Special Places

Bell Mountain Wilderness

This 9,143 acre wilderness is part of the St. Francois Mountains, one of the oldest landforms in North America. The wilderness is named for a family that once lived and farmed along the ridge top that is now known as Bell Mountain. Elevations range from 1,702 feet at Bell Mountain to 970 feet in the Joe's Creek drainage. Local relief is about 600 feet and is characterized by steep felsite and rhyolite outcroppings. Both Bell Mountain and Lindsey Mountain offer outstanding views of the surrounding area. The associated granite glades provide a variety of interesting plant and animal life.

Shut-in Creek crosses the area. It is a perennial spring fed stream with several shut-ins or gorges along its course. Steep talus slopes intersect the stream at several locations. Joe's Creek is another small perennial stream within the wilderness.

A Wilderness is a special area set aside by Congress which "generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable?" The area is rugged and is for experienced hikers only. Before you start, be prepared with adequate supplies; water sources within the Wilderness are not recommended for drinking. Groups are limited to a maximum of 10 people, to help protect wilderness values.

A printable brochure (1.2m pdf format) or recreational opportunity guide (144k, pdf format) is available for download.

Trails: The Ozark Trail is concurrent with the Bell Mountain Trail for about a mile into the Wilderness. Then the Bell Mountain Trail turns north and ascends the 1,702-foot peak of Bell Mountain. A Wilderness is a special area set aside by Congress which "generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable?" The area is rugged and is for experienced hikers only. Before you start, be prepared with adequate supplies; water sources within the Wilderness are not recommended for drinking. To enhance solitude, groups are limited to a maximum of 10 people. A separate two-mile trail begins at the end of Forest Road 2359 on the east side and leads to the top of Lindsey Mountain.

Both sections offer breathtaking views of the surrounding area. The tall peaks of the St. Francois region extend southeasterly. Between Bell Mountain and Lindsey Mountain lies Shut-in Creek, a spring-fed stream with several gorges along its course; these gorges are locally called "shut-ins" a result of the unyielding resistance of igneous rock to water erosion.

Joe's Creek cuts deeply into the west slope of Bell Mountain; clefts and boulders form the basic landscape. St. Francois Mountains, one of oldest landforms in North America, has a combination of plant and animal communities not found in other areas of the Ozarks. Gnarled blackjack and post oak, black hickory, and a few winged elms are found in the harsh environment of the granite glades. The native grass supports unique and interesting life forms. Pileated woodpeckers, wood thrush and ovenbirds are abundant. White tailed deer, wild turkeys and squirrels can be found.

Rating: More Difficult. Terrain is sometimes steep. Vertical rise is 1700 feet.
Length: 12 miles
Best Seasons: Fall, winter, and spring.
Leave No Trace: Pack out what you pack in.
Restrictions: Foot and Horse only,  no motorized or mechanized transportation.  No camping within 100’ or trails, water, or other occupied campsites.
Surface Type: Unsurfaced, native material.

Other Activities: Backpacking, bird watching, and primitive camping.

Safety: No drinking water is available at parking areas or along the trail; bring what you will need, or be prepared to sterilize water you find. During temperate months, be prepared for biting insects, poison ivy and high temperatures. Be advised of hunting seasons. Avoid using the trail during excessively wet periods.

ALERT: Feral hogs, domestic pigs gone wild, are degrading the natural habitat within the Bell Mountain Wilderness.  Their rooting and wallowing contributes to soil erosion, reduces water quality, and threatens sensitive natural areas such as glades, fens and springs.  They compete with native species such as deer and turkeys for food, and commonly eat the eggs of ground nesting-birds.  Help is needed to control hogs on public lands.  The MO Conservation Department asks that all hunters who encounter a feral hog shoot it on sight.  If you see hogs in Bell Mountain Wilderness, or sign of hogs, please report this to Mark Twain National Forest or to U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services at (573) 449-3033 ext. 13.

Camping: Dispersed camping allowed. Practice leave no trace outdoor ethics. To protect the solitude, seek campsites that are out of site and sound of trails and other camps. Do not build rock fire rings. Never leave a fire without completely extinguishing it. Pack out all that you pack in.

How to get here:

FT 12 Trailhead: from Potosi, MO, take Hwy 21 South 18 miles to Hwy 32. Take Hwy 32 West 8 miles to Hwy A. Take Hwy A South approx 1/4 mile to first Forest Road SE Go approx 1/4 mile SE to site.

Hwy A Trailhead: from Potosi, take Hwy 8 one mile East to Hwy 21. Go South on Hwy 21 for 11 miles. Or take Hwy 21 South for 17 miles to Hwy 32. Take Hwy 32 West for 8 miles to Hwy A. Take Hwy A approx 5 miles South to site.

Open year-round. No trash containers; please pack out all your trash.