Missouri is unofficially referred to as the Karst State by a number of spelunkers and rock climbers. It hosts over 5,000 caves that are hidden in the state's scenic hills and grassy plains. Meramec State Park is home to 40 of those caves and the Wilderness Trail explores the most remote sections of the park. Visitors will be privileged to explore a number of peaceful forests, meadows and valleys while also having the opportunities to explore caves along the way. The trail does a figure eight loop across 10 miles that alternates in between steep grades and long gentle stretches that serves for a lovely way to spend half a day in Missouri.
|Trail Length:||8.5 miles||City/State:|| Sullivan,
|Elevation:||2,563 feet elevation gain||County:||Crawford||Dogs Allowed:||Yes|
From the nearby town of Sullivan, Missouri the Meramec State Park is to the east down Route 185. Along the highway, the entrance to the park is right off the highway. Traveling on the main park road, visitors will see the Campbell Hallows / Wilderness Trail turnoff that leads into a small parking lot. The trailhead will be either north or south of the parking lot, depending on where hikers want to start. While some may be tempted to take a quick trip to Campbell Hollows, the hike will also lead through that particular attraction as the loop does a figure eight north and south of the parking lot. This guide will start south meaning Campbell Hollows is among the first stops.
From the trailhead, the trail crosses a wooden bridge over a small creek and begins to ascend up a slight hill. At the top of the hill the trail leads past four cabins that are rented out to campers by the park and also serve as great stays for those looking to spend a few days exploring the park. There is also a registration box along the trail here for those that want to sign it in case the unthinkable happens. The trail is fairly remote once it gets going, so it may not be a bad idea. After the cabins, the trail forks, the left fork continues onwards, but the right fork leads to Campbell Hollows. The trail to Campbell Hollows is only a short detour so it is highly recommended. The downhill trail leads into the valley known as Campbell Hollow where there are a number of cliffs and waterfalls leading into small springs. With a number of small caves and ridges in the area, it is a scenic side trip any time of the year.
Back on the Wilderness Trail, the path starts to slope up until it crosses a gravel access road that runs along a ridge. The trail crosses the road then heads downhill and bottoms out into the Deer Hollows valley and the creek that runs through it. Providing there had not been too much heavy rain in the area, the creek is easily crossable via rock hopping so hikers do not even have to get their feet wet. Nearby the creek is the first backpacker camp among many that lie along the trail. Even for those that don't stay the night in the area, it is a nice and peaceful place for a break or have some lunch.
After some brief walking in the flat creek bed area, the trail starts running uphill for a long stretch. This is, obviously, one of the more strenuous sections of the hike. The uphill section ends when the trail crosses Route 185 that is the only point of access into the park. The road isn't usually too busy so crossing it should be safe enough. Across the road the trail travels downhill through a pine forest where there is yet another creek at the bottom of the hill. Now the trail begins to open up as it winds its way through the various hills in the area, opting to go around rather than over them. As the forest opens up further, it turns into glades and eventually hikers will come to a glade filled with about 1,000 Echinacea flowers.
The trail then runs along the Meramac River, which you could easily see in the winter time when there is no leaves or underbrush, but during the summertime hikers likely not even know it is beyond the tree line. After crossing a few watersheds and yet another creek, the trails comes to the Copper Hollow Spring. The water gushes out of a small cave from a little cliff on the inside. It is pretty interesting to take the time to go peek in the cave, but the ground is pretty slippery. Even for those that do not slip and fall, they will still get wet, so consider whether hiking in wet boots the rest of the way is worth it or not.
Just after Copper Hollow is the next backpacking campsite which is also just short of the five mile mark. This is yet another lovely scenic spot for a break or some lunch, but it is pretty popular with hikers as it is considered the half way point. The trail takes a sharp left after the campsite and begins the second loop of the figure eight shape. There will be two more campsites along the relatively flat forest trail here for those that found the other campsite too crowded. However, the trail will begin to start heading uphill again and leads up to the steepest spot in the trail. Sadly, the high point also has quite a few high trees so it doesn't host any spectacular views. On the way back down the hill, hikers will spot two more backpacking campsites and cross over Route 185 for the second time. The remainder of the trail is fairly peaceful, it is pretty flat compared to previous sections but the actual trail does dart back and forth a fair bit instead of being a straight shot. Soon the hike ends back at the trailhead and the parking lot. The end of the hike is rather anticlimactic, but sometimes things just turn out that way.
Missouri has a number of ticks in the summer and spring months, but they taper off as the weather gets colder. It is recommended to take breaks and deal with those little buggers frequently as they contain a number of diseases. Dogs should also have some sort of tick prevention as well.
The trail narrows a number of times and while there is little in the way of poison ivy, there is an abundance of its harmless cousin fragrant sumac. So the three leaved trick traditionally used to tell them apart is essentially useless. Those who know their plants will know them apart, but it is best to be careful.
During the more highly forested areas, be prepared to duck a few times. The trail can occasionally be obstructed with low hanging branches or the occasional vine.