Trip report: Backpacking in Hercules Glades – September 2012

Taking advantage of a long weekend, we took Lanie with us on a three day backpacking trip to Hercules Glades. Our plan was to map some of the western trails with the GPS, try to find the Spring we think Rock Spring Trail is named after, and show Lanie the falls.

Having spent all summer tucked up nice and cool beside the AC unit, we knew we were out of condition,

so we planned on a very modest three days hiking. It was only Lanie’s second backpacking trip so we didn’t want anything too arduous to put her off. Finally we thought she would have some fun scrambling over the rocks at Long Creek Falls.

Day One – Coy Bald Trailhead to Lower Pilot Knob

A small amount of water running over the ford at the start of the gravel road to the Coy Bald Trailhead gave us some hope that we’d be able to find water. The road itself has been graded since our last visit. After the first couple of steep curves, which used to be very rough going, it climbs fairly evenly. Any vehicle with reasonable ground clearance ought to be able to get to the trailhead.

Checking the temperature on our way in I was startled to find it was 89°F. It was going to be a hot first afternoon’s hike.

We spent a lot longer at the trailhead than usual.
First Ginger discovered ripe persimmons, and we all had to try them and then I took off to photograph one of the trailhead campsites.
Persimmon at the Coy Bald trailhead

Persimmon at the Coy Bald trailhead

Campsite at Coy Bald Trailhead, Hercules Glades Wilderness

Campsite at Coy Bald Trailhead, Hercules Glades Wilderness

Second campsite at the Coy Bald Trailhead

Second campsite at the Coy Bald Trailhead

We were joined at the trailhead by two more vehicles as a group of six hikers arrived. Their plan was to hike down to the falls and thereabouts. After our trip we received an email from one of the group, Michael, who found this website and recognized us. You can see Michael’s write up of their trip here.

Ginger and Lanie left me to lock the van, and went off to sign in at the trail register. I’d just got my backpack on, which weighed a horrendous 45lbs with 6 liters of water, fleece bag and camera, when my phone started ringing. Note there’s cell phone access on all the ridges in Hercules Glades. By the time I’d got my pack off it’d stopped, and I turned the darned thing off to avoid further interruptions. Distracted by the call

I somehow missed the trail to the wilderness entrance (hard to do as it has a four-foot square notice board right by it).
I spent the next several minutes quartering the brush looking for the trail. Not wishing to be seen taking the ‘wrong exit’ by the people at the trailhead, I refused to return the way I’d come and start again.

The ever increasing scope of my search finally bore fruit, and a very grumpy Gary finally arrived at the sign-in register box.
It was then I realised I’d forgotten to turn on the GPS – probably just as well given my wanderings through the undergrowth.

The sign-in sheets at the registration point are in a mess. The rangers are obviously too stretched to come and check / replenish them. Ginger signed us in and we started down the 300 ft. descent to Long Creek.

Tortoise on the trail and Hercules Glades Wilderness

Tortoise on the trail down to Long Creek from the Coy Bald Trailhead. Hercules Glades Wilderness

It didn’t take long to get to the bottom of the hill, and we were very pleased to see running water in Long Creek. That meant there ought to be water at the falls, and we’d be able to stay as long as we wanted. We let Lanie enjoy the view of the bluffs and climb around on the boulders while we prepared for the hard slog up the Devil’s Den West Trail, which climbs the 300 ft up the other side of the valley.

Campsite By Long Creek

Fire ring By Long Creek

Long Creek

Long Creek

Bluffs at Long Creek, Hercules Glades Wilderness

Bluffs at Long Creek, Hercules Glades Wilderness

Back on the trail, we crossed Long Creek and followed the trail to the fire ring at the end of Devil’s Den West Trail. This place is a bit special for us, as it’s where we stopped on the first night of our first ever backpacking trip back in December 2010.

Crossing Long Creek

Crossing Long Creek

It is particularly upsetting to see the way people just hack down trees, or attempt to hack down trees, for wood near the fire rings. It’s pure laziness
– well given the amount of effort involved in cutting down a small tree it’s more like stupidity, as in our experience, if you venture a bit further afield, say 100 ft. from the fire ring there’s always wood to be found on the ground. In the photograph below notice the ring cut in the bark of the tree. That tree is going to die, and they didn’t even get a chance to use it for fuel. Stupid. For what it’s worth it’s also in violation of wilderness regulations.

