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Royal Ozarks gorge: Rocky hollow a natural for nature park

by Flip Putthoff | March 30, 2021 at 7:00 a.m.
A waterfall spills into a lagoon on Feb. 26 2021 at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park in southwest Missouri. The park is a haven for hiking, biking, bird watching and nature enjoyment 30 minutes east of Eagle Rock, Mo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

Plenty of picnic tables dot this walk in the park. So do colorful bluffs, clear-flowing streams and waterfalls galore.

Elk, white-tail deer and bison call this 10,000-acre swath of Ozarks home at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park in southwest Missouri, about 30 minutes east of Eagle Rock, Mo. near Table Rock Lake.

The wow factor revs as visitors drive through the park entrance. A paved drive curves past cliffs cloaked in moss and lichen before a tight switchback leads downhill to the parking area.

The hiking or bike riding is easy and mostly level along 3.2 miles of hard surface trail. Hikers can leave the pavement behind and explore 2.5-miles of off-road trails in the nature park. Driving through the park isn't permitted.

Streams spill over rock that creates pools where rainbow trout cruise in clear water. Waterfalls, streams, bluffs and wildlife are all here in a park-like setting. Grounds are meticulously manicured, with nary a briar to snag pant legs on a hike or bike ride.

First stop is the visitor center where guests register and pay the $15 per adult entrance fee. Costs are added for fishing, horseback riding and guided tram tours that explore the back country. The park is so vast that tours start in Missouri and roll into Arkansas.

On these adventures, visitors see the park's elk and bison herds. Walking and biking aren't allowed where these big animals roam, said Blake Adams with the park's staff. Adams is a jack of all trades at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. He runs the grist mill, guides anglers for trout and drives tram tours. He provided a Jeep tour through the park on this February morning.

"Our goal here is for people to be able to come and enjoy nature, no matter how little they are, how old they are or what their abilities are," Adams said.

Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, purchased the first chunk of Dogwood Canyon property in 1990. More parcels became available, and the park grew to the 10,000-acre tract it is today, Adams said. Six years were spent developing the park, which opened in 1996.

It's owned and operated by the nonprofit Johnny Morris Foundation, says a placard at the park entrance.

Adams cruised slowly through the park, saying howdy to visitors on strolls beside quiet pools and tall trees. He hopped out of his Jeep now and then and raise binoculars to identify a bird or look at a mink skittering along the creek bank.

Little Indian Creek and Dogwood Creek flow through the heart of the park. Waterfalls tumble at nearly every turn. They flow fine on their own when there's enough rain, Adams said. During dry times, they get a boost of pumped water so people can enjoy waterfalls even in summer.

Adams went into his tram tour spiel while driving past an Indian Creek pool stocked with big rainbow trout.

"Right here is where Waylon Jennings caught his first-ever trout," Adams noted.

"There's different ways to fish here," he said. "People can pay to fish on their own with their own equipment. They can catch and release or keep fish and pay for their catch by the pound."

Guided fishing is also available with all equipment provided. Got a wild hair to learn how to fly fish? Adams and other guides can have someone casting and catching trout in short order.

Care to saddle up a gentle steed? Horseback trail rides meander for 90 minutes through forests and hollows. Rides that include lunch are available in summer.

"There's 33 springs on the property," Adams continued. "Getting all 10,000 acres means we own the entire watershed of the park. That lets us maintain our water quality and preserve all the aquatic life. We've built weirs and berms so streams flow over rock to add oxygen to the water."

Families and groups can get together by renting one of the park's pavilions. That can include a meal catered by the park's restaurant. Couples can even get married at Dogwood Canyon. The rustic Hope Chapel sees 75 to 100 weddings each year, Adams said.

But a walk in the park is the main event. April and May are prime times to visit when trees and wildflowers are in bloom, including blazing redbud and flowering dogwood trees.

"If people walk every trail in the park, they cover eight miles," Adams said. A hiker can work up a powerful appetite going the distance. Lunch pulled from a day pack can be savored at all those picnic tables, next to soothing waterfalls among quiet woodlands.

VIsitors are greeted to waterfalls as soon as they enter the park. A cascade spills here Feb. 26 2021 near the grist mill and restaurant at the nature park entrance. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
VIsitors are greeted to waterfalls as soon as they enter the park. A cascade spills here Feb. 26 2021 near the grist mill and restaurant at the nature park entrance. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Two streams flow through the manicured grounds at the 10,000-acre park.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Two streams flow through the manicured grounds at the 10,000-acre park. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Waterfalls are abundant from one end of the park to the other.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Waterfalls are abundant from one end of the park to the other. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Visitors can see the park's elk herd on a tram tour through the park.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Visitors can see the park's elk herd on a tram tour through the park. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Visitors can see the park's elk herd on a tram tour through the park.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Visitors can see the park's elk herd on a tram tour through the park. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
A rare white bison is a new addition to the park's herd. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
A rare white bison is a new addition to the park's herd. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Trails lead to quiet streams and bluffs.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Trails lead to quiet streams and bluffs. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Hikers and bicycle riders cross a covered bridge.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Hikers and bicycle riders cross a covered bridge. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
The 10,000-acre park is situated in both Missouri and Arkansas.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
The 10,000-acre park is situated in both Missouri and Arkansas. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
More News

Spring dogwood tours

Dogwood trees, the state tree of Missouri, will be blooming soon. A special one-hour dogwood tour has been added for April that covers four miles through the park. There will be stops for taking pictures and opportunities to view wildlife. Tours will be held from 10 to 11 a.m. on April 17, 18, 24 and 25.

Information: 877-459-5687, dogwoodcanyon.org. The park’s address is 2038 West Missouri 86, Lampe, Mo., 65681.

Source: Dogwood Canyon Nature Park.

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