Rev Up Your Engines: The Missouri Ozarks Offer Five Enticing Motorcycle Routes
by Tom Uhlenbrock
Motorcycle enthusiasts can add a new trail to their list this fall, Missouri introduced the Ozark Hellbender.
Following in the tradition of North Carolina’s Tail of the Dragon and Tennessee’s Devil’s Triangle the ride had to have a catchy name to entice motorcyclists throughout the U.S. and the world to experience the scenic, stomach-churning roadway with plenty of sharp “twisties” and long, banked “sweepers.”
The ride is a part of Alan and Lynnett Peters’ five motorcycle routes he is recommending as self-guided day trips at MotorcycleOzarks.com.
The other routes include, Jesse James Getaway, Waterfall Wonderland, Big Spring Sidewinder and Elephant Rocks and Roll.
The husband and wife team have been promoting the scenic wonders of the area since moving from Kansas some 40 years ago and opening River’s Edge Resort (Missouri 19; (573) 226-3233; Rivers-Edge.com) on the Jacks Fork River in Eminence.
The Jacks Fork and the Current River are the heart of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, America’s first river-based national park. The area also is home to the Mark Twain National Forest, which covers 1.5 million acres of wooded hills that glow in autumn colors each fall.
Cutting straight through the scenic landscape north to south through Eminence is on Highway 19, which was built in the 1930s by laborers using picks, shovels, axes, saws and teams of oxen and mules. The route followed the ridges of the hills, with steep drop-offs beyond the shoulders in many stretches.
Federal funds once were available to straighten the gnarly highway, but those plans were voted down. Designated a scenic highway, 19 now is a delight for motorcyclists, sports car enthusiasts and any driver who relishes a challenging, backcountry road.
Alan decided to honor the endangered Ozark hellbender, a large aquatic salamander that hides under rocks in the spring-fed streams of southern Missouri for the name of the route.
Alan is an avid motorcyclist who has been guiding trips through the Ozarks for 40 years. He translated his experiences and love of the area online to showcase the area to outsiders. His website includes free printable maps and descriptive guides of the wonders you’ll find on each route.
“Most of the cyclists who come through here ride 19 but miss the best part,” Alan says. “You’ve got to stop and see the springs and the caves and the waterfalls, all those things that make this place unique in the whole world.”
For example, the Ozark Hellbender starts in Eminence in a 122-mile loop that features nearly 300 curves. The route crosses the Current River at Round Spring, then goes over Sinking Creek and twists up the mountain past Current River State Park. It hangs a left on Route KK to Aker’s Ferry.
“After leaving Akers, it heads north on Devil’s Backbone, which offers beautiful views of the Current River valley any time of the year,” Alan says. “It follows some nice curves into Montauk State Park, which is another part of the world with trout fishing in the headwaters of the Current. There’s lodging and a pretty good restaurant in the park.”
Heading back to Eminence, the route goes by Alley Spring, where the barn-red mill is one of the most photographed scenes in the Ozarks. “The spring, the old red mill and the sluice below are just absolutely gorgeous,” Alan says. “The foot bridge offers a bird’s eye view of the river.”
Traffic is minimal on the five routes, although horse trailers and logging trucks may slow you down.
Alan loves chatting people up and giving them tips.
“If someone wants to talk to me, I’ll add some tips, something off the beaten path, to help see the Ozarks that most people don’t get to see,” he says.
Take a ride on the Ozark Hellbender or any one of the other four routes Alan recommends:
Jesse James Getaway: From Eminence, this route follows Highway 106, crossing the Current River and going up the mountainside. “If you want to be a little adventurous, you can take the road to Blue Spring, one of the most beautiful sights in the country,” Peters said. The route is named for the infamous outlaw who was said to have escaped frustrated posses by hiding in the hills and hollows. “Supposedly, he stayed at Maggard’s Cabin and left a nice tip under his plate in the morning,” Alan says.
Waterfall Wonderland: The ride is named for Rocky Falls, which looks like it should be in the Rocky Mountains instead of the Ozarks. As it heads toward Arkansas, the pavement swoops up and down through the Mark Twain National Forest. “It’s a real roller coaster,” Alan says. “The faster you go, the more exciting it is. You definitely come out of your seat on some of those.” A mile-long hike through the forest leads to Greer Spring, which sits in a pristine canyon and pumps out 220,000 million gallons of clear, cold water daily. Further on is Mammoth Spring, which has a waterfall and visitor center.
Big Spring Sidewinder: Big Spring is the biggest in a state of gushing springs. “It’s a truly awesome sight – a big boil that comes out of the base of a bluff,” Alan says. “It’s a favorite destination of a lot of motorcyclists. It’s a popular site to picnic or camp or just visit the river. You go to Van Buren through the backroads on Route D. It offers some challenging sweepers into the backside of Van Buren.”
Elephant Rocks and Roll: The route is named for Elephant Rocks State Park, where a short paved walkway leads to a formation of huge granite boulders that some say looks like a row of pink circus elephants. The ride then goes to another popular state park, Johnson’s Shut-Ins, which is home to the state’s favorite swimming hole. “You go through Bixby, which has a country store that is a great place to stop for some ice cream or a soda,” Alan says. “You get to visit a real Ozark roadside attraction.”