Location: Exit from I-44 at Rolla to Hwy 63 south. Go 35-miles South to Licking on Hwy 63 and then take Hwy 32 west at Licking. Go 16-miles Hwy 32 to Roby then take Hwy 17 North about 1 mile to the Roby Lake Recreation Area sign on the east side of the highway.
Distance: 17 Miles Roundtrip from Roby Lake Recreation Area.
Water: Water may be available from several springs along the trail and at the Paddy Creek Campground from Paddy Creek ! 5May99 - The USFS has permanently shut off the spicket at the Paddy Creek Campground/Picnic Area
Parking: Overnight parking is available at three locations, at the Roby Lake Recreation Area just off Hwy 17 north of Roby to the east of Hwy 17, at the Paddy Creek Campground, the mid-point along the trail as it crosses Paddy Creek, and at the Big Piney Trail Camp at the northeast corner of the Wilderness.
Comments: This is one of the most scenic trails in the state and offers some spectacular views from the bluff tops, including a narrow 'razor' back type ridge above the Paddy Creek Picnic Area/Campground. The Paddy Creek Wilderness comprises 7,020 acres. You can camp anywhere along the trail as long as you are far enough off of the trail and there are plenty of good locations to stop. The Big Piney Trail was written up in 'Outside' magazine back in 1993. That article has a small map and a great review of the trail. 5May99 - The permanent campground is now east along the blacktop top road where the trail crosses at Paddy Creek. The 'old' campground, now picnic area, is to the west of this trail crossing but can be used as a campground from December 1st to March 15th.
Trip Report 24/25 April 1999: I rehiked the trail this weekend and have added some notes above as updates for 5May99. The dogwoods were out in full bloom and it was a great weekend for hiking except for the last two hours we hiked in the downpour as we headed back to Roby Lake on Sunday morning.
Trip Report 23-24 October 1998 Robert & Francis Sommer : We departed the Roby Lake Recreation Area parking lot at 1 p.m. on Friday afternoon. The conditions were excellent, a pure indian summer day, clear skies and temperatures in the mid-seventies. The area is not marked well, a problem we found on the trail, as well, and because we were unfamiliar with this area, we had trouble locating the gate for the trailhead in the tallgrass. We only encountered one party on horseback, a group of six, heading for the trailhead as we headed out. Horse droppings were another consistent obstacle on the trail. Aside from these minor problems it was an altogether enjoyable outing. We hiked the North Loop Trail to the junction of the cutoff to the South Loop Trail. With limited time available, we decided against taking the full loop. The streambeds along the way were dry. Fortunately, we’d been advised by a ranger by telephone to bring sufficient water. We made camp on the south side of the cutoff trail, near some rocks at the highest point in the immediate area, maybe a ten minute walk from the junction. This turned out to be a good choice, as proceeding farther would have brought us into a long descent toward Little Paddy Creek and some unappealing spots to camp.
Night time in the forest offers much entertainment. Most starting was the sudden howling of a pack of coyotes, perhaps no more than a few hundred yards from our camp. They sounded like a traffic jam of car horns and were answered by another pack at some distance. Periodically during the night this sound erupted. It was startling, though not frightening. We also heard many nightbirds and an occasional mooing, which we concluded must have been deer. Temperatures fell to the thirties. Our bags were good for the temps, but a hooded sweatshirt or wool hat would have helped at this time of year. We packed out by nine-thirty the following morning and stayed with the cutoff trail until it met the South Loop. Again, we had a warm day and were down to t-shirts by the time we made the junction. The hike is varied enough in topography to remain interesting, with grades that are strenuous yet not overwhleming. The scenic overlook on the South Loop is a great place for lunch and the only place on the short loop that we hiked where the forest opens up to considerable exposure to the sky. Much of the trail is enclosed in the forest. With the autumn well along, many leaves were down on the ground, but the trees were still partly dressed in faded leaves, and sunlight shone through to the trail and forest floor in dappled patterns. Sunglasses were not necessary for most of this hike, though we had full sunlight for most of both days. We made it back to the trailhead by early afternoon, maybe three hours after breaking camp. The short loop is an excellent choice for a limited visit. Hikers should be advised that we also heard gunshots, though none close to us, inluding one shot during the late night. Bright clothing and/or hats are advisable at this time of year.
Trip Report 10 November 1997: I (Danny) hiked the Big Piney Trail over the weekend of 8 & 9 November with my two sons. This was my first 'Fall' trip on the trail. I have hiked this trail a number of times with my first time being in the early 70's. We parked at the Roby Lake Recreation Area in order to get in a full 17 miles. The trail forks 9/10 mile from this trailhead to the North and South Loops respectively. If you use one of the other trailheads (Paddy Creek or Big Piney Trailcamp) then the loop trail is only 15.2 miles. A cutoff between the two loops gives one the option of hiking various distances. We hiked from the South Loop to the North Loop (counter clockwise). The South Loop has a spectacular scenic overlook above Little Paddy Creek. This is a great place to relax, eat lunch, or camp. Even though it was cloudy, the Fall colors were beautiful. This creek is crossed further east on the trail and offers an opportunity to get water. Big Paddy Creek is crossed about a mile before getting into Paddy Creek Campground and crossed again east of the campground before the trail climbs to the top of the bluffs on the north side of the campground and Paddy Creek.
The Paddy Creek Campground is at the 7.3 mile point in the trail and the potable water supply is no longer available. 5May99 - It is permanently shut off now. The creek was really low from the dry summer/autumn and we were able to step on stones to cross. The bluffs here offer spectacular view from the campground as well as from the top. We continued on another 2 miles to the Big Piney Trail Camp on the top of the bluff. The Big Piney River can be seen to the north when you get to the top of the bluff. There are several scenic locations to camp on top of the bluff. The Big Piney Trailcamp is a dry camp and is mainly used by horseback riders but there are several picnic tables, a fire ring, parking, and a trailhead sign-in box with maps.
On Sunday we continued on back towards Roby Lake along the North Loop. I noted one section of the trail did not match the map as the trail followed an old road but the map was showing the trail to be off the road to the south. There are also two springs along the North Loop but the first spring was apparently dry. Another nice area with tumbled sandstone boulders and small bluffs is a nice wooded area to eat some lunch or just take a break. The last spring is just 1.4 miles from the Roby Lake parking area. This spring has two small waterfalls, the largest about 10 feet high with a pool at the bottom. This waterfall and pool are visible from the trail. From here, it was about 35 minutes back to the van.
Maps: Trail maps available from the Rolla Supervisor's Office, Mark Twain National Forest (573-364-4621). Quad sheet: Slabtown Spring, MO, 7-1/2 minute USGS 1:24000 Quadrangles.
Cautions: Summertime ticks and heat. High Water could make the crossing of Paddy Creek difficult and you will probably have to wade across anyway. The Paddy Creek Campground is accessible by road and it can get crowded with locals but it is also a good place to cool off and take a dip on a hot day. The Big Piney Trailcamp had a lot of use by horseback riders and so has a lot of horse droppings around it. I don't recommended camping here unless you just want to use a picnic table.