Swan Creek Wilderness is located in Mark Twain National Forest southeast of Springfield, Missouri. This is a summary of our day hike as well as photos and maps.
I did not find a lot of reliable information for Swan Creek on the internet; however, if you call the forest service, they will happily mail you the most current map.
Swan Creek seems to be more popular with the horse crowd than hikers…that may be due to the fact that there are several places to hike near Swan Creek. However, take my advice and make this a must-see. It is fabulous. For this part of the state, this is definitely by far my favorite place as of now.
The only downside to Swan Creek is that apparently those that ride horses here seem to not know about or understand the “Leave No Trace” code or maybe simply to lazy to pick up their own trash. There were so many beer cans scattered around. I tried to ignore them but after a little while, I couldn’t take it and grabbed all of the available trash bags that I had and gathered up all the cans that I passed.
(note to self: create a how-to video for horse riders on how to wrap a plastic sack around the saddle horn to dispose of your empty beer cans!). — also see LEAVE NO TRACE)
We carried out 3-4 dozen beer cans. If each person who was willing would carry out some every time they go, it would be a nice improvement to Swan Creek. (also note, if anyone is able to go by and take care of this; some lazy hunters left a bunch of trash just off of UU highway at the parking area – would probably need a pickup truck to tote it out). Aside from the beer cans EVERYWHERE, it is not a trashy place at all.
Hunting is allowed and as horse riders cannot seem to dispose of their trash, neither can hunters. (I am a little annoyed after seeing their trash yesterday..LAZY people, pick up after yourself). Okay, enough of that.
Getting to Swan Creek from the north: Heading south on highway 65, we turned east on highway 14 and went through SPARTA (ha, ha). Veering southeast onto highway T and then south on highway UU. The drive [once you get onto highway UU] was amazing. It was jaw-dropping gorgeous. The hills are some of the prettiest I have seen. For a short period, you will be driving parallel to Swan Creek, which was flowing nicely. It was very scenic! We opted for the trailhead off of highway UU, which is titled the Tin Top trail.
The parking area off of highway UU is nothing more than a dirt patch. It’s high on a ridge and once you leave your vehicle, you have very nice views. Hills everywhere. There is no “large” Mark Twain National Forest sign at this entrance. I doubt it is very popular, but if that is the case and you are hiking, start here. You shouldn’t have to deal with any horse trailers at this parking area. While it is large enough to park a horse trailer here, if there were already vehicles at this parking area, a horse trailer would not fit.
Getting started, shortly you’ll come across the lazy hunter’s trash pile (can anyone pick this up?) Shortly, there is a trail to the left. This is an out-and-back trail signed 6114 (Patterson Hollow). There are hardwood trees everywhere as well as evergreens, cedars, pines.
At approximately 1 mile, you’ll come to your first choice. Make sure to take a map; there are numerous trails here and the majority of them run very close to each other, and there are multiple “unofficial” trails which can be confusing. GPS is recommended if you have it.
There are a couple of babbling brooks. At one point, you’ll be in cedars, then pines, then open areas. The trail can be incredibly muddy at times and in bad shape with all of the horse traffic. There were generally paths around. Lots of trees down. Paths around those as well.
After a couple of hours, we came across a former rock fence (or at least what looks like the remnants of a rock fence) and sat here and had lunch. The weather was perfect.
What we didn’t know at this point was that we had missed our first turn. We were still on 6107, but we had intended on turning to make it onto 6106..short cutting a small chunk. We had not intended on getting to Swan Creek at this area but we ended up there. Swan Creek is beautiful. It was flowing nicely and had clear water — definitely potable. We had brought shoes with us in case we wanted to cross the creek but there was no need to at this point. All we could see on the other side was a few horse trailers parked at the Bar K Wrangler Camp and since we had missed our turn a ways back and were already facing a 2-mile addition to backtrack, we needed to get moving. Swan Creek would be a perfect place to splash around in on a hot summer day. Gorgeous. Be prepared for ticks in the warmer seasons. We had a few on use this early in the year.
After back tracking to 6105, we headed up hill. We made our turn at the corner of 6104 and 6105 but shortly thereafter, we got off the trail somehow. We are still not sure because we were on “a trail”, but looking back at our GPS track and the maps, we got off the “official” trail. We back tracked and went round in circles. Eventually we just cut through the woods until we got back to a trail we had been on before. My track froze (thanks AllTrails). Mike’s was working (but he missed the first mile), so we had a recording but no map underneath it. Of course, we had compasses and paper maps but we have no idea how we got so far off the trail we were supposed to be on but yet were on a trail. This place has lots of unofficial trails so be careful. Our 10-mile hike ended up being 18.7!!!! Lordy!
We made it back to the car at dusk and headed out to find some food! All in all, this place was fantastic! I am surprised that more hikers do not go here. It is very near Hercules Glade which could explain it. We only made it a mile on Coy Bald trail at Hercules Glade so I don’t have a lot to compare it to but this was place was incredible.
We did not see any other hikers. Swan Creek is open to bikers (it seems very rugged). We did see about 7 people on horses. The first group was friendly enough. The second group were annoying. We had to wait quite some time standing on the side of a hill because it was the first time for the horse and it was skiddish.
In summary, this is a don’t miss area so get out there and hike it.
Here are a few places online that I have found information for Swan Creek and maps:
- Swan Creek at GORP
- Swan Creek at Mo Trail Blazers (map)
- Swan Creek US National Forrest Service
- Swan Creek at Mo Wild (map)
- On YER Bike!
- Article by the Thomas Hart Benton Sierra Club on Swan Creek
- Trail Resources – (looks like you can order a “biking” trail map)
- MO State Parks – brochure designed for equestrian use
- Swan Creek pdf Map (probably a scan of the one the forest service will have)
- Camping in Black Bear Country
Title: Swan Creek 3.29.2014
Track lenght: 28.54Km.
Altitude range: 150m. (Min height: 276m. Max height: 426m.)
Total climb: 583m. Total descent: 562 m.
Page link: http://tammyonthetrail.com