Millstream Gardens Conservation Area is home to the Missouri Whitewater Championship held every March when the spring rains create desirable rapids for boaters from all over the country.
Missouri Department of Conservation Agent Alan Lamb said Millstream Gardens is a 916-acre tract of land which holds the large igneous rock of Tiemann Shut-ins and is part of the Missouri Natural Area System connecting to the Silver Mines Recreation Area.
The beginning of the trail is a mile of paved path through the woods with a couple small bridges and benches to take a rest on. At the end of the mile you reach an observation deck which looks over the bluff at what is known as Cat's Paw on the St. Francis River.
The trail from this point on is no longer paved but is still well maintained with few areas of rugged terrain.
Roughly halfway through the trail you will reach Big Drop. This area is the main viewing area for the annual Missouri Whitewater Championship. The large boulders act as the gallery where bystanders sit and watch the boaters navigate through the rapids.
This is also a good place to bird watch. A local blue heron has grown to favor Big Drop for fishing and can be seen sitting at the edge of the rocks plucking fish from the water.
Lamb said the area is home to a variety of wildlife and visitors should remember any animal can become dangerous when it feels threatened or trapped. He said to be respectful and keep your distance.
In the spring before the greenery grows up, climbing down the rocks is slightly challenging but worth the view. Once down by the water the boulders along the river bank create a natural playground that can be followed up and down the river.
Once the area has grown up, it is important to watch for poisonous plants and snakes. Lamb said general safety rules always apply to all hiking trails.
"Have a game plan, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to arrive, stay on established trails, know your limits, utilize bug spray and take plenty of water," Lamb said. "Keep an eye out for wildlife along the trail and remember to be bear aware."
As you continue down the path you will find other lookouts on the way to the Turkey Creek Picnic Area which has a pavilion for parties and a restroom. The entire trail is 2.5 miles long but does not make a loop so hikers will have to make their way back to the parking areas regardless of which parking lot they start from.
"Growing up in Madison County, I spent countless hours with my grandfather fishing and playing on the rocks around Millstream Gardens," Lamb said. "He would tell stories about when he was a young man fishing in the same river and take me back to some of the fishing holes he frequented years ago."
Lamb said, years later, he is now taking his own children to the same places for memories of their own.
"There are so many opportunities for outdoor recreation on our areas," Lamb said. "One thing people may not know about Millstream Gardens is that it has an archery range."
To reach the archery range keep right at the fork at the Millstream Gardens Conservation sign, turning left takes you to the parking lot for the paved pathway.
Hunting is allowed on the conservation area with proper permits during the appropriate seasons.
More information about Millstream Gardens Conservation Area can be found at nature.mdc.mo.gov or at the signs in the park off Highway 72.