Ellington, Missouri, is home to about 1,000 souls — friendly souls who choose to live here because of the unspoiled beauty found around every bend. Nestled in the Ozark Highlands of Reynolds County, just a short drive from St. Louis, the area radiates a laid-back charm and access to some of the most pristine bodies of waters in the state. Come for the day or stay a while, mingle with the locals and explore the many natural treasures.
Scour Trail near Johnson Shut-Ins State Park in northern Reynolds County shows what can happen when Mother Nature pushes back. During a dam break in 2005, the side of Proffit Mountain was “scoured” when almost 1.5 billion gallons of water escaped the reservoir, carrying away the old-growth forest and exposing many interesting geological features. A 2-mile trail now takes hikers to a lookout above the scour and descends into the ravine.
To the south in Centerville, Missouri, Reed Spring sits just 0.4 miles from the town courthouse. The spring is a historical landmark, located on the West Fork of the Black River. The property is privately owned, but visitors are welcome. Once home to an old grist mill, a replica was constructed in 1973 to replace the original, which was relocated to the Smithsonian.
The Current River Conservation Area west of Ellington offers views of the area’s first metal fire tower, circa 1926, and an original log cabin that housed members of the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the days of building fire roads.
Maintained by the Missouri Department of Conservation, food plots are scattered throughout the park and early morning trips could quite possibly provide a glimpse of a majestic elk. (Elk were re-introduced in the Missouri Ozarks in 2011.) The elk share the surroundings with whitetail deer, turkey, and many other types of wildlife, as well as beautiful vegetation, quiet streams, and Buford Pond.
Pack a picnic lunch and spend a leisurely afternoon tossing a line from the fishing jetties.
Floating, Of Course
One of the most enjoyable ways to experience the serene beauty of the Ozarks is to float the Current River by way of canoe, kayak, or innertube. The first river to be designated a National Scenic River, the Current near Ellington is much larger, providing a relaxing and restful float, especially on a weekday.
Once again, the early riser might catch a glimpse of an elk or a breathtaking bald eagle nesting near the river or gliding overhead. Bring your fishing pole, as small mouth bass are plentiful — be sure and cast your line near the Ant Hole rock formation, which has deep underwater caves beneath.
Hiking the OT
While you’re in town, you’ll want to explore one of the most picturesque sections of the Ozark Trail (OT). The trailhead can be found west of Ellington on Highway 106 at the Current River Bridge.
To the north, at the peak, you’ll discover a stunning view overlooking the waterway. This is the less treacherous section of the trail and can be enjoyed by the entire family. Binoculars are a must, as wild horses can often be found grazing in the river bottoms. If visiting in the fall, be sure and listen for the bugle of the elk.
More adventurous hikers can head south at the bridge, following the OT to Rocky Creek and Kelpzig Mill. The mill is a reminder of bygone days, presenting a classic example of “sawmill house” construction. Built in 1928 by the son of a Prussian-German immigrant, the little establishment built along the creek is a testament to the ingenuity of early Ozark settlers and the many challenges they faced.
Wander another mile downstream and visit rock formations that date back more than a billion years. Then, climb to the top of Stegal Mountain and take in the magnificent beauty of Rocky Falls. These trails boast climbing opportunities and can easily provide for an overnight camping adventure for those interested in “roughing it.” (Get maps at ozarktrail.com.)
From March through October, touring cyclists pedal the 4,200-mile TransAmerica Trail from Virginia to Oregon. This path, also known as U.S. Bicycle Route 76, passes through Ellington via highways 21 and 106. Brawley Park is a regular stopover and camping spot; however, in 2014, the City of Ellington and the Chamber of Commerce joined together to open the Route 76 Bike Hostel to accommodate cyclists. The hostel is located next to the Main Street Pavilion on Main Street. Bicyclists are be able to shower, cool off, and sleep indoors (limited to four cyclists). For more information, call the City of Ellington 573-663-7715 or the hostel coordinator at 573-996-1860.
The Lake Life
To the southeast of Ellington sits beautiful Clearwater Lake, popular for boating, swimming, water skiing, camping, picnicking, sightseeing, hunting, and fishing. Rugged bluffs, miles of unspoiled shoreline, and small crowds are what continue to draw visitors back again and again.
Webb Creek Recreation Area on the “quiet side” of Clearwater Lake is the place to pull up a seat and take a load off. Campsites on a well-shaded hill provide beautiful sunrise views, and the waters here are well known for their crappie fishing and great family fun. Visitors will enjoy old-time storytelling around the campfire with period characters “Runt” Johnson and Bill “Bristleface” McDougal. Other activities include scavenger hunts, crafts, cake walks, and camper appreciation days with live music and complimentary food.
Located at the head of Clearwater Lake is spring-fed Black River, offering another opportunity for epic floating as well as access to the K Bridge Recreation Area, with camping, fishing, picnicking, and relaxing all in the offing.
Ellington residents have been welcoming visitors to the Ozarks for generations. Won’t you join them for some breathtaking natural attractions and recreation?
Author: By Christy Roberts and Tricia George.