Take a hike & explore the Ozarks this fall

October is a great month to participate in the many outdoor activities that Missouri has to offer, not just for its residents but also for the many thousands of people who visit each year.

The hot humid weather is replaced with cooler temperatures and gentle breezes. The wildlife seems to become more active. Birds start to gather for their annual migrations. Those that do not migrate are constantly on the search for food.

Many other animals — such as deer, squirrels, rabbits, minks and raccoons — are on the move looking for the new fall harvest of food. Bats, bears, groundhogs skunks and even frogs are looking for food and for hibernation locations in order to wait out the cold winter months.

The fish are even more active this time of year, searching for food to bulk up for the winter months that are coming.  

This is the time of year that many hunters look forward to. Many of the numerous hunting season dates start in October. There’s archery season for deer, the fall turkey season, rabbit and squirrel, frogs and several of the waterfowl seasons begin for birds, such as ducks and geese.

Please check with the Missouri Department of Conservation for the exact dates and times for the hunting season (mdc.mo.gov/hunting-trapping/seasons).

Many fishermen look forward to October, also. Many of the sport and panfish species such as crappie, black bass, walleye, sunfish and some trout are aggressively hunting for food preparing for the upcoming cold winter months.

Fishing on lakes and the rivers is less crowded without the rafters, canoeists and pleasure boaters.

According to the dictionary, one of the definitions for hiking is: “To go on an extended walk for pleasure or exercise, especially in a natural setting; to travel over on foot for pleasure or exercise.”

For those who do not hunt or fish, this is an excellent way to enjoy the wonders of nature that Missouri has to offer and the month of October would be a good time for this activity called hiking.

The weather will be cooler, the trees will be displaying their marvelous pallet of colors, the wildlife may be more active, and the designated trails may be less crowed.

There has to be hundreds, if not thousands, of places to hike throughout Missouri. The first place to look for hiking locations is the River Hills Traveler. Every month writers such as Dana Sturgeon, Bill Oder, Rick Mansfield, Mike Roux, Bill Cooper, Michelle Turner and the many others who contribute stories or articles for the Traveler offer an array of locations to visit.

There are several online websites that I recommend to research and plan a hike adventure, and to me the research and planning is half the fun.

Check out these websites:

• The State Parks of Missouri (https://mostateparks.com/activity/hiking)

• The Missouri Department of Conservation (https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/activities/hiking

Missouri Trails/ Hiking and Biking Trails (http://missouri-hiking.com/index.htm)

• Visit USA (http://www.visittheusa.com/)

River Hills Traveler (http://www.riverhillstraveler.com//category/outdoors/)

The places listed on the websites describe a wide variety of hiking trails. There are easy walking trails, trails that may be more challenging physically, trails designed for people with disabilities, and even trails for children.

There are trails that pass through special natural areas, such as mountains, glades, hardwood forest, shut-in, natural streams, waterholes or waterfalls. The preparations for any outdoor activity should include researching, comparing and choosing an area that meets both your mental and physical requirements.

Bill Wakefield

For those of you who are not too fond of “The Call of the Wild,” the Ozarks has other alternative locations for hiking enthusiasts. Check out towns like, Eminence, Van Buren, Hermann, Ste. Genevieve, Kimmswick, Carthage and Branson. Exploring everything these towns have to offer would definitely be called hiking.

As you can tell, finding an interesting place to hike and explore will not be a problem. Preparing for your hiking adventure will require certain tools in order for you to have a safe and enjoyable time.
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Every sport has its required tools. The fisherman needs rods, reel, line, hooks, lures and bait. The hunter will need a firearm, shells or cartridges, proper clothing and maybe a game call.

The same holds true for the hiker. According to my research, a hiker should have the following equipment:

• Essential gear — Day pack or fanny pack, compass, map, water, water filter, water purification tablets, water bottle(s), headlamp or flashlight, food, matches/backup fire starter, first aid kit, knife, sunscreen, sunglasses, whistle, and insect repellent.
• Footwear — Boots/shoes adequate for terrain, and hiking socks.

• Clothing — Convertible nylon pants/shorts, fleece jacket, polypropylene underwear (shirt & pants), wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeve shirt, hooded rain jacket and pants, and gloves.

• Accessories — Key and ID, money, 50-foot nylon cord, plastic garbage bags, resealable plastic bags, toilet paper, hiking poles, lip balm (with sunscreen), repair/sewing kit, pencil and paper, bandanna, and a watch.
• Gadgets & extras — Cell phone, camera, GPS, weather radio, field guides, binoculars, hiking books, and a pocket stove.

This seemed like an extremely long and complicated list, so I found my 1948 Boy Scout Handbook and looked up the hiking equipment that was listed for a Scout to have.

The book lists these items that a Scout will need: matches in a waterproof case, waterproofed matches

pack, water purification tablets, drinking cup, cooking gear, eating utensils, food in food bags, extra socks, knife, compass, map, candle, first aid kit, and toilet paper.

Items that a Scout might need include: 20 feet of cord, fish line hooks, belt axe, fish flies, two bars of chocolate, Scout handbook, pencils and paper, small flashlight, poncho or raincoat, whetstone, and a file.

I find it very interesting that the present day essential hiking equipment has not changed much over what the Boy Scouts said that a hiker should have almost 70 years ago.

Some things are always standard, no matter how old they are.

The most important item on a hiking trip is clothing. If you are too cold or too warm, if you get rained on and become wet or if the clothes you have on binds, and worst of all if your feet hurt, no trip of any kind will be much fun.

In my opinion, hiking shoes or boots is the most import clothing article on the list. There are two basic types of footwear for hiking.

Hiking shoes provide comfort and easy hiking by using light materials, such as nylon and suede reinforced with some leather. They are very flexible and require minimum break-in time. This style has become popular for normal wear, so there are many shoes that appear to be hiking shoes but have no support — check the specs.

Real hiking shoes have good support for your arches and feet. They should also be designed to keep dirt and pebbles from getting in around the ankle and will preferably have some waterproofing. Their lower ankle cut lessens the support of ankles and provides no protection around the ankle area from brush and other scratches.

The mid-weight hiking boot is probably the footwear that most hikers will use. They are appropriate for on-trail and off-trail terrain that is not extremely rugged.

Typically mid-weight boots are made of leather or synthetic material with leather reinforcement sections. You should expect to spend a week of walking to break in your boots; some require less time, depending on their stiffness. If you are not used to above-ankle boots, you’ll need to spend extra time getting comfortable to the feel.

No matter what trails you plan to hike, a mid-weight boot will be a good choice. If you decide to go on extended treks, the extra foot stiffness and ankle support will help out. They also work fine on shorter hikes and give you the option to tackle more difficult routes, if you choose.

Get out and enjoy what the Ozarks has to offer this fall.  Explore some off-beat trail that you discovered on your research or visit one of the many historic sites and towns tucked away in the foothills of the Ozarks.

Missouri has more things to offer the outdoor enthusiast than most other states, which includes its fascinating, interesting, and beautiful people.

Do not let these natural resources pass you by or go to waste.

(Bill Wakefield is regional director of the Traveler’s St. Louis office and can be reached at w3@charter.net.)

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