Danny's Missouri Backpacking & Hiking Trails Reviews

Updated 11 November 1998

Piney Creek Wilderness - Mark Twain National Forest

Location: West from Branson about 32 miles, or east from Cassville about 20 miles. Follow Lake Road 76-6 to reach Pineview Tower Trailhead from the north. Highway 39 and Lake Road 39-1 will lead you to the southeren boundary of this Wilderness area.

Distance: There are five maintained trails totalling 13.1 miles. Portions of the tail system utilize old woods roads with other trail sections being newly constructed.

Water: Water is available from numerous springs along Piney Creek but it must be treated, boiled, or filtered before drinking.

Parking: Overnight parking is available at two locations, at the Pineview Tower Trailhead on the north side of the Wilderness and a trailhead on the south side of the Wilderness.

Comments: This Widerness area comprises 8,142-acres in Barry and Stone Counties of Southwest Missouri. The ridgetops rise more than 400 feet above the hollows and streams that dissect the area. Oak and hickory trees dominate the upland slopes and ridges. The lower portions of the side drainages and bottomland contain small glade openings and old fields. Wildlife in the area is typical of the Missouri Ozarks.

Trip Report from Marc Mason: We backpacked into the Piney Creek Wilderness on September 26,1998. I can't remember having any hotter weather on the last weekend of September. We took the Western trail from the Piney Creek fire tower. We had some trouble finding it because when we arrived at the trailhead a horse trailer was parked in front of it. By the time we were ready to roll, with everyone accounted for and our boots tied and packs strapped on, the trailer had moved and the trailhead materialized.

The trail showed obvious signs of horse traffic. We didn't encounter any live horses on the way in but we did notice their signs. They were hard to miss. It's a rocky path that tends to follow the ridge top down from the trailhead before crossing on to the next ridge. The transition through the draw between ridges was pretty steep. We had to grab for hand holds in a couple spots to make it up the far side, but the vertical rise did not last long.

There is a large, and obviously well-used, campsite on the north bank of Piney Creek. It took us less than two hours to reach it from the trailhead. A side trail runs right through the middle of it but there was no sign of horse in the campsite. A smaller campsite is on the south side of the creek practically on the main trail. It is much smaller and except for its proximity to the creek would not be as desirable. With less shade, more poison ivy and potential horse traffic, it made the the north site seem much more appealing.

Piney Creek is spring fed, crystal clear and felt great on our hot and tired feet. It was only a few inches deep in most places, some up and down stream exploring found it no more than calf high. The guys who lugged fishing gear were disapointed not to find any pools to fish in.

We left our packs (and foolishly our water bottles) at the camp site and then crossed the creek walking all the way to the south trailhead. It took a little over an hour. The trail takes a fairly gradual ascent up through a draw and cuts into the bluff high on the ridge before emerging on a gravel road. Did I mention it was unseasonably hot? A cut through the rocky bluff gives way to the best overlook we found in the Wilderness. You have to scramble up onto a boulder for the best effect but you can see the entire valley and the opposite ridges.

We never took the eastern segment of the trail because it was already early evening and the return trip would have been twice as far taking that segment. Also, we were thirsty and we didn't want to make dinner in the dark so we retraced our steps back to Piney Creek and our campsite.

The map shows a westbound trail at or near where the trail we were on crosses Piney Creek. We never found it. It is the only trail listed for hiking only, and we couldn't find it.

On our way out the next morning we took the trail east along Piney Creek. It's a flat trail, through the glades, overgrown with weeds and brush. We made a couple of stream crossings and then walked right past our turn. We made a scrambling, splashing crossing of the creek and found a right turn off the trail not far afterwards. Our map showed the left turn to be a few hundred yards, and two crossings behind us. We retraced our steps scrambled and splashed back into the creek and found the junction we'd ignored earlier thinking it was just another side trail.

The sparsely used side trail turned out to be the eastern segment that lead back to the fire tower trailhead. The total rise according to our topographical maps was around 450 feet. Most of it came in a quarter mile stretch about three quarters of the way to the trailhead. It was hot and we wished we'd carried more water. By the time we reached the trailhead the guys in my group had run out.

There are no water sources at the trailhead. The only water source we found was Piney Creek itself. There were numerous dry washes making the hike look as though it would be especially challenging in the rain, but there was no other water except a very stagnant former stock pond near the trail head. We were not thirsty enough to try and filter that mosquito soup. It took us about two and a half hours to hike out including our unplanned side trip.

We never saw a soul for twenty four hours while we were in the wilderness, with the exception of a friendly horseman who rode up as we were leaving. There were animal sounds, especially owls at night and at least one coyote and others we couldn't identify. Someone thought they'd seen signs of wild hogs rooting and we may have heard a squeal or two that night. We saw a bull snake and some yellow butterflies, there were plenty of mosquitos near the creek, but they weren't as bothersome at the campsite nor up on the ridges.

It's a beautiful slice of the Ozarks. It takes a fairly short, though at times, physically challenging hike to get you into the middle of an isolated, solitary Ozark stream valley. When you are at the banks of the Piney Creek, you can't hear any traffic, you don't see any strangers and it doesn't take much imagination to turn the two or three miles between the middle of this tiny piece of Wilderness and the outside world into an eternity.

Maps: Trail maps available from the Cassville Ranger District (417-847-2144), Highway 248 East, P.O. Box 310, Cassville, MO 65625. Quad sheets: Shell Knob and Cape Fair, MO, 7-1/2 minute USGS 1:24000 Quadrangles.

Cautions: Summertime ticks and heat, bring plenty of water. This area has plenty of snakes, including rattlesnakes (western pigmy and eastern timber).

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