If you’ve been driving the Ozark Trail Customer Service recently, you might have noticed that it’s a little rough around the edges. The asphalt is worn, and there are potholes. It’s a reminder that this is a highway that was built in the early 1920s. But the trail is still a great place to hike. The scenic vistas and unique rock formations make for a fascinating landscape that will capture the attention of any outdoor lover.
The Ozark Trail (OT) deserves more attention than it tends to get. Brimming with rocky streams, dolomite glades, plunge-pool-filled shut-ins and hidden caves, this trail is one of the most geographically unique hiking experiences anywhere in the United States.
But the OT is more than just a collection of hiking trails. The OT has a rich and unique history, and the people who have made it what it is today are what set it apart from other state trails. The OT was first organized in 1913 as the Ozark Trails Association, and it was a public-spirited good roads organization. Its members came from all over the country and met at annual meetings in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri to promote tourism, improve road conditions and advocate for better highways.
Unlike the National Scenic Trail System, the Ozark Trail did not receive its funding from an act of Congress and was not managed by a single entity. Instead, seven governmental agencies, as well as one private landowner and several environmental groups formed the Ozark Trail Council. They each agreed to manage the trail segments that crossed their respective lands.
The OT is a series of trails that stretch from St. Louis to El Paso over a variety of routes. Many of these trails were once part of the United States Highway system and were later transferred to the local governments to maintain. But the OT also includes old traces that were never converted to highways.
In addition to a diverse array of natural wonders, the OT is home to a host of wildlife species. From the osprey and heron to the coyote and deer, there’s something for everyone to enjoy while exploring the OT. While hiking the OT, be sure to keep a safe distance from wildlife and respect their habitats.
Hiking the OT can be a challenge, but it’s an experience that’s worth the effort. Just be sure to bring a map, a compass and the proper gear for your trip. Having the right backpack makes it easier to navigate the rugged terrain, and backpacks with features like hydration compatibility, trekking pole attachments and rain-fly stows are ideal for backcountry camping on the OT. If you want to take the guesswork out of planning your next hiking adventure, download a free Ozark Trail map on HiiKER. This handy app is available for both iOS and Android devices, and it allows you to load your favorite outdoor maps into your phone or GPS, so you can use them without a data plan while out on the trail.