OPINION | Putthoff: Hikers should take advantage of quiet time at Roaring River

Anglers have plenty of room on Dec. 2 2022 while fishing for trout at Roaring River State Park near Cassville, Mo. The park offers catch and release trout fishing four days each week from mid November through mid February.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Anglers have plenty of room on Dec. 2 2022 while fishing for trout at Roaring River State Park near Cassville, Mo. The park offers catch and release trout fishing four days each week from mid November through mid February. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)


The last days of February may be the best time to hike the trails at Roaring River State Park.

It's a pause between fishing seasons at Missouri's largest and most visited state park. Trout fishing brings scores of anglers to Roaring River much of the year, but there's no fishing from now until March 1. Catch and release fly fishing season closed Monday. The park's busiest day will be March 1 when catch and keep trout fishing season opens. Anglers line up earlobe to earlobe to fish on this festive day. Park cabins and campsites also open March 1.

Hiking season is year-round, but if there's a prime time to hike at Roaring River, it's now. Options are many, from easy trails to routes with lung-buster climbs.

An relaxing path is the River Trail which hugs a bluff line above the spring-fed trout stream. The 0.7 mile trail (1.4 miles out and back) starts at the stone Civilian Conservation Corps lodge building in the center of the park. Workers of the CCC built River Trail in the 1930s, park information says. The trail starts to the right of the lodge, goes past the outdoor amphitheater then starts gradually up and along the bluff. The trail tread is rocky in spots with lots of tree roots, but it's mostly a level hike several feet above the water.

Look down into the stream and trout can be seen in the clear water, unmolested by rod-toting anglers in this time of no fishing.

The trail curves around to the left beside the bluff, almost going beneath overhangs at times. After a rain, water drips from the rock faces and glistens in the sun like diamonds. Views of Roaring River are superb from this part of the trail.

Soon the path runs out into an open area near the Missouri F highway bridge. Time to turn around and hike back to the lodge to finish the trip.

A more ambitious hike that's full of exercise is Devil's Kitchen Trail. This 1.5-mile loop may seem more like 3 with it's steep climb to the top of a ridge, then down, down, down into a beautiful rock and boulder garden.

Devil's Kitchen starts across the road from the Missouri Department of Conservation trout hatchery that supplies Roaring River with fish. It's a level hike at first that quickly leads to a fork in the trail. Hike to the right to follow the loop along a little creek and past a small cave. It makes a sharp hairpin turn left, then there's more flat hiking. Now the exercise kicks in.

The trail tread is smooth as the path climbs east-facing ridge. Nice views of the trout hatchery and park unfold when stopping to catch one's breath on this ascent that rates a high 7 or 8 on the wheezer scale.

Easy does it, with lots of breaks, and the hike reaches a narrow Razorback ridge at the summit. It's a good spot to rest on a log before tackling the downhill stretch to the rock garden.

My favorite way to hike this trail is to stash lunch in my pack and savor it seated on a big boulder in this amazing stretch of boulders, cliffs and crevices. Something about enjoying an ordinary sandwich outdoors makes lunch a fine dining event.

The trail curves along for a good little while before turning right and downhill away from the rocks. It's cakewalk from here back to the fork in the trail. Go right and downhill back to the trailhead.

There are more paths to explore such as Deer Leap, Eagle's Nest and Fire Tower trails. If trails aren't your thing, just walking the quiet paved roads in the park are an option for lots of folks. I love fishing during the winter catch and release fly fishing season and see people walking, biking or walking their dogs at this lovely state park.

A must-see for a first trip to Roaring River is a visit to the trout hatchery operated by the Missouri Department of Conservation on the north end of the park. Thousands of rainbow trout are raised here to stock Roaring River for anglers. Trout from a few inches to a foot long are seen in the long concrete raceways at the hatchery. Lunkers 3 pounds and larger cruise in a blue oval lagoon near Roaring River Spring. Some 20 million gallons of cold water flow from this spring each day. The icy water makes raising trout possible and creates ideal habitat for trout in Roaring River.

The hustle and bustle all starts March 1. For now, Roaring River is a quiet, hikers' paradise.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at [email protected] when he's not on a Roaring River hike.


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