Mark Twain National Forest
Type of Use: Foot
Length/Rating: 1.5-Mile Loop/Most Difficult
Other Recreation Activities: Fishing, canoeing, swimming, birdwatching, sightseeing, photography, picnicking, camping, mushroom/berry picking, ATV riding. Hunting is allowed in season.
Nearby Facilities: The trail is a part of Sutton Bluff Recreation Area. The area has a campground with 35 campsites.
Also nearby: Loggers Lake Recreation Area, Little Scotia Recreation Area, Ozark Trail, Taum Sauk State Park, Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park, Deer Run State Forest, Ozark National Scenic Riverways
The yellow poplar at the trailhead must be a hundred feet tall. It is slanted, with thick and deeply furrowed dark-gray bark. Its leaves, shaped like a tulip, yield a vast amount of shade to hikers. But its size is by no means extraordinary. Many other huge trees around this area form a continuous canopy over the trail, and you can listen to numerous singing forest birds. Scarlet oak is not uncommon; other trees include white, black, and Northern red oak. Dogwood is the main understory species. At ground level, there are unglamorous meadow rue and wood spurge, and sometimes clumps of fire pink, which look like torches burning in the woods.
Sutton Bluff Trail soon merges with the Karkaghne Section of the Ozark Trail. Here, a spur trail leads to two parking spots and a bulletin board. Along the Ozark Trail, columbine and bird's-foot violet, among other wildflowers, spread over in clusters. You may find a wild sweet William here and a lyre-leafed sage there, or a horsemint just beginning to bloom. When you see a few shortleaf pines, look for the footpath leading back to the Sutton Bluff Trail. You'll now travel from hilltop to the West Fork of the Black River. The trailbed often turns into steps when the slope becomes too great; at places wooden stairways ten to 15 feet long are installed. The trail twists through the woods, from which you can hear the river. At last you see the river itself, flowing on pebbles and shining in the sun.
At the bottom, the trail follows the west bank of the river. At first it is barely visible through the sand, though in some places horsetails and other water plants show where the water begins. Trees found here are ash, elm, sugar maple, and an occasional rusty blackhaw. Some of them are rather large, with a few about to slide into the water. As the trail gets closer to the river, its surface becomes rocky. Near the point where Sutton Bluff meets Black River, hikers must leap along precarious stone slabs between the bluff and the river. Due to the constant presence of moisture, some rocks have moss or even small plants on them. Sometimes you may also see a gigantic log, leaves gone, under the blue-green water, with minnows swimming around it.
With this test over, the trail leaves the river. It is now decorated with American bladdernut, buttercup, squaw-weed, and hawkweed. After a wooden bridge and a dozen steps on a stairway, you are back to level ground leading to the entrance. This trail takes two hours of rigorous hiking.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication