Planning a Mountain Vacation? Here’s Why You Should Consider the Ozarks

Some of the most central icons of the American landscape are the awe-inspiring mountain ranges dramatically cutting south to north. And it’s easy to limit your appreciation of America’s rugged landscape to the Appalachian and Rocky — or even the Sierra or Pocono — mountain ranges.

To do so, however, would overlook one of the most topographically diverse regions in the country, located right in the heartland of Missouri: the Ozarks.

Elevation map of the Ozarks (via Wikipedia). Click to enlarge.

Spanning nearly the entire southern half of Missouri — and spilling into Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas — the Ozarks cover roughly 47,000 square miles, making it the most expansive mountainous region to sit between the Rockies and the Appalachian mountain ranges.

While the Ozarks technically make up a highlands region — geologically it’s more of an expansive dome than a bona fide mountain range — the combination of Springfield and Salem Plateaus with the Boston and St. Francois Mountains creates a wildly diverse terrain, complete with rolling hills, towering bluffs, rugged peaks, deep forests, aquamarine springs, and yawning gorges. The highest point in the Ozarks is over a half-mile up.

To boot, winding throughout the Ozarks are also hundreds of miles of trails,  thousands of miles of river waters, and a plethora of accessible campgrounds.

Steve Henry, Missouri-based outdoor expert, explains his love for the Ozarks region this way: “I had a blast cruising scenic and winding Ozark highways while researching the areas beautiful campgrounds. My only regret was not having time to spend several days in each one.”

Henry has spent the last year updating his regional guide, Best Tent Camping: Missouri and the Ozarks, now in its 2nd edition.

The Ozarks are also home to a rich human history, with numerous old mill sites scattered throughout the hills. Nearly every stream or spring large enough to roll a waterwheel once powered a mill to grind corn, saw logs, gin cotton, or card wool for the farmers working the Ozark lands. Several are still standing, dilapidated ghosts, and a few have been restored as historic landmarks.

Oh, and all this is in addition to the 1.2 million acre Ozarks National Forest.

For some visual inspiration, check out photographer Steve Snyder’s expansive collection of photos from the Ozarks.


Planning your next camping trip? Find your local guide to Best Tent Camping, from Menasha Ridge Press.

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Best Tent Camping: Missouri & the Ozarks, by Steve Henry

Best Tent Camping: Missouri and the Ozarks by Steve Henry leads readers to 50 quiet and beautiful camping hideaways in Missouri and northwest Arkansas. In addition to scenic beauty and a relaxing atmosphere, campground profiles also include tips for outdoor activities and points of interest. Key Information and Campground Ratings boxes in each chapter make it easy for readers to scan and find a camping spot perfect for their weekend getaway.

Tanya Twerdowsky
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