Last week I really discovered a part of the Ozarks that I had no idea existed. The Ozark National Scenic Riverways is located in Southern Missouri and it is stunning. I had visited two of these sites without really venturing on, and that was a mistake because it’s the most beautiful area of Missouri I’ve explored to-date. My dad and I took a spontaneous trip to explore some of the springs of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and our mind was blown! I’m already itching to get back out there. While some of these aren’t maintained or run by the NPS, some of these stops are in or just outside of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.
Welch Spring and Welch Hospital
Welch Spring flows out of a rock face then spills down a short stream into the Current River. Although it’s one of the smaller springs in this area, it’s still absolutely beautiful. Small seems like a relative term when you learn that it discharges approximately 75 million gallons of water each day. The most unique thing about this spring is the fact there are the ruins of a hospital built in 1913. It was homesteaded by a man named Welch in 1855. Later a Doctor from Illinois bought the land and opened a hospital and spa targeted to asthma patients. The spa and hospital failed due to lack of access to the area, however, the remains are still here.
Left: You can see the stone from the hospital peeking out of the trees to the left of the bluff / Right: Taking it all in
You can explore these remains and the beautiful spring two ways. There’s a trail that leads you there is only a mile total roundtrip over flat ground – this trail puts Welch Hospital across from you. You can also access it by canoe or kayak from the Current River (this way allows you to explore the hospital as well).
Devil’s Well was one of the coolest spots in the Ozark Scenic National Riverways, in my opinion. This is a more unique spot because it isn’t right on one of the rivers or a spring. It’s a look down into an underground lake. This parking area takes you to a set of wooden stairs that go down into a sinkhole cave. They spiral around the opening, then turn into a metal staircase. You walk under a tiny natural bridge to a platform (careful, this area can be wet) and look into a a window of the cave to see a lake sitting 100 feet below the surface. While it doesn’t photograph as anything incredible, it’s very unique and super beautiful. Also, in this area is is the Cave Spring Trail (read more about this below).
Echo Bluff State Park
My dad and I went down to Sinking Creek to play in the water a bit before heading back out on our Ozark National Scenic Riverways adventure.
Although this isn’t part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways it’s right along the Current River and it would be a shame to miss out on. This is Missouri’s newest state park and while it doesn’t have a load of hiking trails, the main attraction is Echo Bluff itself. You can play in the water (swim, float, wade, etc.) just below the bluff in Sinking Creek. If you’re in the area and have time, I would recommend checking it out. They also have a gorgeous lodge and great campground if you’re looking to have a more extended stay.
Left: The Mouth of Round Spring / Right: My Dad Taking in Round Spring
Round Spring is back into the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. This spring gets its name from, you guessed it, its round shape! From the parking area you follow the path directly to the spring. It’s maybe .4 miles round trip. When you walk up there’s an area with spring-colored water (this is the mouth of the spring, but not round spring). Many people walked up to this and went back to their cars. My dad and I continued up the path and we were rewarded greatly! We heard many people approach and leave only visiting the mouth of the cave. But the beauty is behind the bluff of the mouth of the cave, which continuing on the trail leads you on top of. Round spring is a rich blue color and discharges an average of 26.5 million gallons of water each day.
Two Rivers is the area where the Jacks Fork and Current Rivers converge into the Current River. I accidentally missed this on our trip to Ozark National Scenic Riverways. It looks like beautiful area. Plus, this region is centered around these two rivers, so seeing where the two come together seems like a spot that shouldn’t be missed.
Rocky Falls Shut-In
This beautiful waterfall and swimming hole is said to be a mini-Johnson’s-Shut-Ins (which is one of the best swimming holes in America that I’ve visited). It’s definitely a mini version, but has a much taller waterfall area to play around on. When we were there loads of kids were running around and sliding down the natural waterslides made smooth by the falling water and parents and kids were wading and swimming in the waters below. This stop is one you should definitely make if you’re staying longer and looking for a perfect swimming hole. It’s a bit more off the path than many of these other stops.
