As much as we love Missouri’s more popular state parks such as Johnson’s Shut-Ins, Elephant Rocks, or Roaring River, sometimes its nice to venture to a quieter park. You can find this solitude at Big Sugar Creek State Park. Located in far southwest Missouri, this lovely park is big on views but low on crowds or development.
About Big Sugar Creek State Park
Established in 1992, Big Sugar Creek State Park has a wild feel. Do not expect well groomed trails and amenities in this park. What you can expect is a rugged landscape of rare shrubs and trees not often seen any more in Missouri. Still in the first phase of development, the park contains only a small parking area and vault toilet. There is only one trail, the Ozark Chinquapin Trail. The trail makes a loop with a connector down the middle.
Best Times to Visit
Since this park is not as popular, the trails are not as worn down. This means that the paths can become overgrown and weedy in the summer months. I would suggest hiking in fall, winter, or spring if possible. We had no trouble following the trail, but we were often walking through knee-high weeds. Poison Ivy was also present in places.
The trail crosses the creek over and over. All of the crossings were easy and shallow during our visit. However, I would avoid the trail after a very heavy rain as the creek may be difficult to cross.
Ozark Chinquapin Trail
- Distance: Sign says 3.1 miles, but we clocked 3.5 for the loop. There is also a white connector trail which shortens the hike slightly.
- Difficulty: 3/5. Trail itself only has mild inclines, but can be overgrown, narrow, and involves numerous creek crossings.
- Scenic Value: 5/5. Trail follows a beautiful creek almost the whole way. This is a gorgeous hike.
Reaching the Trailhead
Just getting to the park is a scenic drive. Take the paved Big Sugar Creek Road east out of the town of Pineville to reach the park. This narrow and winding paved road winds along lovely Big Sugar Creek with the occasional large rock outcropping on the other side. Look for the gravel parking area and park sign on your left.
Hiking along the Creek
The path starts down a wide grassy path. Soon the loop portion of the trail begins. We opted to turn right and hike counter-clockwise.
The trail started out alright, but soon became slightly overgrown in sections. Just keep an eye out for the yellow blazes on the trees and watch out for poison ivy, especially near the creeks.
The path soon begins to parallel a bedrock creek. The water is crystal clear and there are numerous little cascades and waterfalls.
One of the first creek crossings is just downstream of a rugged canyon. The kids enjoyed playing in the water and making dams out of rocks.
The trail continues to hopscotch back and forth across the creek. Use caution when crossing, but the water was shallow and easy for us to cross.
I just loved all the little waterfalls along the way. You don’t find many trails in Missouri that parallel a creek like this.
Eventually the trail starts to gradually climb up in elevation and away from the creek. The incline is steady but not steep.
Connector Trail Junction
When the path reaches the top of the ridge, you will come to a trail junction. Left is the white connector trail. This path continues along the ridge and through the woods and makes a more straight shot downhill to return to the trailhead. The white connector cuts off about 0.3 miles of total trail length.
Following the Yellow Trail
We opted to go right and stay on the main loop by following the yellow trail markers. Keeping to the main trail also means you get to follow another creek bed while slowly heading back down to the valley.
The trail was in good condition in most areas close to the creek. However, some areas again had tall vegetation and a narrow path.
Discovering a Secret Canyon
About halfway back down the left portion of the loop, keep an eye out for a rugged section of the creek just below the trail.
This section of the creek had some large and neat looking boulders. The creek bed at first appeared dry.
However, just a short distance further downstream water gushed out of a sandstone canyon.
This area was my favorite of the hike. It provided a scenic spot to cool off and take a break. It was also amazing to watch the water coming out below the rock.
After retracing our steps back to the trail, we continued to parallel the creek with some more crossings.
The trail climbed uphill above the creek for a bit, before descending again to creek level. We crossed the creek one last time before completing the loop and returning to the parking area.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The park is open sunrise to sunset.
- There is a vault toilet at the parking area. No picnic tables or any other amenities.
- You can view a map here.
- There is no fee to visit.
- Bring bug spray. We came home with a few ticks, but not as bad as I feared based on the trail conditions.
- Roaring River is Missouri’s most popular state park and not far. It has a fish hatchery, restaurant, lodge, campground, and several hiking trails.
- Be sure to always pack out what you bring in and respect Leave No Trace principles.