Piney Creek Wilderness
Posted on March 14th, 2011
The Piney Creek Wilderness is an 8,142-acre Wilderness located west of Branson in southwestern Missouri’s Barry and Stone Counties in the Cassville Ranger District.
History buffs find this area especially fascinating and for good reason. During the late 1800s, the area was heavily logged by railroad barons seeking timber to build trestles and tracks in the East. Homesteaders and cattlemen soon trekked into the region and began growing strawberries and tomatoes along the ridges. Cattle found good grazing on the native grasses. However, few people found fortune in the wooded hills and hollows and the population diminished quickly after the late 1930s. By 1960 there were no permanent human residents left in what is now designated Piney Creek Wilderness.
Today, the area is a hiker/nature lover’s paradise with wooded ridges rising more than 400 feet above the deep, shadowed hollows. Piney Creek, fed clean, cold water from its many small springs, is the principal stream for the five-mile-long watershed that lies within the Wilderness. The stream finally empties its fish-laden (smallmouth bass tops the list) waters into the James River arm of Table Rock Lake.
Oak and hickory trees dominate the upland slopes and ridges, but visitors can also view small patches of majestic native shortleaf pine on some of the steep side slopes and narrow ridge tops. Stately shortleaf pine, which grow tall and straight, were the main target of the railroad lumber crews, but not all fell to the lumberman’s ax.
In the lower portions of the side drainages and bottomland, hikers can explore the small glade openings and old fields in the bottomlands that hold forests of other hard woods such as sycamore, ash, elm, buckeye and walnuts. Eastern red cedar favors the lower slopes and the glades.
The usual collection of Ozark wildlife can be found here: whitetail deer, gray squirrels, opossums and raccoons are poplar game abide here in large numbers.. Piney Creek Wilderness also provides a good home and hideout for coyotes, red and gray foxes, bobcats, striped skunks and armadillos. There is also a variety of reptiles in the area, including copperheads as well as the western pigmy and eastern timber rattlesnakes. Be cautious but don’t let their presence keep you from enjoying this spectacular region. It’s also a grand site for birdwatchers, with many species of nongame birds to enjoy. Patient birdwatchers have good opportunity to see bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, great horned owls turkey vultures, great blue herons, pileated woodpeckers, crows, blue jays, titmouse, and various species of songbirds that will ensure a memorable journey. Expect also to see some of the flocks of wild turkeys that thrive here.
Five maintained trails totaling 13.1 miles traverse the Wilderness with portions rambling along old forest roads and others being newly constructed. Piney Creek is accessible from several directions. Travel west from Branson about 32 miles or east from Cassville about 20 miles and follow Lake Road 76-6 to reach the Pine view Tower Trailhead from the north. Highway 39 and Lake Road 39-1 will lead you to the southern boundary of the Wilderness.