Encompassing a span of multiple Missouri counties on over one million acres, Mark Twain National Forest is the only one of its kind in the state of Missouri. For that reason and many more, it has become a favorite for locals and out-of-state visitors alike.
One of the best ways to get the most out of visiting this national forest is by camping! Read on to learn all you need to know about Mark Twain National Forest camping—from the best camping spots to things to do in this national forest, and so much more.
What to Expect at Mark Twain National Forest
When embarking on your Mark Twain National Forest camping adventure, you can expect to experience the best that nature in this pocket of the United States has to offer. We’re talking over 700 miles of scenic trails, streams you can float, canoe, or kayak down, and several different kinds of camping opportunities.
You will also find a bevy of recreational activities awaiting to round out your Mark Twain National Forest camping trip. From hiking and water activities to OHV riding, horseback riding, beachgoing and more. There is truly something for every camper or day visitor to see and enjoy at this beloved national forest.
Camping at Mark Twain National Forest
Ways to Enjoy Mark Twain National Forest Camping
There are several Mark Twain National Forest camping spots, and several different ways to enjoy camping here.
Tent camping is the most numerous and popular type of Mark Twain National Forest camping experience. Hundreds of tent campsites await throughout the vast acreage of this national forest. Campsites range from semi-primitive to pure wilderness, so you have your pick of just how rustic a camping experience you want this to be!
In addition to regular tent camping, you will also find options for RV camping, group camping—and for equestrians, horse campground camping as well. For many of the areas designated for Mark Twain National Forest camping, reservations must be made in advance.
6 Best Mark Twain National Forest Camping Spots
Due to the vast size of the Mark Twain National Forest, it likely comes as little surprise that the locations for Mark Twain National Forest camping and recreation are numerous. You won’t find it difficult to locate an area to pitch camp and enjoy all this national forest has to offer!
The primary camping areas within the national forest are broken down into ranger districts. Each ranger district houses several campgrounds or recreation areas. These ranger districts are:
- Ava/Cassville/Willow Springs
- Eleven Point/Doniphan
- Poplar Bluff
- Houston/Rolla/Cedar Creek
Within each of these ranger districts are numerous campgrounds and recreation areas. Each one offers its own unique Mark Twain National Forest camping arrangements, with some sporting more amenities and some having no amenities at all. Some also allow for RVs, large groups, and equestrians.
There are truly Mark Twain National Forest camping opportunities for just about anyone to enjoy! Be sure to take time and look into each ranger district to determine which is nearest to your preferred area and has the most—or fewest!—amenities in order to help make your Mark Twain National Forest camping experience everything you want it to be.
It should be noted that most, though not all, of both the semi-primitive and wilderness camping has accessibility to build fires, such as a fire pit or ring. Amenities in several campgrounds include flush toilets, showers, and dump stations, as well as grills and picnic tables.
Things to Do at Mark Twain National Forest
Hiking is one of the best and most beloved recreational activities for folks on a Mark Twain National Forest camping trip—or even just a day trip! But camping certainly provides a better chance to experience more of the hiking opportunities this national forest has to offer.
Mark Twain National Forest boasts roughly 750 miles of hiking trails. Some of these connect to the Ozark Trail, which traverses a good length of these mid-America mountains. The trails vary in length and ruggedness, so you will find a trail for just about any camper or hiker of any age to enjoy.
With hundreds of miles of perennial streams and bodies of water scattered throughout Mark Twain National Forest’s million-plus acres, it’s no surprise fishing holds high appeal here. Anglers can cast for crappie, smallmouth bass, and much more…it all depends on where you go fishing!
Various campgrounds and recreation areas throughout the national forest have more direct access to fishing spots. So if fishing is a high priority recreation on your list when planning your Mark Twain National Forest camping adventure, be sure to choose a spot close to water!
