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March 10, 2022 Comments Off on Loop around the park: Forest, creek, quiet add up to fine hiking treat Featured, Hiking, Latest

Loop around the park: Forest, creek, quiet add up to fine hiking treat

One of the quietest state parks in the Ozarks isn’t on the radar screen of most woodland ramblers.

“I never knew there was a park here,” said Carol Taylor, a hiker from Bella Vista, during a visit to Big Sugar Creek State Park east of Pineville, Mo.

The well-worn loop trail at the park is easy to follow. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

“Never heard of it,” piped Gene Williams, who hangs his hat in east Benton County.

Visitors who have explored the remote 2,000-acre tract may be amazed it’s dodged the limelight since it became a Missouri state park in 1992. They may hope it stays that way.

Big Sugar is mostly an undeveloped park. There’s somewhat of a parking area, a restroom and hiking trail. Nary a cabin, campsite or even a picnic table are to be found.

That’s part of what makes a trip to Big Sugar State Park a special treat. Peace, quiet and solitude draw visitors who know about this out-of-the-way place. Its forests, crags and creeks are situated some 6.5 miles east of Pineville along Big Sugar Creek Road.

Getting there is a bonus to the visit. From Pineville, the drive along Big Sugar Creek is lovely, with great views of the clear-flowing stream. Plenty of cliffs, woods and rural countryside are seen along the way. The road is paved the whole way to the parking area on the left for visitors driving east.

Four hikers hit the park’s 3.5-mile Ozark Chinquapin loop trail on a chilly morning in late January. From the parking area, hike north through a grassy area to the trail’s start.

A piece of farm machinery has been at this site so long that it has become part of the trunk of this tree. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

A large sign tells hikers they’re entering Elk River Breaks Natural Area. Some 1,613 acres of the park is included in this area. Rare plants, including small Ozark chinquapin trees, are found here. Ozark chinquapins were once abundant in the Ozarks, but a fungal disease, chestnut blight, spread through the region in the 1960s wiping out most Ozark chinquapins.

From here, the group took the right fork to hike the loop counter-clockwise. A small creek spills through the heart of the park and the trail crosses it three or four times. Stepping across was easy in the low water, but it could be a wet crossing after a big rain.

It’s a nice hike along the creek much of the way. Then the trail curves left and heads uphill gradually for an easy climb. At the top of a ridge, hikers come to a trail intersection. Hike left to follow the ridge most of the way back to the trailhead. Go right and the trail heads back down for a hike through the valley to the trailhead.

The quartet of hikers took the left trail, enjoying an easy hike through groves of small trees. Some high vistas of the surrounding countryside are seen from this route. Hikers may not realize they’ve climbed so high.

Ironically, Big Sugar Creek State Park, so quiet and remote, is close to Missouri’s busiest and most visited state park — Roaring River State Park next door in Barry County, Mo. Roaring River buzzes with activity after March 1 when trout fishing season opens there. Cabins and campsites at Roaring River fill up. Crowds pack the park’s lodge and restaurant.

Big Sugar Creek State Park is basically undeveloped, which makes for solitude and natural scenery. The park has a hiking trail and restroom. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

There’s no brochures about Big Sugar Creek State Park at the Ozark Chinquapin trailhead, but brochures about the park can be picked up at the Roaring River State Park office. Missouri State Parks asks people to call Roaring River State Park, 417-847-2539, if they’re seeking information about Big Sugar State Park.

The Big Sugar brochure states the park is still in the development stage. Future planned amenities include a day-use area, an area for use by youth groups and a canoe launch along Big Sugar Creek.

For now, enjoy the quiet. 

Visit Big Sugar country

The Bella Vista Bypass makes short work out of a trip to Big Sugar Creek State Park, Elk River and other destinations around Pinevile, Mo. Now Pineville is only a 15 minute drive from Bentonville on Interstate 49.

Source: Staff Report