WARSAW, Mo. — Bryan Bethel walked to the edge of the bluff to admire the view from a new hiking trail at Harry S. Truman State Park in west-central Missouri.
A few turkey vultures circled just below and, below that, a single bass boat worked some snags on the shoreline of Truman Lake, which reflected the white clouds overhead.
“When I bring folks back here, and they get to see this view, it’s like, ‘Man!’ ” Bethel said.
Bethel is superintendent of the park, which sits on a 1,440-acre wooded peninsula that juts out into the 55,600-acre lake, the largest manmade reservoir in Missouri.
The trail he was showing off is named the 1,000th Mile Trail because it marks a milestone of 1,000 miles of trails in the state park system. American Trails, a national recreation group, named the state trail system the best in the country in 2013.
Truman Lake is a next-door neighbor to Lake of the Ozarks — they are linked by the Osage River. But the comparisons end there.
The Lake of the Ozarks is owned by a utility that allowed development of resorts, condos and mini-mansions on its shoreline. On summer weekends, the lake is a busy place.
Truman Lake is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which restricted development. Its shoreline has parks with boat ramps, beaches and the occasional marina. Bass boats and pontoons make up most of the traffic on the lake, with a few pleasure boaters and sightseers.
“We’re getting more people coming to the park to see the migrating birds,” Bethel said. “We have lots of white pelicans and a huge number of cormorants, which put on quite a show. They round up the shad into balls and then take turns diving into the water to get them.”
With 100,000 acres of federal forest surrounding the lake — and more than half of that leased to the Missouri Department of Conservation for hunting and fishing — the Truman Lake area is a sportsman’s paradise.
Truman State Park has 200 campsites, half electric, on a wooded ridge that provides a breeze in summer. The marina has 250 slips and a store that is open from March 15 to Nov. 1. The park has a sand beach open to the public and another for campers, picnic sites and two boat launches.
Truman State Park also draws visitors content with hiking its three trails, and catching a glimpse of its turkey, deer and pileated woodpeckers. The park has a healthy population of bald eagles that visit in the winter, and a few resident eagles that live there year round.
“We have one female that has nested near the campgrounds for the five years that I’ve been here,” Bethel said. “When we have our hoot owl programs, she flies in to see what’s going on.
“I guess she doesn’t like owls near her nest. The kids just freak out when they see that giant bird.”
The 1,000th Mile Trail is a mile-long loop, with plenty to see along the way to the midway stop at the bluff-top view. It is a perfect example of the shorter trails in the state park system that offer a rewarding outdoor experience without requiring a full-day adventure.
A half-dozen other popular short hikes are recommended at the end of this article.
Three Kinds of Habitat
On a perfect fall day, Bethel led a hike on the 1,000th Mile Trail and pointed out how the grasses and wildflowers are returning to a rocky, sun-drenched glade that had been overgrown by red cedars.
The park staff has been removing the cedar thickets for the last four years, and the landscape will be maintained by controlled burns, which mimic the naturally occurring fires that kept the cedars in check. Nothing was wasted in the process.
“The cedars we removed went into the lake to create fish habitat,” Bethel said. “We also are taking some of the smaller cedar trunks to create carved and polished hiking sticks for sale. The sticks have a bar code on them. You click your smartphone on it and it takes you to a YouTube that shows the guys working on the glade.”
Because of its location on the edge where the eastern forests transition to the western prairies, Truman State Park is home to several interesting and unique plant species. It is the only state park where you can find the western wallflower, a brilliant orange beauty that blooms in late spring.
“Within a year of removing cedar, we started to see flowering prairie species popping up, including western wallflower,” Bethel said. “The seed bed was there, it just needed some sunlight.”
The trail was lined with big bluestem, a tall prairie grass, and a few prickly pear cacti were sprouting in the cleared areas. A fast-moving eastern coachwhip — a long, dark, slender snake with a brown tail that looks like the braided leather of a whip — bolted for cover under a limestone slab.
“That’s the neat thing about this trail,” Bethel said. “You start on the glade, walk out onto the bluffs and then come back through this hardwood forest of hickory, walnut, ash and oaks.
“You get these three kinds of habitat, and it’s only a mile long.”
Six Scenic Short Hikes
Missouri State Parks boasts of 1,000 miles of trails, some long, some short. Here is a six-pack of short, but sweet, walks in the parks.
1. Pickle Creek Trail, Hawn State Park:
With the reputation of the prettiest trail in the one of the state’s prettiest parks, the 0.7-mile walk follows Pickle Creek, a clear, sandy-bottom stream that tumbles through granite boulders sculpted by water. It’s rocky, and slow going, but who’s in a hurry?
2. Shut-Ins Trail, Sam A. Baker State Park:
The shaded trail follows the base of Mudlick Mountain for 1.25 miles through a bottomland forest that opens up onto a gravel bar with the perfect Ozarks swimming hole.
3. Lake Trail, Watkins Woolen Mill Park:
This trail is a little longer at 3.75 miles, but is paved and good for bicycles. The trail circles the 100-acre Williams Creek Lake, a pit stop for migrating birds in winter.
4. Colosseum Trail, Ha Ha Tonka State Park:
The 0.70-mile trail winds under a 70-foot-wide natural bridge and through the Colosseum, which is a 150-foot-deep sinkhole. In winter, the water seeping through the rock walls freezes into ice sculptures.
5. Gayfeather Trail, Prairie State Park:
This 1.5-mile loop goes through Regal Prairie. The trail is named for the wildflower that blooms in spring and the prairie is named for the endangered regal fritillary butterfly. The park’s bison herd sometimes grazes on the prairie. Short-eared owls are winter visitors.
6. Spring Trail, Bennett Spring State Park:
The trail follows the west side of the spring branch for 0.60 mile from the spring to the hatchery area. Trout can be seen in the reeds along the bank, hiding from the anglers on the other side.
For more information, visit mostateparks.com.