Well, with a week off for spring break, we decided to take our older two kids out for an extended backpacking trip. Nate also needed a 30+ mile hike for his Boy Scout Backpacking Merit Badge. The Ozark Highlands Trail is only about four hours away, so it seemed like a great choice for a multi-day trip with the kids. Jana and I had last hiked sections 1 and 2, so we had considered hiking sections 3 and 4. However, a shuttle was not available on the day we needed it, and we did not really want to drive two vehicles, so we opted for an out and back hike of section 3. Remember, you can click any picture below to enlarge it. Our condensed backpack trip report follows. We used the OHT Trail Guide by Tim Ernst in preparing for this backpacking trip.

On the way to the trail head, we stopped by the Turner Bend Store for a couple of fantastic sandwiches, as we did the last time we were through here. We left our vehicle at the Cherry Bend parking area on Highway 23 north of Cass, checked in at the trail register, and headed out around 5:30 PM. We were hoping to get to Hare Mountain, as we knew there was a lot of camping available up there. It was cloudy, breezy, and about 55 degrees when we started out.

We passed a group of about 10 or so scouts and leaders that were setup between mile 38 and 39. We made it to Hare Mountain around 8 PM, and it was already dark. There seemed to be a large group of campers on the mountain and many were even camped down near the start of the spur trail toward the top. It would be difficult to find a camping spot in the dark with so many others, so we decided to move on in search of a less crowded location. We hiked about another mile in the dark with flashlights and came to an area with a lot of pine trees near a logging road – around mile 43.5. We followed the old road away from the trail looking for a place to pitch the tent. A thick layer of pine needles is a great place to sleep, so we found a relatively level spot among the trees and setup the Tarptent. Nate and I planned to sleep under a tarp, while the girls used the tent. But since it was dark and we were not sure where we could setup the tarp in addition to the tent, we all squeezed into the Tarptent, which was supposed to hold three people! The location turned out to be a good choice. We were down off of Hare Mountain and out of the wind. The pine needles made for a soft bed, and the wind through the pine trees was quite soothing. We had covered about 7 miles this first day. The temperature dropped to only about 44 degrees during the night.

We slept in a bit past sunrise, but did get packed up and hiking again around 8:50 AM after we had breakfast. We hiked part way to Spy Rock, but decided to do this on the return trip, so we turned around and continued on the OHT. We stopped about 11:30 at a waterfall near Herrods Creek near mile 47.3. It was a wonderful waterfall in a secluded area, and we ate lunch and rested while we were there.

After lunch we continued on to Briar Branch (mile 53.7) and arrived around 3:30 PM. We had passed Williams Falls, Herrian Mountain, and Indian Creek along the trail today. There was a good campsite near Briar Branch with a nice fire ring. We setup the tarp and Tarptent, and then hiked through the Marinoni Scenic Area and to the jeep road at 54.4. This was a beautiful area with bluffs, waterfalls, moss covered rocks, and lots of beech trees. Nate even climbed out on a natural rock bridge. We returned back to camp and boiled water for our lasagna dinner. The kids played catch with a stuff football we brought. The weather for this day was great – 65 degrees and mostly sunny. The girls were in the Tarptent, and Nate and I were under the tarp. The sky was clear, the stars were out, and the sounds of the stream next to us lulled us to sleep. We had covered about 12.5 miles this second day.

 

Well, it was clear overnight, and the temperature dropped to 36 degrees. The girls got a bit cold, but mostly due to the down in the quilt shifting to the edges instead of being right over them while they slept. We fixed that for the third night ;-) We had our breakfast and coffee and were on the trail by 8:20. This was the turn around point for the out and back hike, so we headed back west toward Herrods Creek when we left camp. We saw two deer not far off the trail – right after Micah asked why we had not seen much wildlife! They were too quick to get their picture. We continued past Indian Creek toward the Spy Rock spur. On this return trip, we intended to take the Spy Rock / Redding Campground loop trail. Our timing worked out great again, because we were able to eat lunch at the waterfall near Herrods Creek near mile 47.3. After lunch, we took the turn toward Spy Rock and hiked to that overlook for a short break.

The views over the hills and into the valley from Spy Rock were great. After Spy Rock, we hiked the east side of the loop down to Redding Campground and arrived about 4 PM. Redding Campground is on the Mulberry River. Each campsite is primitive, but they did have a central bathroom with showers and toilets. We gladly paid the $10 camping fee, and most of us had a shower that night. There was also a group of Boy Scouts there for an annual backpacking event where they hike into Redding Campground. They had a campfire that night at the waterfront area, so we joined them to watch the skits and see awards handed out for scout skill competitions. We had Chili Mac for dinner and covered about 13.5 miles this third day. The first full day (yesterday) was a bit tough on the kids, but they had done just fine today.

We woke up feeling quite rested, and we all slept better last night than the previous two nights. It was only 45 degrees last night, so everyone stayed warm enough. The clouds had moved in, and it was overcast and misting. I met John, who had hiked all of the Appalachian Trail (AT) over 11 years with his two boys. He was about 60, and had finished the last of it the previous year. He loved to talk about backpacking, as do I, so we visited several times that morning. He gave me his card, and offered to send me information via email that might be helpful for the AT hike Jana and I are planning for this summer. We had breakfast, packed up, and were hiking again this morning by around 8:45 AM. Our plan was to hike about 12 miles to mile 39 or so, spend the night, and hike the last few miles out in the morning. We hiked the west side of the Redding Campground loop this time on our way back to the OHT. It never warmed up, and stayed cloudy, windy, and sprinkled some on us all morning. We stopped in a pine forest, as Micah calls them, for lunch. We also took the spur trail to the top of Hare Mountain to see it during the daylight. There were many good tent sites, and we found the hand dug well that was up there. Our hiking pace was very good, and our loads were much lighter with just a few meals of food left, so we decided to hike all the way out today. The weather continued to be cold, damp, and cloudy, so this seemed like a good decision. Everyone hiked well on this last day, and we reached Cherry Bend about 5 PM. We covered about 14.5 miles on this last day, and about 47.5 miles total for the trip. The kids did great and hiked at a good pace for most all of the trip.

Here is an overview of the route. We collected the GPS track with a data logger (Holux M-241). Click to enlarge.

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