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There’s more than just trees in the forest! Castor River Conservation Area 3/29/2014

April 4, 2014

2014-03-30 11.30.33Well it had been a couple of weekends of camping on my own and with the kids, and for once my gal was going to get to go with me. As it happens sometimes, I have the motivation and energy, but no plan…and I really didn’t know where I wanted to go. After asking the question on the Facebook Page, Missouri Camper Mostreamteam Thomas suggested the Castor River Conservation Area. I had heard the name before, but had never gone to check it out, so I made the decision to head in that direction for the weekend.

We got kind of a late start Friday evening, so we stayed at Hawn State Park, which for a weekend in March was already pretty crowded. It is a favorite for quite a few people! After a rainy night, Saturday morning we packed up the tent and continued on our way, as we were about halfway there.

2014-03-30 11.35.30The Castor River Conservation Area is mainly made up of four sections that run in a north/south line off of Highway 34, between Highway 67 and Marble Hill, MO. There are two designated campground areas, one in the northernmost section and one in the southernmost, which also has a horse camping area as well. In one of the sections just north of Highway 34 is an 8 acre lake, which has Bass, Catfish, and of course your typical variety of Sunfish. In the southernmost section lies the Blue Pond Natural Area, which is apparently the deepest natural pond in Missouri. Unfortunately the gate to its parking lot was closed, so that was one thing we didn’t get around to seeing this time (we could have hiked it if we had wanted to, but this was a weekend to relax). There are also almost 20 miles of hiking trails to explore, either by mountain bike, horseback, or good ol’ hiking shoes (again…reeeelaxing). Primitive camping is allowed in most areas as well, as long as you are at least 100 yards from all public access roads, open fields, parking lots, or where otherwise designated. In the southernmost section you will also find the shooting range, and the only vault toilet in the area. And if you hunt, well, then there is even more for you to do, as this is conservation land. Check the MDC Website for all rules and regulations.

How to get there:

2014-03-30 11.14.30Coming from the St. Louis area, you have two options, but they both involve Interstate 55 south. The route we took was 55 south about 70 miles to Perryville and Highway 51. Take Highway 51 right (southwest) about 35 miles to Marble Hill. In Marble Hill you want to make a right (west) on Highway 34. After about 12 miles on 34, you will come to the junction of Route MM (on your right) and Route Y (on your left). Turn left onto Y to head to the southern two sections, or right on MM to go toward the northern sections. For the record, this route tends to be pretty curvy, so if you feel like some active, exciting driving…this might be the option you should choose.

2014-03-29 14.44.45To get to the designated camping and horse camping areas in the southern section, make a left (south) on Y. Follow that for about 5 miles, until you come to County Road 708. Continue on 708 for another couple miles, and you will eventually see the horse camping area on your right and just after that on the left are the regular camp sites.

To get to the designated camping area in the northern section, make a right (north) on MM. Take MM a couple of miles until you come to County Road 822. Make a right on 822, and after a couple more miles the campground will be on your left.

If you want more of a straightforward route, take Interstate 55 south about 22 miles to Highway 67. Go south on 67 for just over 80 miles until you get to Highway 34. Make a left (east) on 34, and follow that for probably about 12 miles until you hit the junction of Y and MM. Just remember that this is the reverse direction from the rest of these instructions, so some lefts will be rights, and vice versa. Luckily Y and MM each only go in one direction from 34.

What I like about this area:

2014-03-29 14.50.44The isolation. Yeah, it was early spring so you wouldn’t expect a crowd, and there were people over in the horse campground and one of the sites down from us, but the site we were on was a nice spot back in a hollow between two hills. Secluded and quiet for the most part.

We were only in there for about 24 hours, most of which was spent sitting by the fire, and then sleeping, but it seems like there is a lot of forest to explore. With a good amount of hiking trails, and a lot of opportunities for hunting and fishing, this is a conservation area rich in things to do.

Two of my favorite things about primitive camping on public ground are that there are usually no camping fees or firewood fees. A cheaper way to spend a weekend!

What you need to know:

2014-03-30 11.07.59As with most primitive camping situations, there is no running water and there is no trash dumpster. Make sure to treat/filter/purify any water that you haven’t brought from home. And take your trash home with you, please. When we showed up, there was broken glass around the fire ring, and that just creates an irritating hazard for the four legged members of your group. Plus, burning anything that isn’t paper (or paper based) is just lazy and it smells awful, besides releasing harmful chemicals into the air you are breathing.

The only toilet is a vault toilet at the shooting range in the southernmost section, and there are no shower houses. Again, primitive. Make sure you have a roll of toilet paper in your gear.

2014-03-30 13.40.31The Castor River Shut-Ins are NOT in this conservation area. In fact, the Castor River itself does not go through any of the sections. It is nearby however. And the Shut-Ins, which everybody needs to visit, is in the Amidon Memorial Conservation Area, a bit farther north of here, east of Fredericktown, MO.

As with all conservation land, check the list of hunting seasons. It would be a shame to go into the woods to spend a peaceful evening, only to be awoken to the sound of nearby gunfire as the sun comes up (unless you are into that sort of thing). Also, consider getting your dog a bright colored vest if you let them hang around off leash.

2014-03-29 18.00.26Something that always tends to strike me about conservation land is that it is typically just forest, streams, and gravel roads for the most part. It seems that usually most of the really scenic places in Missouri are already in a State Park or Federal Land or privately run areas. The conservation areas are a bit less notable when it comes to the fun natural attractions a lot of the time. But what they do have to offer is so much forest in which to enjoy a lot of the more refined and traditional activities that people go to the woods for. Camping, hunting, fishing, foraging. Some peace and quiet, and a place to go to strengthen your connection with the land and the creatures that live in it. That is the beauty of conservation land, and the Castor River Conservation Area is a shining example. “God’s Country”, as they say. Go spend some time in it!



One Comment
  1. Thank you for posting this detailed review and description. I really appreciate it and will be reading up on your other posts. I am always looking for posts on places to hike/camp/horseback ride in MO. We will check Castor River Conservation Area out as soon as possible, once the weather improves. Again, thank you for taking the time to do this.

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