The Mark Twain National Forest is located in the center and southern areas of Missouri.
Where is this Forest?


History & Culture

Mark Twain National Forest

(image) construction of the Clear Creek Dam by CCC crews using picks, shovel and wheelbarrow.The Mark Twain National Forest, as we know it today, was created on February 17, 1976. The Mark Twain National forest has a rather unique history – for it was once known as both the Clark National Forest and the Mark Twain National Forest – both being proclaimed on September 11, 1939.

Missouri’s only national forest, The Mark Twain, encompasses roughly 1.5 million acres, mostly within the Ozark Highlands. Located across southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, the Ozark Highlands are an ancient landscape characterized by large permanent springs, over 5,000 caves, rocky barren glades, old volcanic mountains and nationally recognized streams. Portions of the Ozarks were never under oceans, nor were the areas glaciated.

In the 1870s, citizens of southern Missouri began an era of extensive logging of the state's native oak, hickory, and pine forests. Lumber mills were commonplace, but by the 1920s they had disappeared, along with much of the state's native forests. In the late 1920's and early 1930's, the people of the state became concerned about the condition of idle and sometimes abandoned lands in the Ozarks region. Much land within the present National Forest boundary had been stripped of timber, burned, over used as pasture or tilled until its productivity was seriously impaired. Abandoned lands contributed nothing to the local economy or tax base. Erosion was a serious problem and many acres needed rehabilitation.

So, during 1934 and 1935, eight separate purchase units embracing 3,313,705 acres, were established in 28 counties. In 1939, the President of the United States proclaimed four of the eight purchase units as the Mark Twain National Forest. The purchase units involved were: Gasconade (Rolla, Houston), Pond Fork (Ava) Table Rock (Cassville), and Gardner (Willow Springs). On the same date, the Clark National Forest was established by Proclamation. The units involved were: Clark (Potosi, Salem); Fristoe (Winona, Doniphan, Van Buren), LaMotte (Fredericktown), and Wappapello Lake (Poplar Bluff). To learn more regarding the naming of the Mark Twain National Forest CLICK HERE!

Today, the Mark Twain is host to more than 500 caves.  Caves provide habitat for unique animals like cave salamanders and southern cave fish.  Shut-in creeks, whose enormous rock boulders restrict flow, create nationally renowned white water kayaking and canoeing opportunities.

Due to the karst topography, there is an abundance of natural springs found in the area. The Ozarks are home to the world’s largest collection of “first magnitude” springs (those with over 65 million gallons of water daily flow).  Almost 3,000 springs feed rivers and streams that flow year round. Many of these streams are so clear that ten feet of depth appears to be only one foot deep.

Greer Spring, the second largest in Missouri, is considered to be the most pristine and scenic in the state. Discharging an average of 222 million gallons of water per day, Greer Spring more than doubles the flow of the Eleven Point River. The importance of the water resource of the Mark Twain is exemplified by the designation of the Eleven Point Scenic River, one of the first Wild and Scenic Rivers in the nation.  These natural features are a destination for many visitors to Missouri.

Underneath the land surface lays one of the largest lead ore deposits in the world, the Viburnum Trend. Since mining began, more than 250 million tons of economically valuable ore have been recovered, including lead, zinc, and copper.  During the last five years the significant economic benefits mining has been reduced by this market-driven industry. 

Over 45 million people are within a day's drive of Mark Twain’s unique features and recreation opportunities.