By Matt Ankney
The Continental United States is visited by millions of international tourists each year seeking recreation in wilderness settings exemplifying a unique American outdoor experience, hungry for something like Sam A. Baker State Park in peak season during perfect weather on Memorial Day Weekend.
By mid-morning Sunday, the nearly 6,000 acre park located near Piedmont, Missouri, was bustling with holiday activities as my hiking companion and I arrived at our trailhead parking lot populated by abandoned bicycles with a busy Big Creek swimming hole heard in the distance.
Bright sunlight penetrated campsites with smoking grills and lounging guests in dark shadows of Shortleaf pines.
Large groups of families on bikes smiling and waving at passers-by peddled down a shady concrete path. Kayaks of all colors were prepared on trailers, while curious guests browsed through the spacious park store.
Naturalists were giving classes on wildlife and things like knot-tying. This is the authentic America travelers desire, discovering deep relaxation in natural beauty the enchanting Ozarks provides.
The many ways to explore and enjoy Sam A. Baker State Park are almost unlimited, but we chose an old-fashioned pursuit: hiking up and down Mudlick Mountain into a backcountry largely unchanged since the region’s early pioneer days to an isolated, rugged gorge called Mudlick Hollow.
The Mudlick Trail begins at the nearly 100-year-old Civilian Conservation Corps-built dining lodge constructed of native wood and stone, part of the nationally-registered Sam A. Baker Historic District along with other structures like the 18 rustic cabins, visitor center, and 3 traditional hiking shelters complete with internal fireplaces for trail overnights in the Mudlick Mountain Wild and Natural Area; one of the largest wilderness preserves in the vast Missouri State Park system.