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Camping in Missouri's 8 Wilderness Areas

Bell Mountain Wilderness
Wildflowers in Bell Mountain Wilderness

Flowers near the top of Bell Mountain in the Bell Mountain Wilderness, nestled in the St. Francois Mountains

View from Bell Mountain

View from Bell Mountain in the Bell Mountain Wilderness of the St. Francois Mountains, Missouri

The eight Missouri wilderness areas are spread primarily across the southern part of the Show-Me state. Most, but not all, are south of Interstate 44. Most have hiking trails that will take you into their interior and all emphasize the "Leave No Trace" ethic. First, we will take a quick look at each, and then look at the Leave No Trace "rules."

Bell Mountain Wilderness

Bell Mountain Wilderness is approximately 9000 acres in size. It is located in the St. Francois Mountains which comprise the highest mountains in Missouri. The highest point is 1702 feet at Bell Mountain. Part of the trail system in the Bell Mountain Wilderness is a portion of the Ozark Trail (about one mile total). From there, the trail turns off and heads up Bell Mountain. There is a total of 12 miles of trail, mostly very difficult in nature, and camping must be done at least 100 feet from the trail. Other camping issues will be discussed later

Bell Mountain Wilderness Sign

Below: Map of Bell Mountain Wilderness area

Directions to Bell Mountain Wilderness:

FT 12 Trailhead: from Potosi, MO, take Hwy 21 South 18 miles to Hwy 32. Take Hwy 32 West 8 miles to Hwy A. Take Hwy A South approx 1/4 mile to first Forest Road SE Go approx 1/4 mile SE to site.

Hwy A Trailhead: from Potosi, take Hwy 8 one mile East to Hwy 21. Go South on Hwy 21 for 11 miles. Or take Hwy 21 South for 17 miles to Hwy 32. Take Hwy 32 West for 8 miles to Hwy A. Take Hwy A approx 5 miles South to site.

Hercules Glade Wilderness
Irish Wilderness
Devil's Backbone
Devils Backbone Wilderness

Devils Backbone Wilderness Area is just under 7000 acres total. It is located in South central Missouri near West Plains (approximately 15 mile drive). There is approximately 13 miles of trail for use by foot or equestrian traffic. Its name is for the central ridge where most of the trail is located, at its highest point reaching 1020 feet in elevation. The trail system is reasonably doable for the moderately "in-shape" hiker/camper. The North Fork Recreation Area provides a campsite area if the visitor wishes to camp there and simply hike the wilderness area. Otherwise, general wilderness area rules apply. 

Directions to Devil's Backbone Wilderness:

Four trailheads provide entry to Devil's Backbone Wilderness. Blue Spring Trailhead is located within the North Fork Recreation Area(no horses allowed on this short section); Raccoon Hollow Trailhead is located on the south side of CC Highway about 1 1/2 miles east of Dora, MO; McGarr Ridge Trailhead is located on the south side of CC Highway about 4 miles east of Dora, MO; and Collin's Ridge Trailhead is located on County Road KK 362 which comes off KK Highway about 16 miles west of West Plains, MO on the south side of the wilderness.

Hercules Glades Wilderness Area

This stunningly beautiful area is located in the deep southern reaches of Missouri. This wilderness is over 12,000 acres in size and may be one of the most beautiful areas in the Midwest. The area can be reached leaving from Bradleyville or Forsyth, and is about 8 miles from each. This wonderful area has over 30 miles of maintained trails, but if one wishes, day or afternoon excursions can be done on short branches of this trail system. It should be noted that many streams are not equipped with bridges and trails range from moderately to very difficult. 

Directions to Hercules Glades Wilderness:

Three trailheads provide entry to the Hecules Glades Wilderness. The Hercules Tower Trailhead is located along Highway 125 8.5 miles south of Bradleyville, MO. There is a vault toilet, space for camping and parking at this location. The first part of the trail is mostly level, then it descends a slope to Long Creek. Or, take the 4-mile Pea's Hollow loop north along the hollow bottom, then back along the ridge. The Blair Ridge Trailhead is located 9.5 miles south of Bradleyville, MO on Highway 125; turn right onto Forest Road 155, go approximately 2 miles. There is only parking available at this location. The Coy Bald Trailhead is located off of Highway 160 east of Forsyth, MO 9 miles, turn left onto Forest Road 566 and go approximately 4 miles. There is parking available at this location.

