Plan a visit to General Watkins Conservation Area in Scott County

By Dennis Bresnahan

It was November 2020 and I was planning to get at least one more camping trip in.  

I had camped out for four days and three nights in the Mark Twain National Forest with two friends on the first weekend of the month.

It was now the weekend before Thanksgiving and the weather had been nice with warm temperatures and no rain all week.  

So, of course, on the Saturday that I planned to camp out, the temperature dropped drastically and it rained all day and night.

I changed my plans and decided to camp on Sunday since it looked dry. I then had a perfect campout at Trail of Tears State Park in Southeast Missouri, even with the high temperature at only 46 degrees during the day and the low 32 degrees at night.

But it was dry and with the right clothes, a warm campfire, and a good zero degree sleeping bag, I was comfortable.

I was surprised that there were five other campsites occupied on this Sunday night in November, but then they were all in RVs or trailers. I was the only one camping in a tent.

On Monday morning, it was warming up nicely and it was a bright sunny day with blue skies. I decided to drive down to General Watkins Conservation Area on Highway 61 just south of Benton, Missouri, in Scott County.

This was only about 35 miles from where I was camping. I had been there before and this Missouri Conservation Area has some nice but short trails.

Most of the land in this area of Missouri is low level bottomland but this area is in a heavily-wooded forest, high on a hilly terrain.  

The brochure for this conservation area says that the forest type here more closely resembles Appalachian than Missouri forests.

There are several lakes for boating and fishing, nine altogether, and one of them has a boat ramp. There are also several picnic areas with picnic tables and grills in this 1,107 acre park.

Hunting is available during deer and turkey seasons and trapping for furbearers is available with a special use permit.  

Another activity here is birdwatching, with many “Great Missouri Birding Trail” signs throughout the park.

A designated camping area has individual basic campsites with picnic tables and fire pits, and two of them also have a barbecue grill. The campsites are nice and camping is free.
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There is no water available but a portable privy is at the camping area for your semi-convenience. I guess this is better than just using the woods, although my daughter would disagree.

The Schlosser Loop Trail is a one-and-a-half mile loop starting and ending at the campground parking lot. The Cemetery Ridge Trail is a one-and-a-half mile each way trail to the General Watkins Family Cemetery, starting at the first parking lot on Park Road which is the road to the camping area.

There are also many area access trails throughout the conservation area that can be hiked.

So, who was General Watkins?  General Nathaniel W. Watkins was born January 28, 1796, in Kentucky. Watkins was a half-brother to the famous Kentucky Senator Henry Clay.

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