Not long after I moved back to the Ozarks in 2005, I reread Shepherd of the Hills by Harold Bell Wright. Reading the book as an adult impacted how I look at the Ozarks in a big way. While I enjoy the lakes here and their beauty is breathtaking, the hills call to me and always have since I first started exploring them back in the 1970s. When I look out over the mountains, I often imagine the people who lived in this region before Mr. Wright’s book became a best seller and people came looking for Uncle Matt and Aunt Molly. When I get a chance, I still love finding new trails to explore so when my sister and brother and law recommended the Homestead Trail, I decided to check it out. The Homestead Trail is part of Ruth and Paul Henning Conversation Area (interesting side note – Paul Henning was the creator of The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres). The main parking lot for the conservation area is located right off of Highway 76 and offers wonderful views of the Ozark Mountains and a few moderately difficult trails, while the Homestead Trail is more secluded and can be accessed at the end of Sycamore Church Road off of Highway 248. This 3.5 mile trail is more difficult to traverse but even as a 50 year old woman with a little bit of a spare tire, I was able to make the hike with a few breaks to rest, hydrate and take in the serenity. There are 15 markers along the trail indicating where homes once stood. Other than the markers, there aren’t a lot of signs that people once lived in these remote hills. A few old stone wells, some old barbed wire growing through the trees and some foundations are all that remain of the homes inhabited with real-life people like the characters that helped form Branson into what it is. Even though the homes are no longer standing, there is still plenty to see along the hike. The trail winds through heavily forested areas into glades (or as they are known locally Balds) teaming with wildflowers, reptiles and birds. The whole 3.5 mile trek took us about 5 hours but we stopped many times along the way to try to rest and to look for skinks and lizards. We also pondered about the uses of many artifacts along the trail such as a cement wall about 100 feet long and 2 feet high running along a dry creek bed. If you are looking for a way to connect with the Ozarks that is off the beaten path, I highly recommend this hike. Just wear good shoes and take plenty of water and insect repellent.
Homestead Trail – Part of Ruth and Paul Henning Conversation Area
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