Campsite at the end of the Devil's Den West Trail

Fire ring at the end of the Devil's Den West Trail

The Devil’s Den West Trail drops steeply in from the left of the above photograph. Climbing up the trail We soon found out just how out of condition we are.

We had to stop, gasping for breath, for every 50 ft. we climbed.
During one such pause, a quintessential Ozarks hill walker passed us coming down the trail. He had a huge bushy white beard, was wearing calfskin gloves, and had a service revolver in an old leather holster on his hip. The only thing out-of-place was the modern hydration bladder on his back.

Despite the frequent stops, we soon made it to the top of the ridge, where the trail continues along in fairly dense woodland. We knew there was a stock pond here, but after the long hard drought this summer we didn’t think it’d have any water. We were wrong.

Not only did the pond have water, but it looked very healthy. In the future I’m not climbing that 300 ft. hill carrying 14lbs of water.

Stock Pond by the Devil's Den West Trail

Stock Pond by the Devil's Den West Trail

After a while the trail emerges from the woodland and enters the glades around the Pilot Knobs and the ridges that join them.

Glades on the Devil's Den West trail

Glades on the Devil's Den West trail

Glades on the Devil's Den West trail

Glades on the Devil's Den West trail

We started noticing tornado debris on the glades. There’s only been one big tornado this year. It trashed near-by Branson’s heavily commercialized strip. So we’re guessing a lot of debris may have arrived in the northwest corner of Hercules Glades. There was nothing identifiable to confirm our suspicions, but there were some fairly heavy shingle chunks and metal siding to be seen.

Tornado debris

Tornado debris

Arfter crossing the glades there’s a short walk in woodland, and before I was expecting it we met the junction with the Pilots’ Trail which skirts all along the back of the Pilots from the Tower Trailhead on Hwy 125.

Trail Marker at the end of the Devil's Den West Trail

Trail Marker at the end of the Devil's Den West Trail

We decided we’d pitch camp sooner than later.

There were two trails leading west, only one is marked on the map.
Checking the map carefully, the left trail was the marked one. It climbs up the edge of Lower Pilot Knob for a while before leveling off. The right hand trail appeared to follow the contour around Lower Pilot Knob. There are a couple of ridges reaching north from Lower Pilot Knob, and the map suggested there would be a fairly flat area to the north of the trail, which ought to be good for camping. So we followed the unmarked trail until we were about in the middle of the ridge and then left the trail and bushwhacked several hundred yards down the ridge.

As usual it took ages to find the exact right spot to put up the tent.
Not too steep, not too many large pokey rocks or roots and no dead trees threatening to fall on our tent or drop limbs in the middle of the night. We found just the spot by what appeared to be a very old sinkhole.

Setting up camp off the Trail near Lower Pilot Knob, Hercules Glades

Gary uses the ingenious InstaFlator to pump up his NeoAir Pad. Setting up camp off the trail near Lower Pilot Knob, Hercules Glades Wilderness

Enjoying a well-earned rest

Enjoying a well-earned rest

Four legged Stick Insect

Four legged walking stick

Camped in the woods to the north of Lower Pilot Knob

Camped in the woods to the north of Lower Pilot Knob

Gary and Lanie tending the campfire

Gary and Lanie tending the campfire

We had a small campfire to keep off the evening bugs and chill. It was useful to show Lanie how to build a small fire, demonstrate that a fire ring isn’t needed, and show how to keep it small but very hot so that only a very fine ash is left.

Sitting in the dark we could hear some fairly large animals in the woods. Deer.

One pinned us down with a long laser eyed stare,
before bending down to pretend to eat and then quickly upright again to stare at us. We’ve looked this up since we got home, and this behavior and what followed is quite typical.

Once the fire burned right down we turned in for the night. In the early hours of the morning we were awakened by the sound of deer whistling and stomping the ground. I ignored it. But as the noise went on well over an hour, Lanie got up to investigate.

Apparently the Alpha doe was engaged in trying to frighten off our tents, which involved wheezing and prancing back and forth.
As we are in the middle of bow hunting season I found this hilarious – why set up camo blinds? Just plant a bright yellow tent in the middle of the woods and wait for the deer to come and try and frighten you away!

The rest of the night passed without incident accompanied by the hoots of the owls and distant howls of the coyotes.

Day Two – Lower Pilot Knob to Long Creek Falls

After the disturbed night it would have been nice to sleep in, but we didn’t. That doesn’t mean we got up and away early either. We like to enjoy a leisurely start to the day.

