Mark Twain National Forest
Type of Use: Foot, horse.
Length/Rating: 42 Miles in Total/Most Difficult
Other Recreation Activities: Birdwatching, backpacking, wilderness use, primitive camping, mushroom/berry picking
Nearby Facilities: Glade Top Scenic Byway, Swan Creek Horse Trail, Chadwick Motorcycle Use Area. Bull Shoals Lake, Branason, Table Rock State Park
The eastern trailhead of Hercules Glades Wilderness is located at Hercules Lookout Tower off Highway 125. It has toilets, campsites, and picnic tables for your convenience. Upper and Lower Pilot Knobs may be viewed from the tower. Many trips into the Wilderness originate here. You could also start from other places and end your hike here.Crossing the western boundary into the Wilderness, the atmosphere changes magically. Nature is undisturbed. Deadwood remains where it falls and gradually decays. Living things grow and interact with one another; there is little human interference. A huge eastern red cedar's trunk, like melted wax, wraps around a post oak. The embrace has lasted for decades.
The western entrance to the Wilderness is on Broken Back Bridge Road off Highway 160. This two-mile-long gravel road ends at the Coy Bald Trailhead where two campsites and a rustic toilet are available. The first part of the trail follows a wooded ridge. There are oaks, hickories, maples, elms, and black walnut. Under them, persimmon, fragrant sumac, flowering dogwood, and redbud flourish.
In the woods there are downy and red-headed woodpeckers knocking on trees. Grey squirrels and eastern chipmunks are dashing around on the ground. Black-and-white warblers are found here and there. The deep blue male indigo buntings still sing in August, later than most other songbirds.
As you come to the edge of the timberland, you can see broad-winged hawks soaring overhead. Rubythroated hummingbirds are not uncommon. Limestone blocks are furbished by tall prairie grass and lustrous wildflowers, mixed with a few cedars and smoketrees. Black-eyed Susan patches are in many places. In late May the Missouri evening primrose and fluorescent blue larkspur light up the glades. There are also stinging scorpions and collared lizards on the sun-warmed rocks.
Oaks and hickories decorate the banks of Long Creek. During dry season, there is no water in it except for a few isolated pools. One of them is near the first campsite under a bluff; minnows, sunfish, suckers and even watersnakes swim in the still water. A number of large sycamores grow in the streambed, with grotesque roots grasping the crevices. They show signs of rushing torrents in the past. The creek is dormant most of the summer. When a rain storm comes, it roars and pours through boulders and down many small waterfalls. The largest one among them is a ten-footer; there is another one of six feet.
The trail follows Long Creek for about a mile. From here you can access Upper and Lower Pilot Knobs to the north, or return to Coy Bald through an alternate route. Continuing eastward along Long Creek, you will start to climb a slope, which leads you back to the upland. The trail becomes relatively level and shady on the ridgetop until it reaches the Hercules Lookout Tower. Here a four-mile loop trail leads through Pees Hollow on the northeast of the Wilderness. This area and much of the land to its west are open glades.
To the south, hikers can visit the Blair Ridge area. The forest here consists of mostly red, white and black oaks. There are also smoketrees, along with some cedars and hickories. A small patch of shortleaf pines is found near the trailhead. Cicadas are humming and woodpeckers tapping. Bluejays, vireos, tanagers, and nuthatches are singing. Grasshoppers, gnats and spiders, such as daddy-longlegs, are present. Sunflower, St. Andrew's cross, pink-colored wild rose and the yellow prairie dock call for attention. Prairie dock's large heart-shaped leaves turn towards the sun like a sunflower does. Its slender flower stalk, with only bractlike leaflets, can rise to six feet.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication