, which provide one of the best trail destinations between the Rockies and the Appalachians. A spur off of this 200-mile spine, the Taum Sauk Section of the Ozark Trail, runs through Johnson's Shut-Ins and Taum Sauk Mountain State Parks. This spur offers trail users close up views of some of Missouri's best wonders: Mina Sauk Falls, Devil's Tollgate and Johnson's Shut-Ins not to mention the many wonderful vistas along the way.
Within a twenty-mile radius from Johnson's Shut-Ins, there are over 150 miles of trail, including the Taum Sauk Section of the Ozark Trail, which is widely believed to be Missouri's best-known and most-used hiking trail. The region also has the best single-track mountain biking trail in the state, the best Federal Wilderness trail and fantastic equestrian trails all going past shut-ins, waterfalls, lakes and streams. And all 150 miles of these trails are in a 20-mile radius of Johnson's Shut-Ins! A breakdown of these trails follows:
- Trace Creek Section - Ozark Trail 24 miles
- Council Bluff Lake Loop 12 miles
- Middle Fork Section - Ozark Trail 25 miles
- Karkaghne Section - Ozark Trail 25 miles
- Bell Mountain Wilderness 12 miles
- Taum Sauk Section - Ozark Trail 35 miles
- Marble Creek Section - Ozark Trail 8 miles
- Goggins Mountain Loop 10 miles
Spirit Magazine, the monthly publication of Southwest Airlines, referred to the region's trails as Missouri's best-kept secret in its September 2006 issue. The trails here are remote, wild and adventurous. But some of their greatest strengths are among their weaknesses - the new or casual trail user can be intimidated by the planning process and often asks: How do I get to trailheads on long winding roads? How far can I travel in a weekend? Where do I camp? How do I get back to my car? Is lodging nearby?
With 150 miles of trail in such a short area, trip options are numerous and can fit hikers, backpackers, mountain bikers and equestrians looking for a trip of a few hours to an entire week. The Ozark Trail Association gets hundreds of emails a year asking for help in planning these sorts of trips. If this information was readily available on the Internet as an interactive custom trip planner, it could generate thousands of person-day visits to this region each year.
Trail users will get a special treat thanks to a $75,000 grant from an AmerenUE "Project Enhancement" program that is part of a $5 million settlement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for damages caused by a reservoir breach in December 2005. Beginning in September 2007, the OTA will offer two new services within a 20-mile radius of Johnson's Shut-Ins: an online trip planner with over 50 customized trail trips for hikers, bikers and equestrians, plus a shuttle service that will serve all the major trail heads in the area during the peak trail seasons in spring and fall. Over 150 miles of trail will be included in the trip planner and shuttle service, including all of the Taum Sauk, Middle Fork and Karkaghne sections plus the Trace Creek section from Council Bluff Lake south to the Highway A trail head.
The OTA is excited about this opportunity to deliver a great trail tourism package to this region.