Find Mountain Views and Civil War History at Shepherd Mountain
We always enjoy hiking around the Arcadia Valley area of Missouri. One lesser known hiking trail we checked out last fall is the Shepherd Mountain trail in the town of Ironton. While the trail was very quiet the day we hiked, this area has recently opened as a bustling mountain bike park. Weekends now mean bikes speeding up and down the steep hills of Shepherd Mountain. There are several mountain bike trails but the hiking trail is available for those that wish to travel on foot.
Shepherd Mountain Trail
- Distance: 2.5 mile loop. The sign says 3.5 but we measured closer to 2.5 miles.
- Difficulty: 5/5. While not long, this one is super steep by Midwest standards and the trail surface is very rough. All the bike trail construction can make following the trail difficult.
- Scenic Value: 4/5. Some great views on the first part of the trail along with some interesting history.
Right at the start of the trail you are faced with two options, the “steep” or the “less steep” route. Both are actually very steep but the steep option borders on extreme. We went with the less steep route which is only slightly longer.
Bikers can use this route as well to reach the top, however they also have a shuttle option to the top which may help keep bike traffic off the hiking trail. The path is fairly wide in most spots but use caution to allow bikes to pass.
As the trail climbs higher, views pop up between the trees of the town below.
During the Civil War, the Confederate Army took a position on top of Shepherd Mountain to fire cannons on Union occupied Fort Davidson below. Signs mark the placement of these cannons. It’s hard to image dragging cannons all the way up this mountain.
The trail passes several overlooks before reached the summit. Don’t expect any views here. There were some fun rocks the kids enjoyed climbing. You can also see trenches from the 1800s when iron ore was mined here. Mountain bike trails cross all over around the summit and I imagine this area is now very busy on weekends.
If you want an easier route, you could retrace your steps from this point as the trail while steep, was not too bad to this point. From here, the path is much rougher and very rocky. Continuing downhill, it does pass a nice open glade and more cannon placements and overlooks.
This sign is pretty appropriate. The trail is super rocky with large ankle rolling rocks that roll when you step on them. When we hiked they were covered in loose leaves which made it even trickier.
Towards the end of the loop, the trail passes the remains of a short lived ski run operation. You can view what’s left of the ski lift.
The trail crosses a small creek before returning to the parking area.
If you are interested in more Civil War history be sure to check out Fort Davidson. This Missouri State Historic Site preserves the site of the Battle of Pilot Knob. There is a visitor’s center, remains of the fort, walking trails, a picnic area, and a playground.
The courthouse in downtown Ironton is also worth a stop. This historic structure still bears the scars from the Civil War battle. Look at the white trim work on the front to see a cannonball hole.
Additional Things to Know:
- The Shepherd Mountain Hiking Trail is open 7 days a week. Visit early or a weekday to avoid mountain bike traffic. Use caution and check the events page to avoid visiting on days of major events.
- The Battle of Pilot Knob Visitor’s Center is open Friday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The grounds are open sunrise to sunset.
- The Arcadia Valley is home to some of the best hiking trails in the state including Elephant Rocks, Taum Sauk Mountain, and Johnson’s Shut-Ins.
- Some of our favorite restaurants in town include Baylee Jo’s BBQ and the Arcadia Academy.