Spring in the Ozarks
Round Spring is one of the deepest springs in the state and the pool has an intense blue color, especially in the late afternoon. Part of a collapsed cave system, the spring empties into a tunnel before re-emerging into the spring branch a short distance later. Watercress, which thrives off the cold, clear waters is abundant and you might even catch a glimpse of the elusive river otter which is playful, especially during the early morning hours. An easy, short trail leads visitors from the parking lot to the spring.
To reach Round Spring from Salem (accessed by taking Highway 72 south out of Rolla) take Highway 19 south. After crossing the Current River and the Spring River look the entrance to Round Spring campground on your left. Follow the signs to the spring.
Mill Mountain Conservation Area
The shut-ins of Mill Mountain Natural area are formed from the constant waters of Rocky Creek as it flow to its confluence with the Current River. Numerous waterfalls, chutes, and pools are the main attraction here, but the river valley itself is particularly attractive. A word of warning, this can be a tough area to reach by car, but it is very rewarding and a nearby parking area offers easy foot access to the shut-ins once you're there.
To reach Mill Mountain Natural Area from Eminence, take Highway 106 east to State Route H. Turn right onto 'H' and continue approximately 8 miles to State Route NN. Turn left on 'NN' and continue until the road turns into gravel. At the fork in the road, take the left route and continue for a few miles. The shut-ins area will be on your right near a wooden shack. Park on the left and enjoy the shut-ins.
On average, 81 million gallons of water per day surge from the depths of Alley Spring. The power of that water is what drew early settlers to the area and led to the construction of a mill that serves as the focal point for visitors. The red mill combined with the serene setting of flowing water and deep greens of spring growth make it one of the most picturesque locations in the state. Be sure to take the path around the actual spring and check out the cascading waterfall that serves as a second outlet for the spring.
To reach Alley Spring, take Highway 19 south out of Salem (accessed by taking Highway 72 south out of Rolla) until you reach Eminence. Once in Eminence, travel across the Jacks Fork River and take a right on Missouri 106 at the four-way stop. Continue on Missouri 106 for about 6 miles. You'll cross the Jacks Fork River again and the entrance to Alley Spring will be on your right.
Montauk State Park
The most popular float-stream in the state, the Current River, gets its start in Montauk State Park. From Montauk Spring, the waters flow through deep valleys and by majestic bluffs until another stream contributes to the water creating the Current. Montauk offers some of the best trout fishing in the Midwest and the state of Missouri has developed modern-day accommodations for those who will be casting their lines. Besides being a place for fishing, Montauk serves as a base for hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities.
To reach Montauk State Park from Rolla, take Highway 63 south to Licking. In Licking turn left onto Highway 32 and after a few blocks turn right on Highway 137 (at the four-way stop.) Continue on Highway 137 for a few miles until you reach State Route VV. Turn left on 'VV' and follow it until you reach the park.
Millstream Gardens, St. Francis River
The St. Francis River is the only river in Missouri classified as a whitewater river. In fact, Olympic trials for several whitewater competitions are held here frequently. A trail with several clearings offers great vantage points of the river rapids below, but the river itself can be a bit of a challenge to get to. But if you are up to it, a short climb down tumbles of boulders will get you to river level where you can wade in the crystal-clear water or bask in the sun on ancient igneous rocks.
To get to Millstream Gardens Natural Area from Farmington, head south on Highway 67. Near Fredericktown, take the exit for Highway 72 and turn right. Shortly after passing Route K, look for signs that point to your left that will lead you to the natural area.
Only 492 feet from the Missouri border, this is a park that shouldn’t be passed up. Although highly developed and actually in the middle of town, Mammoth Spring is breathtaking scenery. The water from spring itself, in the amount of 230 million gallons of water per day, tumbles through two picturesque channels and into a 10 acre lake. From the lake, the water spills over a man-made dam and into the Spring River. The park has a visitor’s center, interpretive trails, lots of wildlife, and numerous nature viewing opportunities.
To get to Mammoth Spring State Park, from Columbia head straight south on Highway 63. 219 miles south of Columbia on Highway 63 (just after the Missouri town of Thayer) look for signs for the park which is on your left.
Falling Spring is well off the beaten path, but it is well worth the drive. Nestled in a shallow valley, Falling Spring is one of the most pleasant experiences in Missouri. The quaint spring pours off the side of a limestone bluff and into a small pond. At one time, the spring provided power for a mill, which is still standing and can be freely explored. Picnic tables and restrooms are located nearby making it a perfect stop for an afternoon lunch.
Falling Spring is NOT the easiest site to get to. To get to the spring, you’ll have to drive 4 miles on an Ozark gravel road which are not well maintained and contain large rocks and, after heavy rains, numerous washouts. On the visit before this one, I got a flat tire so be careful! To reach Falling Spring from Eminence, take Highway 19 south out of town toward Winona. Continue on Highway 19 about 10 miles south of Winona to Forest Road 3170. Turn left. Go one-tenth of a mile and turn left again at Forest Road 3164. Go 2.2 miles to an unmarked road. Turn right. One-quarter of a mile past an old cemetery you will turn right into a parking area. You should be within sight of Falling Spring.