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Hiking off the beaten path
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Hiking off the beaten path

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There is no shortage of places to hike in the Parkland area.

Most people are familiar with the popular spots: Pickle Springs, Hickory Canyon, and Johnson’s Shut-Ins, among others.

All are beautiful spots that are worth a trip. But what about something a little more off the beaten path?

Todd Kline, a professor at Mineral Area College who lives in Fredericktown, grew up exploring the woods in Madison County. His dad was a district ranger with the U.S. Forest Service for more than 20 years when they still had a ranger station in Fredericktown.

“He was the overseer of the Silver Mines Campground and Marble Creek Campground,” Kline explained.

His dad showed him all the best places to hike.

“He knew about all these places and he would take us to all these places when we were young,” Kline said.

Here are a few of the spots he thinks are worth checking out:

Rockpile Wilderness Area

According to the forest service, “this 4,238 acre wilderness takes its name from an ancient circle of granite rock, piled by some earlier man on top of the mountain.”

It is in Madison County, southeast of Bell Mountain and southwest of Fredericktown.

“From the trailhead there is a 2 mile section of maintained trail,” the forest service site says. “The rest of the area is accessed by old woods roads or cross-country hiking.”

Kline said you can hike 5 miles in to the Big St. Francois River and to a saltpeter cave.

“Used to, when I was a kid, we’d go in there,” Kline said. “It's a huge cave with bats and everything. I don't think a lot of people get to it because it's such a long hike to get there.”

It’s a five-mile hike in and back from the wilderness area.

Kline said the cave can be accessed from the other side of the river and it’s only about a half mile.

Lower Rock Creek Canyon

This area is on Route E off U.S. 67, according to Kline.

The hike to the creek is about a mile, he said, then you can hike up along the creek for another mile to mile and a half to get to Cathedral Canyon or Cathedral Rock.

“It's just a huge rock outcropping,” Kline added.

The creek has shut-ins like on the Castor River in the Amidon Memorial Conservation Area.

“If you go in there after a good rain, it's really, it's a pretty phenomenal hike,” Kline said.

He said the best time to hike this area is between fall and early spring.

“Because otherwise, it's got a lot of snakes,” Kline said. “There's snakes everywhere in that place.”

But not a lot of people. A good place for social distancing.

“It's not one that a lot of people go to either,” Kline said. “Everybody goes to Taum Sauk and Mina Sauk Falls. That's a very popular one, but this one is kind of a little bit more obscure and so is the Rockpile Mountain Trail. A lot of people are into the shorter, smaller hikes, the safe hikes.”

Bidwell Creek Hollow

This trail is the Womack area, Kline said.

He said he hasn’t been on much of the trail, just about the first mile or so.

“It's kind of a neat area out there,” Kline added.

According to the forest service, the trailhead of the John J. Audubon Trail is at a ford where Forest Road 2199 crosses Bidwell Creek.

“This is a 12-mile, circular, wilderness trail established as a memorial pilgrimage through the area which the great naturalist/artist visited on his wide-ranging bird collecting trips while living in Ste. Genevieve,” the forest service site says.

Back on the beaten path

Maybe remote, long hikes with bats and snakes aren’t for you. Maybe short and safe is more your speed.

Again, no worries, there’s plenty of options in the area.

According to the Discover Farmington blog by the Farmington Convention and Tourism Bureau, their favorite places to hike are the Castor River Shut-Ins, Hawn State Park, Hickory Canyon, Hughes Mountain, Johnson’s Shut-Ins, Millstream Gardens, Pickle Springs, St. Francois State Park, Silver Mines Recreation Area, and Elephant Rocks.

Whatever path you choose, it’s important take precautions during the pandemic, according the St. Francois County Health Center.

“Being active is a great way to stay healthy and help deal with stress,” the health center said. “However, it’s important to keep yourself and others safe while you go outside.”

The health center shared some tips from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guide to visiting parks and recreational facilities:

Do:

Visit parks that are close to your home.

Stay at least 6 feet away from people you don’t live with.

Wear a cloth face mask when social distancing isn’t possible.

Carefully consider use of playgrounds, and help children follow guidelines.

Don’t:

Visit parks if you are sick with, tested positive for COVID-19, or know you were recently exposed to COVID-19.

Visit crowded parks.

UPDATE: Since publication, Mark Twain National Forest District Ranger Becky Ewing has shared a few updates about the trails that you might not be able to find online: The access to the Rock Pile Mountain Wilderness trailhead has been damaged by storms and will undergo reconstruction. Only high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicles can access it at this time. She said the cave is closed to public access. The Audubon Trail has been damaged by flooding in the past few years, Ewing said. Until repairs are made, hikers are encouraged to avoid the trail. Ewing said permission might be needed to hike parts of the Lower Rock Creek Canyon that are on private land.

Nikki Overfelt is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at noverfelt@dailyjournalonline.com.

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