Wednesday, August 19, 2015

1997 Backpacking Missouri's Berryman Trail

The Mark Twain National Forest, created in the 1930s, is comprised of several segments totaling 1.5 million acres and spead across southern and central Missouri. The Berryman Trail, about 1.5 hours southwest of St. Louis, is a 24 mile loop, the western and southern legs being designated as part of the Ozark Trail which eventually will run over 500 miles from St. Louis into Arkansas and will connect with the existing Ozark Highlands Trail.

The trail offers few vistas, meandering through the forest canopy through hollows, bottoms, and up over ridges. "Leaf-off" conditions in early spring, winter, and late fall allow for longer sightlines. The absence of bugs and heat are additional plusses during these seasons. Designed for horse travel, the trail utilizes switchbacks and has no steep climbs. Mountain bikers also are making frequent use of the trail. Motorized travel is not allowed.

Camping is allowed anywhere off the trail, but only three reliable water sources exist. Parking is available at the National Forest's Berryman Campground, an old Civilian Conservation Corps site on Forest Road 2266, off of Highway 8 between Potosi and Steelville. There are eight camping sites here and three picnic sites.

If you want to make the entire circuit in a pair of nine mile days instead of three days, you could leave the trail on Forest Road 2265 which leads to Hwy. W, and in less than a mile arrive at the Forest Service's Brazil (pronounced BRA-zil with the emphasis on the first syllable and a short "a" sound) Creek Campground. There are eight camp sites here and room for a few cars to park. Water is available from the creek. Crossing the creek on the highway bridge eliminates what could be a tricky creek crossing. From here, it is 9.2 miles without dependable water sources to return to Berryman Camp and finish the loop.

I was doing this short backpack in winter, the week between Christmas and New Years Day. It was my first winter backpack and my last. I decided I should try it to see if I liked it. The lesson I learned is that my three season backpacking gear is truly NOT designed for four season usage, and I wasn't about to invest the necessary money to get the right gear. Anyway, I don't like being cold and I was often chilly on this trip!

The trail, even when obscured by leaves as in this photo below, is well marked with white diamond signs or white paint markings. I met two backpackers heading out from Edward Beecher Camp who complained about missing the trail and hiking five miles out of their way before returning to the trail. You do cross occasional other trails and numerous old logging roads, but if you keep your eyes open for the diamond markings, you will have no problem. Over a dozen downed trees blocked the trail but were easily bypassed (and no doubt cause more consternation for mountain bikers than hikers.)


This creek marks the western edge of the clearing of Edward Beecher Camp which is 5.5 miles clockwise along the Berryman Trail. There is an artesian well which seems to be a dependable water source. The clearing has room for a number of tents and a firepit, although your camp would be right alongside the trail. A side trail crosses the creek and an old logging road goes off up a ridge, giving opportunities to explore areas away from the main trail.

At the 9.8 mile mark there is an old dilapidated campground called Harmon Spring Camp. The remains of old campsites were visible, but it was not an inviting place. A concrete base for a 2-seater outhouse had no walls, but two vandalized stools still stood over the holes. A green algae-filled stock pond was present and supposedly a spring, which I never looked for. A trio of ATVers was there and we began talking. I mentioned that this did not look like a very good place to camp, though that had been my plan. They said the Brazil Creek Campground was much nicer and offered to drive me there since they were going right past it! I took them up on the offer and off we went.

Though most of the forest is comprised of oaks and other hardwoods, occasional stands of pine as shown here add a bit of color to the otherwise stark, but nonetheless I think beautiful, brown winter landscape.

My new friends were correct. Brazil Creek Campground was far more inviting. I had the place to myself, naturally, and thanks to the miles they had driven me, I now had a shorter loop to finish the next day because I was already thinking of this as a two day, not three day backpack. After a night where the temperature IN my tent reached 20 degrees and my water bottles IN the tent froze, and the next morning I had to break ice on the creek to refill some water, I decide to definitely finish the hike with a long trek that day, which is what I did. Then I got a nice warm motel room and slept on a real bed that night and felt much better, vowing no more winter backpacks in non-warm states!

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