With so much to see, it’s no wonder how popular nature watching is during a Mark Twain National Forest camping trip! This forest boasts home to over 650 species of native wildlife. This ranges from 60 types of mammals, to over 100 various reptiles and amphibians, 200 varieties of fish, and over 300 types of birds.
Some of the species of wildlife that call Mark Twain National Forest home are considered endangered, and spotting them can be a rare but precious sight. Folks in the farthest reaching areas of Mark Twain National Forest, such as the Ava and Cassville areas, may spot a rare painted bunting or roadrunner. In Poplar Bluff, bald eagles and wood ducks are more frequently spotted.
When wildlife watching, it’s always important to enjoy from afar and not get too close to any wild animals…even those that seem harmless or friendly.
These few items just barely scratch the surface of what there is to do when visiting Mark Twain National Forest for a camping trip!
In addition to hiking, you can also experience this national forest via mountain biking, OHV, or horseback. View the majesty of the forest canopy draping over the various streams and scenic rivers as you kayak, canoe, or float down them via innertube.
Splash in the cool water at the beaches or go wading in the streams to cool off during the heat of the day!
This is also a great area of the country to look for fossils, rocks, and minerals. You can even enjoy paintballing and airsoft within restricted areas of the national forest. Folks looking to host an event can rent one of the forest’s shelters or even the large stone cabin available for these purposes.
There truly is some recreation for everyone who visits Mark Twain National Forest to enjoy!
Make Sure to Bring
One of the keys to having a Mark Twain National Forest camping adventure that’s memorable in all the right ways is to be prepared. Make sure you have all the gear you need so you aren’t scrambling or missing opportunities when they arise!
First and foremost, all visitors—whether they be campers or day visitors—should be sure to pack along at least a small first aid kit. There are lots of different terrains, various wildlife, and plant life out in Mark Twain National Forest, and you never know when you might encounter something that leaves you a little worse for the wear. So having the basic necessities is a must.
In addition, you will want to have along your preferred insect repellent and sunblock of choice. The Midwest sun gets strong in the camping season and mosquitos, biting flies, and other pests can present a real problem near the water—especially for campers!
Speaking of folks who are planning to enjoy some Mark Twain National Forest camping fun, you will also want to make sure you have good gear for the experience. This includes making sure you have a quality tent and a sleeping bag you can rely on, when tent camping.
RV and tent campers alike should consider bringing along a camping chair and a camping cooler filled with preferred food and drinks to help make their Mark Twain National Forest camping experience as enjoyable as possible. You can also prepare by looking up some camping recipes, getting excited about what to cook, and bringing the proper ingredients and tools to have some truly enjoyable camp food.
You also want to ensure you have the right attire for your Mark Twain National Forest camping trip. While camping at this national forest is seasonal, mornings and nights can still be chilly, so it’s wise to pack layers.
If you plan to experience this national forest on foot, be sure you have hiking boots that are suitable to the various types of terrain you will encounter. Sturdy and waterproof are two words you want to keep in mind when choosing hiking boots to bring along for your Mark Twain National Forest camping excursion.
With the hundreds of miles of perennial streams that traverse this national forest, you definitely want to come prepared for some water time fun! Consider bringing a kayak, canoe, or river tube for some unforgettable time out on the water.
And whether you are drifting down the streams or enjoying some sand play at one of the beaches or dunes located at various points throughout Mark Twain National Forest, it’s important to put safety first. Make sure you have floatation devices for little swimmers or waders, as well as for kayakers and canoers.
Anglers should be sure to bring gear that is in good repair, and lures or bait suitable for catching the specific types of fish that lurk in the waters of Mark Twain National Forest. Nature enthusiasts and bird watchers should consider investing in a solid pair of binoculars, and come with their phone or camera fully charged.
Wrapping Up Mark Twain National Forest Camping
Excited to kick off your Mark Twain National Forest camping adventure? First, be sure to check out our Camping Gear page. This is a fantastic resource to help ensure you are fully outfitted to be the most prepared and get the maximum enjoyment out of your experience.