Missouri summers offer plenty of reasons not to go hiking: heat, humidity, ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes, heat, humidity, weeds, thorns, snakes, surprise thunderstorms, and other annoyances. Did I mention heat and humidity?
Thankfully, Missouri has an abundance of cool natural features -- springs -- that are usually only a short walk from the nearest parking lot. These really are cool places: Missouri's large springs produce water that has been chilled to below 60°F.
Here is a selection of major springs from throughout the state:
The granddaddy of them all, Big Spring lives up to its simple name. With an average flow of 276 million gallons per day, Big Spring is easily the largest spring in Missouri and is one of the largest in North America.
As a comparison, the BP oil spill has so far produced somewhere between 68 and 126 million gallons, according to estimates reported by the Associated Press on June 21. Even if it takes a couple more months to stop the oil leak, it's unlikely that the entire BP oil spill will produce as many gallons as Big Spring produces in one day. (Of course, it doesn't take much oil to create a serious mess.)
Big Spring was one of Missouri's first state parks, but is now part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The walk from the parking lot is short -- and shady.
Directions: Take US 60 to Van Buren in Carter County, cross the bridge over the Current River, and turn left on Highway 103, taking the road into the park.
Featuring a large spring next to a classic red mill, Alley Spring could probably make a Top Ten List of the most photographed spots in Missouri. Water from the spring tumbles across a series of ledges, a convenient source of power to run the mill's waterwheel.
Until modern times, the spring was the home to community called Alley Spring or simply Alley, named for a local family. A post office operated here from 1884 to 1974. The area is now part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The walk from the parking lot is slightly longer than at Big Spring, but still easy.
Directions: From Eminence in Shannon County, take Highway 106 west for 5 miles. Just after the bridge over Jacks Fork, turn right into the park.
As the name suggests, Round Spring occupies a circular depression created from a collapsed cave. After emerging into daylight, the spring water immediately disappears from sight under a natural tunnel, a part of the cave system that hasn't collapsed. The water then meets daylight again and flows a short distance to the Current River.
Much like Alley Spring, Round Spring was the home to a settlement including its own post office (1871 to 1980). It is now part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Notice a pattern? The many springs along the Current and Jacks Fork rivers were a key reason for the creation of Missouri's largest national park.
Driving directions: From Eminence, take Highway 19 north for 13 miles.
Bennett Spring in Central Missouri is generally listed as the third largest Missouri spring. It actually looks more like a lake than a spring, but the outlet is deep enough to provide scuba diving opportunities in the winter. Most visitors to Bennett Spring State Park, however, are more interested in the trout fishing.
Driving directions: Take I-44 to Lebanon in Laclede County and then Highway 64 west for 11 miles. Turn left on Highway 64A (the main park entrance road). After entering the park, follow the signs (turn left twice) to reach the spring. The parking lot is immediately next to the edge of the water; it doesn't get much easier than this.
Waynesville, along I-44 and Historic Route 66, is the home to a Top-20 Missouri spring. Located a short distance south of downtown, the spring emerges from the bottom of a tall bluff, just below the road. Unfortunately, the beauty of the spring's blue water is dimished by the ugly retaining wall, a necessary evil to prevent the road from collapsing. The spring is part of a Waynesville city park.
Driving directions: Take I-44 to Waynesville and follow the Business Loop into the center of town. Just to the east of the large concrete bridge over Roubidoux Creek, turn south on Spring Road and follow this gravel road a short distance to the spring.
While small, Falling Spring in Oregon County is quite dramatic. Water drops from the middle of a bluff, providing a power source for a rustic mill. The spring, waterfall, mill, and mill pond provide a spectacular photo opportunity. If the road to Falling Spring wasn't so darned difficult, this would be one of the most photographed sites in Missouri. At least the walk from the parking lot is short -- if you can find the parking lot!
Driving directions: Take US 60 to Winona and then south on Highway 19. Go south for 10 miles and turn left on Forest Road 3164/County Road 156 (may or may not be marked). Follow this narrow gravel road for two miles to reach the parking area on the right.
Hodgson Mill Spring
Alley Mill isn't the only photogenic red mill powered by a large spring. Hodgson Mill, located in Ozark County, west built directly on top of the spring opening. First built in 1861 and then rebuilt in 1897, the mill produced stone-ground flour into the 1970s. The spring and mill are privately owned, but easily accessible from Highway 181.
Driving directions: From West Plains, take Route CC west to Highway 181. Turn left and follow Highway 181 for 7 miles. The mill is on the left.
Even though Mammoth Spring is technically located in Arkansas, many sources group it with Missouri springs since the lion's share of the groundwater comes from Missouri. The spring outlet is only 500 feet from the state line. Part of a state park, the spring is easily reached from US 63, although shade is limited.
Driving directions: Take US 60 west to Winona, south on Highway 19 to Thayer, and then US 63 south to the state line. The state park entrance is on the left.