Missouri may not be famous for towering mountain ranges, but it does boast a variety of scenic peaks within its borders. The state is part of three distinct mountain ranges, including the Ozarks, the St. Francois Mountains, and the U.S. Interior Highlands. These natural structures provide not only breathtaking views but also opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to explore and experience Missouri’s rugged beauty.
The highest natural point in Missouri is Taum Sauk Mountain, standing at 1,772 feet above sea level. Located within the St. Francois Mountains, this area is known for its many underground streams and springs, providing a unique ecosystem that supports diverse flora and fauna. The Ozark region, in particular, offers a rich outdoor experience, with its rolling hills, picturesque landscapes, and beautiful waterways like the Osage, Gasconade, White, and Black rivers.
In total, Missouri is home to approximately 549 peaks, each providing their own unique charm and outdoor adventure opportunities. Hiking, bird-watching, and simply soaking up the views, are just a few of the activities available to those who venture into the state’s picturesque mountains.
Geography of Missouri Mountains
Missouri, a state known for its rolling hills and picturesque landscapes, is home to two notable mountain ranges: the Ozark Mountains and the St. Francois Mountains. These ranges contribute to the state’s natural beauty and provide numerous opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts.
Brief on Ozark Mountains
The Ozark Mountains are a vast and scenic mountain range that spans approximately 50,000 square miles across the central United States, including 33,000 square miles within Missouri. These mountains are characterized by their forested, high plateaus, which have led to the region being referred to as the Ozark Plateau.
The Ozarks cover much of the southern half of Missouri and extend into northern Arkansas, southeastern Kansas, and southern Illinois. They are home to several major rivers, including the Missouri and Mississippi. These waterways contribute to the Ozarks’ diverse landscape, which features caves, springs, and waterfalls in addition to its rolling hills and forests.
St. Francois Mountains
Located primarily in southeastern Missouri’s Dent and Johnson counties, the St. Francois Mountains are a small yet significant mountain range that originated as volcanic activity millions of years ago. As a result, the region hosts various igneous rocks like rhyolite, granite, diabase, and volcanic tuff.
The mountains offer unique geological features and represent the remnants of ancient volcanic eruptions. Compared to the Ozarks, the St. Francois Mountains cover a much smaller area but are essential in studying the state’s complex geological history.
Both the Ozark and St. Francois Mountains contribute to Missouri’s diverse landscape, natural beauty, and rich geological history. These ranges provide ample opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and fishing, drawing tourists and nature enthusiasts alike.
Highest Mountains in Missouri
Missouri is home to a wide range of mountain peaks, many of which provide breathtaking views and unique hiking opportunities. In this section, we will discuss six of the highest mountains in the state: Taum Sauk Mountain, Bell Mountain, Proffit Mountain, Knob Lick Mountain, Wildcat Mountain, and Ketcherside Mountain.
Taum Sauk Mountain
Taum Sauk Mountain is the highest natural point in Missouri, with an elevation of 1,772 feet (540 meters) above sea level. This mountain is located in Iron County and is part of the St. Francois Mountains. The landscape here showcases an elongated ridge with a NNW-SSE orientation, making it an interesting feature to hike and explore. Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, which hosts the scenic Mina Sauk Falls, offers numerous hiking trails that allow visitors to enjoy the beauty of this mountain.
Bell Mountain is another prominent peak in Missouri, offering a challenging hike that rewards visitors with panoramic views. Located also in the St. Francois Mountains, Bell Mountain is a spectacular vantage point that stands out due to its unique wilderness and scenery. The Bell Mountain Wilderness Area offers numerous hiking trails, including the popular Bell Mountain Loop, which is a 12-mile round trip hike.
Proffit Mountain is known not only for its impressive elevation but also for being the location of a reservoir breach in 2005. While the breach caused significant damage to the surrounding area, the mountain remains a popular hiking destination in Missouri. Proffit Mountain’s peak also belongs to the St. Francois Mountains and features expansive views.
Knob Lick Mountain
Located in the St. Francois Mountains, Knob Lick Mountain provides hikers with diverse landscape views. There are multiple peaks and valleys to explore, with the highest point in the Knob Lick Mountain area providing a stunning vantage point that overlooks the Saint Francois Mountains. The trails available on Knob Lick Mountain range in difficulty, making it accessible for hikers of varying experience levels.
Wildcat Mountain, with an elevation of 1,760 feet (536 meters), is a fantastic hiking destination within the St. Francois Mountains. Multiple trails provide visitors with an opportunity to explore this mountain’s diverse terrain and enjoy its stunning views. Wildcat Mountain’s summit is well worth the climb, as it offers an unforgettable landscape panorama.
Lastly, Ketcherside Mountain provides an awe-inspiring hiking experience for outdoor enthusiasts. It’s one of the lesser-known peaks of the St. Francois Mountains, but its elevation and beauty make it a worthy destination for hikers seeking adventure. Though it might not have the same level of prominence as Taum Sauk Mountain or Bell Mountain, Ketcherside Mountain’s enchanting landscape remains a hidden gem in Missouri’s mountain scene.
