Picture the Ozarks

This story is part of an ongoing series about photo-worthy destinations in and around Springfield. We’re calling it “Picture the Ozarks.”

Not quite two-and-a-half hours from Springfield, the Greer Spring Trail in Oregon County of the Missouri Ozarks is well worth a road trip. 

Good for hiking novices or more experienced types, the trail and its ultimate destination — a gorgeous cascading spring creek — is especially photogenic. It’s a great spot to indulge a passion for capturing the beauty of the Ozarks, for both photographers and those who just want to spice up their Instagram.

That’s why we chose it for the first in a series of stories about photo-worthy outdoor spots near Springfield. We’re calling it “Picture the Ozarks.”

Depending on how long you linger, the Greer Spring Trail can take less than two or three hours, leaving plenty of time to visit another trail or spring in the area. 

We recommend stopping next to see the historic Greer Spring Mill, just half a mile north of the trailhead along MO-19 (west side). Then head to Falling Spring Mill (20 minutes away). No hiking this time! Just drive up, park and explore.  It’s a great place for a picnic lunch — and of course, more photos.

What’s so special about Greer Spring?

Greer Spring has two flow outlets roughly 250 feet apart. The uppermost one flows from a cave, creating a lush fairy-like scene that’s green much of the year. It’s not easy to get to this rocky spot and space is limited if there are other hikers. If you have the view to yourself, it’s possible to use a tripod for capturing a long-exposure image such as this one. It’s just as pretty to photograph using a phone or fast shutter capture. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

The downhill trek on the Greer Spring Trail rewards hikers at the end with a fairy-like creek ravine and not one hidden spring outlet, but two. 

The second-largest spring in Missouri, its daily flow of roughly 220 million gallons of water cascades 1.25 miles through a shaded canyon before the Greer Spring Branch joins the Eleven Point River. Nearly two miles out and back, the trail traverses through an old-growth wooded section of Mark Twain National Forest — pretty enough by itself and certainly photo-worthy, especially with the reds and yellows of fall or when spring wildflowers and woodland dogwoods bloom.

But it’s the lush spring creek that will capture your heart as you capture its image.  

Greer Spring Trail

Distance: Nearly 2 miles out and back; elevation gain 250 feet

Difficulty: Easy to moderate (the traversing trail is easy to navigate but uphill all the way back)

Dogs: Yes, on a leash

Visual reward: Beautiful spring creek cascades through a rocky wooded gorge; two spring outlets

Photo-worthy: Cave spring, multiple cascades, lush undergrowth, bubbling underwater spring, rock formations, fall or spring forest leaves and flowers; many opportunities for long exposure water photography

More information: U.S.D.A. Forest Service; Alltrails.com; many videos of this trail on YouTube

Your guide to Greer Spring Trail

Accessed from a parking lot, Greer Spring Trail starts fairly level but soon begins traversing downhill. Hikers will cross a few wooden bridges and pass convenient benches. 

While the well-maintained path is easy to hike, it gets narrower and rocky near the end. Hiking footwear, and trekking poles for some, are recommended. (And expect to take your time on the return trip when you’ll appreciate those benches. It’s all uphill heading back – which is what makes this a moderate hike.)

Three sets of steps – the last metal – lead from a viewing platform to the spring ravine. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

Near the end of the hike down, after crossing a final bridge, the sound of rushing water heralds the spring creek and a viewing platform. Stop at the platform for a first look at the creek through trees. From here, three sets of steps descend to the rocky spring ravine and a shaded bluff line.

The spring and stream

At the end of the trail, the Greer Spring cascades is a gorgeous area you’ll want to remember through photos, whether you call yourself a photographer or just enjoy sharing your adventure through social media. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

After descending the steps, pause to soak in the beauty of this unexpected gem. Now it’s time to explore.

Just left is a small cave, interesting rock formations and a small bronze memorial plaque to Doniphan resident Samuel G. Beaty. Descending further, moss-covered rocks, trees, ferns and lush green undergrowth make a picturesque foreground to the scenic spring cascades that look and sound like a mountain stream. 

Whether you carry a camera or use your phone, the urge to shoot photos or video is irresistible here. Wander along the creek to find a variety of compositions. It’s a particularly great spot for long-exposure photography. (If you are the hiking friend of a photographer, find a comfortable place to hang out: You’ll be here for a while.)

The Greer Spring Branch of the Eleven Point River starts here in the spring outlet flowing from a cave. This misty area stays damp, creating fertile ground for lush undergrowth including ferns and mosses. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

While you can’t see them from the trail’s end, Greer Spring has two outlets about 250 feet apart from which water flows. The uppermost outlet flows from beneath a small cave. To view, pick and clamber your way upstream along a rocky rough path. Here, the spring emerges from a cave into a small misty pool banked by ferns and mosses, before it cascades into a waterfall and soon becomes a roaring stream. Banked by large rocks and dolomite bluffs, space in this area is limited if there are many other hikers. 

A second Greer Spring outlet can be found downstream of the trail by following a narrow path that ascends along the edge of small rapids as the stream curves beyond sight of the trail’s end. Watch for what resembles blue-ish boiling water as the second spring outlet roils and churns from a rocky bed to the stream surface. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

To find the lower spring outlet, head back to where the trail ends and continue downstream. As a narrow path ascends along the edge of small rapids, the stream curves beyond sight of the trail. Watch for what resembles blue-ish boiling water where the second spring outlet roils and churns from its rocky bed to the stream surface. There’s more to explore for those who wish to linger, or return to the steps, head back up the trail and continue your road-trip adventure.

The Greer Spring branch adds roughly 220 million gallons of water each day to the Eleven Point River, about 1.25 miles from the spring. This image was made near the second spring outlet. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

Get there from Springfield

Location: West side of MO-19 in Oregon County, about 1 mile south of the MO-19 bridge over the Eleven Point River; GPS: 36.780300, -91.346380

Distance: Roughly 145 miles

Drive time: Around 2.33 hours

Parking: Spacious lot with vault toilet; trailhead well-marked

Travel tip: Reach trailhead parking about 1 mile south after crossing the MO-19 bridge. A small sign on the east side of the road marks the west side turnoff (it’s easy to overshoot).

Nearby: Greer Spring Mill; Greer Spring Crossing Recreation Area; Alton, Mo.

Not far: Falling Spring Mill and picnic area (20 minutes); Turner’s Mill North at the Eleven Point River (30 minutes); Alley Mill & Spring (40 minutes); Eminence, Mo. (40 minutes); Rocky Falls & Klepzig Mill (40 minutes); Blue Spring Trail (50 minutes)

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Sony Hocklander

Sony Hocklander is a freelance journalist, video storyteller and photographer who produces creative content through her small solo business, Sony Hocklander Creative LLC. When she’s not telling community stories, she loves wandering the Ozarks outdoors with a camera in hand. You can follow her on Twitter @SonyHocklander and on Instagram @shocklander or email her at: sonyhocklander@gmail.com More by Sony Hocklander