Make no bones about it, if you and your pooch are looking for a fabulous forested walk in the Missouri Ozarks, you could do a lot worse than the Ridge Runner National Recreation Trail! The route runs for twenty-two miles out-and-back from Noblett Lake to the North Fork Recreation Area in Mark Twain National Forest -- but there’s an additional six-mile loop at either end if you and your canine companion want to extend your backpacking holiday! There’s parking at both ends of the trail, but it’ll cost you two dollars to leave your car at North Fork Recreation Area. Dispersed camping is permitted all along the trail, but there are also campsites in North Fork and below the Noblett Lake Dam. The trail is known to be lightly trafficked, so it’s pawfect for pups and people seeking a true escape from civilization.
The Ridge Runner Trail meanders through stately oak forest and past flowering dogwoods, but wooded wonderland isn’t all that this trail has to offer! You don’t need to think that geology rocks to appreciate the stark beauty of the rock formations as the trees give way to limestone karst landscape. You’ll also pass giant pine trees up to three feet in diameter before finishing up on a beautiful stretch of the North Fork River. Not only that, but the woods are teeming with birds and other wildlife -- so you might want to keep your fur-ball on a tight leash if they have a tendency to tear after turkeys! As an added bonus, the forest floor is carpeted with wildflowers in spring and early summer.
The Ridge Runner Trail might not be the steepest in the area, but it still should not be attempted by the unsure of foot or unfit of heart. There are several steep inclines along the route, and the terrain can be quite rocky, so watch your step! Facilities are limited -- you’ll find restrooms at the campsite at Noblett Lake and in North Fork Recreation Area, but otherwise, you’re dealing with true wilderness. Bring plenty of water, a map, and a compass, and enjoy everything that the Ridge Runner Trail has to offer!