Camped  in the woods to the north of Lower Pilot Knob

Camped in the woods to the north of Lower Pilot Knob

Morning Coffee

Morning Coffee

Our plan was to go east along the Pilots’ Trail and take the Devil’s Den East trail down to Rock Spring Trail, hopefully find Rock Spring and maybe camp there for the night.

Ginger and I were taken to Rock Spring by a guide in 2010. The spring isn’t near the trail, and it was our first long hike so we weren’t paying a lot of attention. We’d never been able to find it since. It’s not marked on the map. I spent a lot of time studying the map and studying Google Earth to see if I could locate it. I remembered there was a dried up stock pond next to the spring building, and that should be easy to spot. The big big break came when realised nearly all the stock ponds were on the same contour line. I soon found the dried up stock pond in the aeriel pictures, and so could take a guess at the spring’s location.

Packing up camp took a while as I had a load of gear photographs I wanted to take. We noticed that it seemed we’d camped in the middle of a very old and disused forest road, so we followed that back up the ridge until it joined the unmarked trail. We then headed east along the fairly level trail up behind the Pilots.

Pilot Knob Trail - Hercules Glades Wilderness

Pilots' Trail - Hercules Glades Wilderness

We turned south at the junction of Devil’s Den East Trail which had a big sign saying “Upper Pilot Knob”
Junction of the Devil's Den East Trail and Pilot Knob Trail

Junction of the Devil's Den East Trail and Pilot Knob Trail

The climb wasn’t too steep, and fairly soon we entered the glades on the southern slopes of Upper Pilot Knob. The trail was quite wet and further down there were some trickles across the trail. This was great, the chances of being able to camp at the Spring were looking good.

Glades on the Devil's Den East trail

Glades on the Devil's Den East Trail

The trail seemed to go on for a long, long while. I was just about to get the GPS out to check exactly where we were when we walked out onto Rock Spring Trail.

The trail joins Rock Spring Trail opposite an old stock pond. We’ve named the pond ‘Sheep Frog Pond’
because we’ve heard sheep frogs here.

Now it was just a matter of following Rock Spring Trail east until we hit the right contour line and then look for signs of a trail or just bushwhack west until we found the old stock pond.

Ginger kept wanting to turn off the trail, but I’d been remembering the 2010 hike, and had a reasonable idea where to leave the trail. Once the GPS put us on the contour we turned right, and with very little hunting around I spotted the faint signs of a not very often used trail. A few minutes later we came upon a large fire ring and beyond that the spring box. Just 50 ft. from where I had thought it would be.

Rock Spring - Spring Box

Rock Spring - Spring Box

There was one more surprise for Lanie. Circling around the spring and

going northward up the slope we soon came across a small abandoned stone building. Exploring at its best for 13 year olds.

Abandoned stone building, Hercules Glades Wilderness

Abandoned stone building, Hercules Glades Wilderness

Lanie was tired and wanted to stop at the spring. However the spring had dried up, there was no water dripping from the pipe. The spring box had water in it, but it was thick with algae and I didn’t fancy blocking up our water filter trying to get some clean water from it.

We rested around the fire ring and then decided to continue down Rock Spring Trail and see if we could camp at the Falls.

Campsite by Rock Spring

Fire ring near Rock Spring

Rock Spring Trail is rocky and undulates a fair bit. It wasn’t too long before we’d started the long 300 ft. descent down to Long Creek, finally turning right on Long Creek Trail.

Rock Spring Trail near Long Creek Falls

Long Creek Trail near Long Creek Falls


When we came to cross Long Creek, we found it was completely dry, which didn’t bode well.
We were down to our last liter of water so we would need to find some before we stopped for the night.

There’s a large pool downstream of the falls, and I hoped it would still have water in it. We decided to walk down the creek bed to the Falls, planning as we went to retrace our steps if necessary along Rock Spring Trail, and carry on back to its start at Devil’s Den where we knew there was water.

Fortunately the pool was full of healthy looking water and we could hear a trickle falling behind the rocks of the falls.

Pool below Long Creek Falls

Pool below Long Creek Falls

There was no one camped at the falls so we set up camp for the night above the pool.
After a while the hikers we’d met at the start of our trip arrived and set up camp at the site next to the falls.

