Riding on gravel roads is the big adventure in cycling.
No doubt about it, the Ozarks has miles of gravel road. Could be there’s more gravel than pavement across the land. These back-country byways have little traffic, plus they’re scenic and quiet. Bikes designed for riding on gravel are flying out of every bicycle stop.
There’s one gravel route that ought to be on every biker’s to-ride list. That’s Sugar Camp Scenic Drive in Barry County, Mo. It’s just over the state line south of Missouri’s Roaring River State Park and close to Table Rock Lake.
We’ve featured this scenic drive in NWA Outdoors before. Back then, gravel riding wasn’t a big thing. We traveled it on a mountain bike to get the story. Most any bike will do, with possible exception of conventional road bikes with their skinny tires. Most gravel bikes look like road bikes, only with wider tires that have a slightly knobby tread.
Sugar Camp Scenic Drive meanders through Mark Twain National Forest between Missouri 112 on the west end and Missouri 86 on the east end. It’s well maintained with nice views of the national forest right from the start at Missouri 112.Vistas high above private land highlight the eastern section.
Riders can roll over all or part of the 8.1 miles one way. Ambitious gravel grinders can pedal out and back for a 16.2-mile trip.
To reach the west end of Sugar Camp Scenic Drive, drive north on Missouri 37 just over the state line at Seligman, Mo. Go three miles and turn right on Missouri 112. Drive seven miles on Missouri 112 to the big sign for Sugar Camp Scenic Drive, which starts on the right.
The wide gravel road heads drops down a hill at the start. The first scenic vista is a little less than a mile into the trip, off to the left. Another viewing spot unfolds at 3.1 miles off to the right. There’s a small picnic area a bit farther along with more panorama.
Four miles along, the road climbs high above a picturesque valley. At 6.6 miles the route turns to pavement the rest of the way.
The scenic drive ends at a T intersection. Travelers on an auto tour can turn left and drive short distance to Missouri 86 en route to Roaring River State Park. Follow Missouri 86 north a few miles then turn left (west) on Missouri road F. It’s a wonderful roller coaster of a hilly drive on Missouri F to the park. From there, drive south on Missouri 112 back to Sugar Camp Scenic Drive.
Which begs the question, how did the drive get its name? During one visit, we stopped by the Barry County Museum in Cassville, Mo. to find out. The staff had the answer from a 1930s newspaper article on file at the museum.
The story told how maple trees near Roaring River State Park were tapped to make syrup. Other stories mentioned Sugar Camp Mountain and a Sugar Camp fire tower.
Whatever the origin, Sugar Camp Scenic Drive is one sweet ride.