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Hike or Paddle the Ozark Trail?
uring a weekend outing, the only
thing comparable to a backpack
cinched tightly against my shoulders is a
paddle gripped in the palm of my hand.
The Ozark Trail intersects with several
streams that offer outstanding paddling,
but the logistics and planning can make
it difficult to do both in one weekend.
A popular commercial uses a series of
examples to show the comical result of
choosing between two important items
such as “nuts or bolts.” When there are
options for hiking and/or paddling, I
have to agree that “and” IS better than
“or.” A hike on the Courtois section
followed by a float on several nearby
streams is the perfect combination of
hiking and paddling, with no need to
shuttle a vehicle.
You begin this trip at Onondaga Cave
State Park with a 13-mile hike and finish
with a 12-mile paddle back to the start.
The key to planning a successful multi-
activity event such as this is to know the
route and potential surprises. An unex-
pected river crossing on a winter hike
can quickly lead a trip in an unpleasant
direction so be sure to check on the river
levels before departure. The U.S. Geo-
logical survey maintains a website at
for Missouri river levels and forecasts,
or just give a local outfitter a call. In
addition, consider booking your canoe
ahead of time to be sure of availability
for the float portion of your trip.
Camping at Onondaga State Park or
near the trailhead at a private resort
called Ozark Outdoors on Friday eve-
ning allows an early and relaxed start
to Saturday morning. There is space
for a couple vehicles at the Onondaga
trailhead or register with Ozark Out-
doors to leave your vehicle there for the
night. The first 7.5 miles of Ozark Trail
pass through the Huzzah State Wildlife
Management Area, which is a foot-only
trail. The remnants of the Scotia Iron-
works Smelter is south of the trail ap-
proximately 2.6 miles into the hike and
a perfect mid-morning stop for a snack
and a little exploring. Reaching the 5th
mile, you arrive at the Courtois Creek
crossing. This is a beautiful area where
limestone bluffs line both sides of the
creek. Depending on the time of year,
this is either the perfect place for a dip
in the creek or some rock scrambling to
the entry of nearby caves.
Wade across the creek to continue on
the trail, climbing atop a sharp ridge
separating the Huzzah and Courtois
creeks, rightly named “The Narrows.”
You can camp along the trail, using
Leave No Trace ethics, to enjoy a
peaceful, primitive night or you can
add the extra miles and camp at Bass’
River Resort where showers, food, and
supplies are waiting.
Awake early on Sunday and pick up
your canoe from Bass’ River Resort.
Tell the staff you wish to depart from
there to Onondaga, where your vehicle
is parked. Throw your pack into the
boat and grab a paddle. This stretch of
paddling will take you 12 miles on three
different streams beginning with the
Courtois Creek. The rivers will likely
be much less crowded on Sunday and
reward you with a leisurely float with
time to soak in the scenic beauty of the
Ozarks. You will twist around shallow
ripples and deep holes along tall bluffs
through The Narrows, passing the spot
that you crossed the previous day with a
new perspective on the bluffs. Next, the
Courtois flows into the Huzzah Creek
just before a low water bridge requir-
ing a portage. The Huzzah then dumps
into the Meramec River just before the
takeout point.
As you skid up to the gravel bar at the
Onondaga takeout, you can reflect back
on a weekend of paddling and hiking,
with time to get home and
relax on Sunday evening.
I’m sure you will agree
that hiking AND paddling
is the way to go.
• Hike from Onondaga Cave
State Park to Bass’ River Resort
13 miles, full day (Courtois section)
• Float from Bass’ to Onondaga
12 miles, 6-8 hours (Courtois and Huzzah
Creeks, Meramec River)
• Best time to go:
spring or fall to avoid winter high water
and summer crowds
• Best features of the trip:
The Narrows (hike) and no shuttle required (paddle)
Views of the limestone Courtois bluffs are
available from both the trail and the water.
The 2013 Ozark Trail