If a place could ever be in a person’s DNA, then Paddy Creek is in mine. Some of my earliest memories include picnics, nature walks, campfires, and skipping rocks in this Ozarkian oasis nestled within a hollow in the Mark Twain National Forest.
Paddy Creek is a major tributary to the Big Piney River, which is nearby. The crystal-clear creek flows year-round and is perfect for wading, cooling your heels, or watching little ones practice their crawdad catching skills.
One could easily say that this location was my first classroom. It is where I first learned that the powers of observation can be incredibly rewarding.
Paddy Creek is indeed where I learned to appreciate nature by closely examining the shapes of the rocks I discovered on the gravel bar.
By allowing my young eyes to travel slowly up the tall pine trees, I would notice a variety of insects and birds that blended almost perfectly into their habitat.
This is also where my ears first fully enjoyed the symphony nature offers those who choose to listen. From the rushing water to the whisper of the wind in the pines, I have yet to hear any man-made music that can match a peaceful moment at Paddy Creek.
Time and distance have led to the decrease in my visits to this special spot, but like all things that are ingrained within us from a young age, I do make it a point to go back when an opportunity presents itself.
This place is so special to me that I wanted my daughter, Karlene, to experience it, too. So many of her peers do not have creeks and nature woven into their DNA.
It has been a mission of mine to make sure Karlene doesn’t lack an appreciation for what Missouri has to offer beyond the pavement and creature comforts of the suburbs.
I first brought my daughter to camp and play at Paddy Creek when she was a toddler. We have had several return visits, but on a recent trip this winter, we agreed we were long overdue for a camping and/or splashing trip to this spot again come summer months.
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If you are interested in visiting, I highly recommend that you start with Paddy Creek Recreation Area. Yes, there are many acres and several remote trails located within the Paddy Creek Wilderness, but the recreation area is a great spot to get your first taste of this region.
It is located in a hollow along Paddy Creek. The drive down the hollow is pretty exciting for me. I do love a gravel road with a few switchbacks followed by a concrete slab with water flowing over it serving as a creek crossing!
Once you arrive, you will find a shady picnic area with grills along Paddy Creek. The picnic area is open all year.
There are also 23 campsites. The campground is open April 1 through December 1. All the times that I have camped during the summer months, there has been a campground host on-site, which puts my mind more at ease, especially when I have my daughter along.
Vault toilets are available, so do not expect “flushers.” Make a mental note that you may be “roughing it” a bit if you choose to spend a full day or decide to camp for a few nights.
There are several ways to get to Paddy Creek Recreation Area. The way I go is typically through Licking, Mo. It is approximately 18 miles from Licking.
I like to take Highway 32, to Highway N, to Highway AF, to Forest Service Road 2800 (Slabtown Road), and then to Forest Service Road 2650 (Paddy Creek Road). That is the “fun” switchback drive down into the hollow that I enjoy, as long as the weather is cooperative!
I hope you take the time to enjoy Paddy Creek in 2020. If it is your first time, I hope you fall in love with it.
Or, perhaps you are like me; someone who knows this spot well and feels a tug at the heartstrings calling you back to revisit this special place.
(Michelle Turner lives in Union, Mo.)