Hiking Trails and Outdoor Activities
Missouri has some excellent hiking trails and outdoor activities that cater to nature lovers, hikers, and mountain bikers. Among the most popular trails are the Mina Sauk Falls Trail, the Ozark Trail, and the Table Rock Lake Trails. Each of these trails showcases unique geographical features and stunning views of Missouri’s landscape.
Mina Sauk Falls Trail
The Mina Sauk Falls Trail is a popular 3-mile loop trail located near Irontown, Missouri. This trail features the state’s tallest waterfall, Mina Sauk Falls, which is a sight to behold, especially after a rainfall. Surrounded by the St. Francois Mountains, the trail offers hikers breathtaking views, rugged terrain, and lush forests. Apart from hiking, visitors can also engage in bird watching and wildlife spotting along the trail.
The Ozark Trail is a long-distance hiking trail that stretches over 230 miles from Onondaga Cave State Park to the western edge of the Mark Twain State Forest, encompassing parts of the Ozark Mountains. This trail is an excellent choice for thru-hikers and offers a challenging yet diverse experience to explore Missouri’s mountains. Along the trail, hikers can find a variety of outdoor activities such as backpacking, mountain biking, and even horseback riding. The Taum Sauk Section of the Ozark Trail features the state’s highest peak, Taum Sauk Mountain, and provides panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
Table Rock Lake Trails
Found near the beautiful Table Rock Lake in southern Missouri, Table Rock Lake Trails are perfect for those seeking stunning lake views and well-maintained paths. The trails are suitable for all skill levels and offer an array of activities, including hiking, trail running, and mountain biking. The picturesque landscape and serene atmosphere make these trails ideal for taking in the natural beauty of the Missouri Ozarks and creating memorable outdoor experiences.
Throughout these trails, Missouri offers diverse landscapes, rich in geological features, and the opportunity to engage and explore the natural beauty of the state. So whether you’re an expert hiker or just starting, these trails in Missouri have something for everyone.
Missouri Mountain Counties
Iron County is home to the highest summit in Missouri, Taum Sauk Mountain, which is part of the St. Francois Mountains. It reaches an elevation of 1,772 feet and offers abundant outdoor recreation opportunities, such as hiking, camping, and bird watching.
Reynolds County is another county within the St. Francois Mountains region and features Proffit Mountain, the highest summit of the county. The Ozarks also extend into Reynolds County, offering visitors a vast, rugged landscape to explore.
St. Louis County
In St. Louis County, you can find Buford Mountain, a notable peak within the Ozark Mountain Range. Buford Mountain Conservation Area provides ample space for hiking and outdoor exploration, giving residents and visitors a chance to experience Missouri’s diverse topography.
Greene County is predominantly within the Ozarks and offers a variety of mountains and peaks for hikers and nature enthusiasts to enjoy. Some surrounding counties within the Ozarks, such as Stone, Webster, and Worth, also provide opportunities for outdoor activities in Missouri’s scenic landscapes.
Shannon County is located within the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and offers visitors a chance to experience the beautiful mountainous region while also enjoying water-based activities. Neighboring counties like Cape Girardeau, Cedar, Lewis, Madison, Maries, and Montgomery also provide access to the Ozarks’ natural beauty.
Mountain and Trail Info for Visitors
Mountain Peakery and Climb
Missouri is home to a variety of mountain ranges, including the Ozarks, the St. Francois Mountains, and the U.S. Interior Highlands. With as many as 549 peaks in the state, visitors have plenty of options when it comes to exploring the terrain. One of the most popular spots is Taum Sauk Mountain, Missouri’s highest point. With a prominence of 480 ft, Taum Sauk Mountain offers beautiful views of the rugged landscape and forest-interior birds like the scarlet tanager.
Trail Difficulty and Safety
The Ozark Trail, nestled within Missouri’s mountainous region, offers over 390 miles of hiking trails3. These trails are divided into 14 (mostly) continuous sections, with the main event being the 230-mile thru-hike that starts from Onondaga Cave State Park southeast of St. Louis and stretches to the western edge of the Mark Twain State Forest. The trail difficulty varies based on the section, so it is important to research and choose a section that matches your hiking ability. As always, following safety guidelines and packing the appropriate gear is essential for staying safe on the trail.
St. Francois Mountains
The St. Francois Mountains, another worthwhile destination in Missouri’s mountainous terrain, offers multiple trails with varying levels of difficulty. From beginner-level hikes to rugged routes that require experience, St. Francois Mountains’ trails provide picturesque woodland scenes and geological treasures. When navigating these trails, be sure to bring proper gear, use maps, and stay on marked paths for your safety.
Visitor Center Amenities and Information
Many parks and recreational areas in Missouri offer visitor centers with valuable resources for visitors of all skill levels. Here are a few examples:
- Ozark National Scenic Riverways (Ironton): Remodeled in 2018, this visitor center offers in-depth knowledge about the local ecosystem and its flora, fauna, and geological features. Maps and brochures are available to plan your hike, while park rangers are on-site to help answer any questions.
- Taum Sauk Mountain State Park: Located near the highest point in Missouri, the visitor center at Taum Sauk Mountain State Park offers maps and guides for the park’s trails, as well as interpretive exhibits, restrooms, and picnic pavilions for visitors to use.
By using these resources and knowing your own needs while visiting Missouri’s mountains and trails, you can safely explore some of the United States’ most breathtaking sceneries.