Irish Wilderness

The Irish Wilderness has a lot going for it. It has rich history, it has many water related recreational opportunities (the Eleven Point River), and a great trail system. The Irish Wilderness has over 16,000 designated wilderness acres. There are 3 major trail heads in the wilderness, but one is only accessible after a float in on the Eleven Point River (White Trail head). The Camp Five Pond Trail head is usually accessed leaving out of Doniphan, Missouri, and is about a 35 mile drive. It should be noted that this trail is used extensively by horseback riders. The Brawley Pond Trail head is a ways past the Camp Five Pond Trail head and receives a little less equestrian traffic in our experience.

Directions to Irish Wilderness:

To access the Camp Five Pond Trailhead: It is accessible from Doniphan, Mo. Via Highway 160, west 20 miles to State Highway J, then north 7 miles. This same traihead may be accessed from US Highway 60 to thenorth by traveling 16 miles south on Highway J to Camp Five Pond.

Mingo Wilderness

This area is a little less than 8000 acres and is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It is a portion of a much larger Mingo Wildlife Refuge and a refuge for many migratory waterfowl. It is a diverse area interspersed with marsh areas as well as typical Ozark geography. It is located in Missouri's "bootheel" region.

Below: Map of Devil's Bone Wilderness area

Mingo Wilderness

Directions to Mingo Wilderness:

Located one mile north of Puxico, Missouri, the Refuge Office is a good place to find information on the wilderness, visitor rules, wildlife viewing opportunities, and other information.

Paddy Creek Wilderness Area
Camping in Paddy Creek Wilderness

Left: A view from a trail on a beautiful Fall day in Paddy Creek Wilderness. A short leaf pine stands in the foreground.  In the background is the road leading to the main campground.  


Above: Simple camping in Paddy Creek Wilderness using solo tents. 

Paddy Creek Wilderness
View from trail in Paddy Creek Wilderness

Approximately 7000 acres in size, and is in the beautiful Big Piney River area. There is a trail system that is a loop of about 17 miles in total. Markings on this trail are not prominent, so a map, compass, and/or GPS are a must (never rely solely on a GPS unit). The trail begins at the Roby Lake Recreational area. There is also the Paddy Creek Recreational area with 21 single sites. 

Directions to Paddy Creek Wilderness:

Located in northwestern Texas County 35 miles southwest of Rolla, Missouri, and 16 miles west of Licking, Missouri. 

Piney Creek Wilderness Area
Piney Creek Wilderness
Piney Creek Wilderness Sign Towersite

Left:  There are a couple of ways to access Piney Creek Wilderness.  The Pineview Tower Trailhead is but a short distance from highway.  There is a small area suitable for camping with a couple of trails from the area.


Right:  This is one of the trails that starts at the Pineview Tower Trailhead.  This is an example of some of the vegetation...the area was heavily logged some years ago.  These is a small stand of short leaf pine trees.

Piney Creek Wilderness - Short Leaf Pine Stand

The Piney Creek Wilderness is approximately 8000 acres in size and is about 35 miles from Branson, Missouri. There are over 13 miles of trails in this wilderness area. This wilderness area contains the watershed for Piney Creek and feeds Missouri's famous Table Rock Lake. 


Directions to Piney Creek Wilderness:


North Trailhead is located 32 miles west on Hwy 76 from Branson, MO. Turn left on Lake Road 76-6, go about a mile and turn right. South Trailhead is located 36 miles west on Hwy 76 from Branson, MO, turn left onto Hwy 39 at Hill City, and go 1 mile to Lake Road 39-1, then go 4 miles further to South Trailhead.

Rockpile Wilderness Area
Rockpile Wilderness

This is Missouri's smallest wilderness area (around 4,000 acres) and is mostly surrounded by private property. Despite this, it is a beautiful area. There are no permanent water sources, save some ponds built prior to its designation as wilderness to trap spring water and provide watering holes for the abundant wildlife. There is only 2 miles of designated trail but some abandoned logging roads from years past. It is named for a pile of granite stone erected by some human inhabitant from years ago. 


Directions to Rockpile Wilderness:

From St. Louis, take I-55 south to Hwy. 67; then south to Co.Rd. C south of Fredericktown; then south 10 miles to Co. Rd. 406 to FR2124.

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  • Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Leave What You Find

  • Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Respect Wildlife

  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

  • These principles are bare minimums for these fragile areas.

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