Left: My dad on the gorgeous trail / Right: Me taking in the beauty of Blue Spring
There are multiple springs with the title ‘Blue Spring’. However, the Blue Spring that you don’t want to miss is the one between Eminence and Ellington. This is the number one highlight of this area that I would say you truly cannot miss! I think that this is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in all of Missouri! It’s so deep that the Statue of Liberty would be fully submerged if you sat it at the bottom of the spring. To add to its enormity, it averages a discharge of 90 million gallons of water each day. It’s under one mile round trip to hike to this beautiful sight. It’s truly a gem.
Alley Spring is definitely one of the most picturesque places in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The beautiful old, red Alley Mill sits in the pool of the gorgeous Alley Spring. Alley Spring discharges an average of 81 million gallons of water each day. As with other springs, the spring is the blues at the source of it and fades as the water moves outward. We were here in early evening, so the air started to cool and it made a gorgeous haze over the water of the spring. Alley Mill was constructed between 1893-1894. It milled wheat into flour and is actually the second mill to sit here. An earlier, smaller mill (built in 1868) was replaced by the one that sits there now.
Left: Alley Mill from Across the Spring / Right: Looking Back Up at the Spring
In addition to the mill and spring, there are a couple of trails around the beautiful creek and over the bluff above the spring. No trip here is complete without walking around the lake. You can also tour inside the mill (know that it has specific business hours), so our trip inside was only about 4 minutes. Also on the site is the old school house. You can peer in through the windows where it’s setup like an old classroom would’ve been.
Left: Looking At the Small Cascade Over the Turquoise Water As Seen from the Parking Lot / Right: The Trail that Meanders Behind and Around the Spring
Big Spring is a little further down the road in Van Buren. This is the largest spring in Ozark National Scenic Riverways, and actually in the running as the largest spring in the entire United States. This spring discharges a massive average 276 million gallons of water daily! It flows with such a massive amount of power that looks like a turquoise boil in a river. There’s a trail that leads back around it and walks over a small trickle of water over mossy/ferny stones. There are cabins and a lodge that were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps as well as tent and RV sites. A massive flood occurred in the Ozarks this year, so some of this area is still being put back into order. There are also trails into the forest just down the road from the spring that are a great way to stretch your legs.
Float the Current or Jacks Fork River
This is a fun way to truly jump in and enjoy the Ozark National Scenic Riverway. My family went down to Van Buren to spend a day floating just a couple of weeks ago. I would so highly recommend it, it makes for a day of fun! We had so many laughs and saw really beautiful views from the river. We floated on inner- tubes for a relaxing social occasion, which is perfect for large groups. Next time, I want to hop in a canoe or kayak, start further up and take in a lot of the sites that you can only get to from the river. It sounds like a really amazing way to truly explore!
Bonus Stops in Ozark National Scenic Riverways:
Montauk State Park: This state park is just north of this area near Salem, Missouri. There’s a spring up there, a fish hatchery and more. It’s not one of my favorites, but if you’re staying in the area and want to get some hiking miles in, it’s a great place to stop.
Cave Spring: My dad and I did this trip in a single day, so we skipped hiking to this spring. It does look really pretty, but it’s an almost 5-mile round trip hike. You can access this trailhead from the Devil’s Well parking area.
Pulltite Spring: Pulltite Spring also has an old cabin sitting near this spring. We drove down the road that leads you to Pulltite Campground to make a stop here. Unfortunately it’s on the opposite side of the river. So, the best way to explore this is from the river. There is a path that you could get to the river and swim across, but if you’re just there day-tripping it’s much too deep to wade and stay somewhat dry – we tried.
Powder Mill: Powder Mill looks really nice and historical. We didn’t make it because of the aforementioned flooding we had this spring, the road had debris and quite a bit of water over it still. It’s very close to Blue Spring and you can make it there hiking from the Blue Spring Trailhead. It was about 1.5 miles each way if I’m remembering correctly.
Round Spring Cave: This is right by Round Spring. You can’t go in on your own, but there are 2-hour cave tours led by a Park Ranger. At present tickets are $5 for adults and only $2 for children. It looks like it’s quite pretty and I’d love to try it sometime.
Ozark National Scenic Riverways is a destination that has something for everyone. There are trails, water activities, springs that don’t require too much effort to get to, caves, camping and so much more! The nature beauty is varied and the historical sites are wonderful as well. It’s a region that’s underrated and waiting to be explored!
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