Camping and Hiking in Missouri's 8 Wilderness Areas

These eight wilderness areas are spread primarily across the southern part of the Show-Me state. Most, but not all, are south of Interstate 44. A Wilderness is a special area set aside by Congress which "generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable."

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. The area is rugged and is for experienced hikers only. Before you start, be prepared with adequate supplies; water sources within the Wilderness are not recommended for drinking. Dispersed camping is allowed, and they ask that campers practice leave no trace outdoor ethics. To protect the solitude, seek campsites that are out of site and sound of trails and other camps. You cannot build rock fire rings and do remember to never leave a fire without completely extinguishing it. Pack out all that you pack in.

2. Devils Backbone Wilderness

Devils Backbone Wilderness Area is just under 7000 acres total. It is located in South central Missouri near West Plains, Missouri. There are approximately 13 miles of trail used for hikers and equestrian traffic. It is named for the central ridge where most of the trail is located where at its highest point it reaches 1020 feet in elevation. The trail system is reasonably doable for the moderately "in-shape" hiker/camper.  Three springs in the Wilderness (Blue, Amber, and McGarr) feed the North Fork White River, which flows through the area. North Fork Recreation Area on the northern boundary offers campsites and a canoe launch for the river. Blue Springs alone produces an average of seven million gallons of water per day.  The McGarr Ridge Trail then joins the Collins Ridge Trail, allowing you to hike a loop that runs about 5.5 miles up and down the Devils Backbone. You should find the hiking moderate and backcountry camping is allowed, but subject to water and trail setback restrictions.

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.

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.

8. Rockpile Wilderness Area

This is Missouri's smallest wilderness area (around 4,000 acres) and is mostly surrounded by private property. Despite this, its just beautiful! . 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 and a few abandoned logging roads from years past. It is named for a pile of granite stone erected by human inhabitants from years ago.


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

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