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In the absence of socialization and travel, there are few options for escaping the grueling tedium and angst of 2020.

Fortunately, we enjoy the great privilege of living in the Ozarks, which is rapidly approaching its autumn glory.

Throughout the year, husband Greg Lawson and I have managed to push away the realities of COVID-19 and a particularly fraught election season with day trips all over the Ozarks. We inevitably return refreshed and relaxed, ready to see what’s going to come at us next.

We have revisited favorite spots and discovered new ones. As the year has progressed, we’ve challenged ourselves to find new routes to familiar destinations. On our journeys, we’ve discovered fresh vistas, iconic Ozarks images including old barns and abandoned rural storefronts and some incredible taste treats.

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I’ve mapped out a handful of our favorite drives that skim mountaintops and, on two occasions, take us off paved roads and through some of the most beautiful farms and hollows the Ozarks has to offer. Where possible, I’ve even plotted routes with exits through Springfield’s “side doors.” The point is to get as far away from civilization as possible as quickly as possible.

In no particular order, here are my five favorite trips:

Red Bridge Road

I said no particular order, but I may have lied. This one really is at the top of my list, possibly because we discovered it entirely by accident early in our courtship. It begins by leaving Springfield by way of Sunshine and Missouri 125 south through Linden, over the Finley River, and through Ozark. From there, it follows the beautiful Christian County W as the plateau gives way to the rolling Ozark Mountains. Eventually, W turns into the gravel Red Bridge Road, named for the bridge that spans Bull Creek near Peckout Hollow. The road again meets pavement at Christian County H, in the heart of the Mark Twain National Forest. The route I’ve mapped turns you back north, toward Springfield. If you choose to extend your drive, you can head south on H to Forsyth, on the banks of Lake Taneycomo. You can’t lose either way. 

Glade Top Trail

There’s a reason this route is a perennial fall-drive favorite — it’s super hard to beat. As the U.S. Forest Service website points out, it is the state’s only National Forest Scenic Byway. And it is a stunner. The 23-mile trek built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s winds along a high ridge overlooking Mark Twain National Forest and the Hercules Glades Wilderness Area. There are a number of places to stop and enjoy the views. The route takes you through the Caney Mountain Picnic Area and eventually back to pavement on Missouri 125 at Bradleyville. From there, I’ve routed the swiftest path back to Springfield, through Forsyth. But the more leisurely route north on 125 through Bradleyville, Garrison and Chadwick is well worth exploring. Plan for this trip to take a full day. 

Lead Mine

This day trip allows you to not only escape civilization but the modern era. This Old Order Mennonite community is delightfully out of cell range for some and full of shopping opportunities, with 23 independent merchants peppering the area. The Ozark Winds Bakery has some of the finest breads and pastries for sale. The Lead Mine Country Store is filled with practical items such as brimmed hats and cookbooks and has an attached restaurant that sells traditional dishes such as chicken pot pie and reuben sandwiches. Or you can order a custom-made sandwich at Meadowview Dutch Market to go. You can also buy furniture, quilts and produce that’s in season. A map of area merchants is available to purchase at the Country Store, or you can take a picture of it for free. The drive continues through the hills and hollows near the Niangua River to Bennett Spring State Park, a terrific spot to enjoy that sandwich. Coming back, you can avoid Interstate 44 by taking a scenic route through Long Lane, Elkland and Fair Grove before getting back on U.S. 65.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Any route to Eureka Springs is guaranteed to have a fair number of twists and turns, but this may be the curviest yet. This route will take you through Clever, Hurley, Elsey and Cape Fair before you hit Missouri 76 and cross the state line at Holiday Island. Coming back, the route is a bit more direct, taking you through Gateway, Cassville and Crane, but a detour on Missouri 112 through Roaring River State Park is highly advised. 

Flat Creek

This is another trip that tops my list, possibly because we only recently discovered it. This one takes you out of town via South Farm Road 141, sidesteps Nixa and delivers you to the Flat Creek restaurant in Cape Fair. This is a gorgeous drive that loosely follows the path of the James River as it makes its way to Table Rock Lake. It winds through Christian County past Two Rivers Mountain Bike Park and into Stone County north of Galena. We typically grab a bite to eat and enjoy a dashboard picnic overlooking the lake before heading back toward Springfield. This route assumes you won’t be in a hurry to get back and takes you up Missouri 413 through Reeds Spring and Galena before getting on Missouri 176 and 160. 

If there’s ever been a better time to lose yourself in the Ozark Mountains, I don’t know when it would be. Last weekend, we took the Peel Ferry at Bull Shoals. Next weekend? Who knows? We have abundant options.

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