Points of Interest:
- Hike to the top of High Rock mountain and look across the scenic and rugged landscape of the Caney Creek valley and surrounding mountainous knobs.
- Walk through woodlands with ancient and gnarled post and white oaks.
- Enjoy expansive glades characteristic of the White River Hills region.
- See a great diversity of bird and plant species inhabiting a variety of natural communities.
Natural Features Description:
This area was one of the last strongholds for the wild turkey in Missouri and was part of a wildlife refuge established by the Conservation Department in 1940 during the early years of the wild turkey restoration program. The area lies near the center of what is known geologically as the Gainesville monadnock group, a series of high conical peaks that rise above the surrounding landscape.
The knobs, steep ridges and deep valleys of this natural area offer visitors a chance to walk through a landscape similar to what the early explorer H.R. Schoolcraft might have seen in 1818. On south and west facing slopes you will see large open dolomite glades, known locally as “balds.” On these glades are stunning wildflower displays including cobea beard tongue, yellow coneflower, narrow-leaf gayfeather, and palafoxia.
Visitors to the glade known as “Long Bald” should keep a look out for the rare Bachman’s sparrow. Prairie warblers, field sparrows, yellow-breasted chats, and blue-winged warblers all use the glades. You may also be lucky enough to see the colorful collared lizard. Unfortunately collared lizards and other glade reptiles are illegally collected for pets and this has decimated their populations. Please only take pictures of these wonderful lizards, known locally as “mountain boomers.”
Surrounding the glades you will see areas of scattered, gnarled post oaks and chinkapin oaks. Many of the larger wizened post oaks you see are over 200 years old. These woodlands, like the glades, are managed with prescribed fire to keep them healthy. Summer tanagers, wild turkeys, red-headed woodpeckers, black-and-white warblers, and eastern wood-peewees are typically found in the woodlands.
The top of High Rock mountain that marks the eastern edge of the natural area is 400 feet above Caney Creek below. Along High Rock mountain look for large blocks of chert conglomerate rock the size of small cars. Walking the trail along Caney Creek visitors will see mature forests of white, black and northern red oaks, and black gum with more moisture-loving forest plants such as Chrismas fern and black cohosh covering the ground. Along the slopes above Caney Creek ovenbirds, worm-eating warblers, and wood thrushes occur. In the spring keep your eyes out for Ozark spiderwort, an Ozark endemic, found along the more mesic slopes straddling Caney Creek.
Like much of the Ozarks, this area is a karst landscape of caves, springs, and sinkholes. In 1999 a cave species new to science was discovered here! The Caney Mountain cave crayfish was discovered by Conservation Department cave biologist Bill Elliott.
From Gainesville travel five miles north on Highway 181. Look for the area sign, then go left (west) 0.5 mile on the gravel entrance road to the area headquarters. There are two designated hiking trails on the area, the 0.5 mile Long Bald Nature Trail that traverses glades off of Road 2 and the 1.5 mile (one-way) Spout Spring Trail that follows Caney Creek. In addition to hiking trails, there are 6.5 miles of gravel road that is closed to public vehicle use but open to hiking, biking, and horseback riding. This multi-use trail starts north of the area headquarters where Road 3 is gated. Part of this multi-use trail goes along nearly 2 miles of the north boundary of the natural area. A map and compass is recommended to explore the area. Hunting and fishing are permitted.