Missouri's Echo Bluff State Park: The scenery of 'Ozark' without the man-made drama
SHANNON COUNTY, Mo. – Echo Bluff State Park was hued into a picturesque chuck of the Missouri Ozarks, the latest incarnation of a climate and culture that is at once rugged, warm, wary, welcoming, diffident, outgoing, historic and modern. Each piece is part of a decades-deep independent and complex cultural mosaic.
Located about 160 miles and 3 hours south of St. Louis, Echo Bluff is Missouri's newest state's newest park complex, having opened in 2016. Whether your idea of fun is camping, fishing, kayaking, hiking or biking, there's something for everyone at this year-round, 476-acre facility.
How to get there
Echo Bluff State Park is located off Highway 19, about 14 miles north of Eminence, Missouri.
Camp or glamp? Have it either way
If your idea of outdoorsy accommodations leans more towards glamping than camping, look into the multi-story Betty Lea Lodge. It offers 16 rooms, four suites and a commanding view of the towering, darkly etched dolomite limestone bluff that gives the park its name. All rooms include king-sized beds, sleeper sofas, fireplaces, wifi and flatscreen TVs with satellite.
If you'd rather rough it during your overnight stay, the Timbuktu Campground includes a dozen walk-in sites along with 60 full-facility sites featuring water, electric and pump-out services. For campground reservations phone 1-877-422-6766 or to go www.mostateparks.com.)
Want to split the difference? Nine modern cabins dot the park property, a couple of which are large enough to host a small business gathering or large family reunion.
For more information or to make lodge or cabin reservations to go www.echobluffstatepark.com or phone 1-844-322-3246.
Come on in, the water's fine
Separating the lodge from the bluff is the cool, clear, Sinking Creek, which is perfect for wading, swimming or paddle sports.
For the fishing fans, Sinking Creek also harbors enough smallmouth bass and goggle eye to entice any angler willing to wrangle with the close confines of this spring-fed stream, which feeds the nearby Current River.
Bring your boots and your bike
Hikers and mountain bikers are welcome on the 2-mile Painter Ridge Trail and the 5.25-mile Current River Trail, which joins the Echo Bluff property but connects to neighboring Current River State Park.
Wild horses couldn't keep themselves away
Keep an eye open for the wild horses of Shannon County, which have been roaming these hills for more than a century and can occasionally be spotted on park property.
How have I never heard of Echo Bluff?
Echo Bluff boasts a ripe and colorful history.
It began in 1929 as Camp Zoe, a youth summer camp that flourished for nearly six decades before closing in 1987.
What happened next is straight out of the Netflix crime drama "Ozark," in which a Chicago financial planner (Jason Bateman) moves his family to the midwestern vacation spot in hopes of laundering a drug cartel's money through the area's seasonal businesses. (Full disclosure: The show actually films in Georgia with Atlanta-area locations standing in for the Lake of the Ozarks.)
After Camp Zoe closed down, the grounds evolved into a party spot and popular open-air music venue. Unfortunately, an open-air drug market also evolved.
That activity – and the music venue – came to a halt in late 2010 when authorities from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the Missouri Highway Patrol dropped by, resulting in seizure of the property and jail time for the owner.
The 330-acre property was later sold at auction to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which added about 150 acres. Nearly $60 million and a few years later, Camp Zoe resurfaced as Echo Bluff State Park.
While you're in the area, check out ...
Peak Ranch Conservation Area: Need more solitude? This nearly 24,000-acre preserve, which features the 1,348-foot Stegall Mountain, is great for bird-watching, hiking, camping and hunting (turkey, squirrel, dove and deer). It also features two creeks that feed into the Current River.
Ozark National Scenic Riverways: Ozark was intended to protect the 134 miles of the cool, clear, spring-fed Current and Jack Forks Rivers that flow through the national park. The swimming, canoeing boating and fishing options – not to mention the 300 caves – make this park the perfect escape on a hot summer day.
Mark Twain National Forest: Named for the state's most famous literary export, the forest features 750 miles worth of trails for hiking, mountain biking, ATV and horseback riding, as well as 350 miles of streams for canoeing, kayaking and tubing.