Great Hikes of the Ozarks: Ridge Runner Trail
In this barren, sports-less wasteland in which we have found ourselves, many have been
looking for ways to fill the void. With no sports to watch, and no sports to play, a hike through
these Ozark hills is a great way to get the blood pumping.
Before setting out on any hike, it is important to be prepared. Proper shoes are crucial. Good
hiking shoes start with a thick, slip-resistant sole, and are ideally waterproof. Boots that are tall
enough to offer ankle support are also a good idea. Although shorts may be cooler, long pants
are a better idea.
Finally, it is always a good idea to have water on the trail, no matter how long or short the
intended trek is.
This week I hiked a portion of the Ridge Runner Trail, a National Recreation Trail, consisting of
a 6-mile loop at Noblett Lake, a 6-mile loop near the North Fork Recreation Area and a 21-mile
long segment in between that extends from Noblett Lake in the north to the North Fork
Recreation Area in the south. Open to hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians, the trail leads
through a part of the Missouri Ozarks known for its beauty and limestone karst topography. The
landscape varies from gently rolling to very steep terrain with rock outcrops and bluffs.
Vegetation along the trail is diverse and includes oak-hickory, short leaf pine and bottomland
forests. Remnant prairie plants can be seen, a reminder of a time when repeated wildfire burned
the Ozarks, allowing fingers of prairie to extend into the woods.
From Blue Hole Trailhead to the northern junction of the North Fork loop, the Ridge Runner and
Ozark trails run concurrently.
I entered the trail at the North Fork Recreation Area, which is located about 18 miles west of
West Plains on CC Highway. As I set off, it was my intention to walk about a mile, get a picture
and head back. However, once I started the trek, it was difficult to turn back. The clouds, and
relatively low temperature, actually made for a great hiking atmosphere.
The rain-saturated ground felt soft in the best places, and in the worst it was a muddy mess. I
was definitely happy to be wearing good hiking boots rather than athletic shoes.
The trail had just enough rise and fall to it to make me really like I was getting a good workout,
but not so much that it felt grueling or punishing. The woods are dense for the majority of the
trek with a few scenic vistas to take in. For me, though, a small trail running through such dense
forestation gives a greater feeling of being one with nature.
At some point, I would love to make the full hike to Noblett Lake, which would probably involve
an overnight camp. This day though, I made it about 4 miles in before deciding to turn back.
The Ridge Runner Trail is a great place to hike because it is well-suited for all skill and
endurance levels. Whether a person is looking for a 1-mile hike or a 20-mile hike, Ridge Runner
will fit the bill, making it one the great hikes of the Ozarks.
Remember, the hall closet is no place for hiking shoes. Get them out, lace them up and have a
RIDGE RUNNER TRAIL, in the Mark Twain National Forest, stretches from the North