Fire ring - campsite above Long Creek Falls

Fire ring - campsite above Long Creek Falls

Camped above Long Creek Falls - Hercules Glades Wilderness

Camped above Long Creek Falls - Hercules Glades Wilderness

Another shot of Gary unsing the Instaflator

Another shot of Gary using the Instaflator

After filtering enough water for the night and the next day, we settled down to spend the remainder of the afternoon sitting by the pool watching the light on the trees and the reflections in the pool.

Pool below Long Creek Falls

Pool below Long Creek Falls

Yellow Jacket – photograph Courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation

Despite the popularity of this site, Lanie was able to find lots of downed wood for our campfire. Once it got too chilly by the pool we climbed up the bank and had dinner. It was while we were eating dinner that I carelessly managed to get myself stung on the arm by a yellow jacket.
I had assumed the beasts to be the same as European wasps. That was a mistake.



I now know that they are much more venomous. I quickly gained a welt 2″-3″ across, and over the course of the evening my entire arm ached.

After dinner we lit the campfire. We were joined by a walking stick who was very careful to keep out of the full force of the heat. Showing that I had no ill will towards insects despite my aching arm, I eventually relocated him to a bush away from the fire.

Stick Insect warming itself by the fire

Walking Stick warming itself by the fire

Day Three – Long Creek Falls to Coy Bald Trailhead

There were no disturbances in the night and Lanie slept in, leaving us to have a quiet start to the day.

We took the stove down to the creek to make our morning coffee and enjoy the sunlight playing on the water and trees.
Morning Coffee at Long Creek Falls, Hercules Glades Wilderness

Morning Coffee at Long Creek Falls, Hercules Glades Wilderness

When Lanie finally surfaced we had a second cup of coffee while she climbed over the rocks in the creek.

Morning coffee and hot chocolate by Long Creek

Morning coffee and hot chocolate by Long Creek

Gary enjoying the view and his morning coffee

Gary enjoying the view and his morning coffee

Before breaking camp we had another explore. First Lanie climbed all over the falls area. Then we followed the trail running westward through our campsite. We debated whether to see if this trail offered an alternate route out – though we’d seen no evidence of it emerging elsewhere.

Lanie in the dry Long Creek Falls

Lanie and the very dry Long Creek Falls

Lanie in the dry Long Creek Falls

Lanie in the dry Long Creek Falls

We also considered walking the creek out. By the time we’d got to the top of some bluffs we could see that Long Creek was quite full in places, and we decided that we’d stick with the original plan of taking the Coy Bald Trail back to the Trailhead.

Sign to 'The Falls' at the start of the Coy Bald Trail

Sign to 'The Falls' at the start of the Coy Bald Trail

Sign to 'The Falls' at the start of the Coy Bald Trail

Sign to 'The Falls' at the start of the Coy Bald Trail

The climb up the Coy bald Trail onto the ridge was hot but not too arduous even though it totals some 600 ft. We must have got a bit fitter. Once up on the ridge the trail is fairly level and wooded with just a few climbs and descents. There was water in the stock pond on the ridge, which is useful to know.

We stopped for a while on the glades to enjoy the view of the Pilots to the north. Looking to the East it took us some time to spot the watch tower at the Tower Trailhead on the top of the ridge.

Lower Pilot Knob from the glades on Coy Bald Trail

Lower Pilot Knob from the glades on Coy Bald Trail

The watch tower at the Tower trail head can just be seen as a speck on the top of the ridge

The watch tower at the Tower trail head can just be seen as a speck on the top of the ridge east from the glades on the Coy Bald Trail

In one of the glades I took this picture of the Black Eyed Susan, Ginger and Lanie.

Laying on the ground to get the right angle wasn’t such a good idea as I’m sure this is how I picked up a load of chigger bites.

Black Eyed Susan, Ginger and Lanie

Black Eyed Susan, Ginger and Lanie

Glades on the Coy Bald Trail

Glades on the Coy Bald Trail

The Coy Bald Trail seems to end very quickly.
One minute you’re walking along the glades, you enter some woods and all of a sudden you’re back at the start.

Start of the Coy Bald Trail

Start of the Coy Bald Trail

I’m not sure why we’re not looking very happy in this picture, I’m going to blame feeling tired after the hike.

Gary and Ginger at the Coy Bald Trail Head

Gary and Ginger at the Coy Bald Trail Head

And here’s Lanie with her second backpacking trip all finished. A very modest 11 miles in three days with 1,300 ft. climbed. Our planning had worked out, and we’d found the spring.

Lanie - second backpacking trip all done

Lanie - second backpacking trip all done

Lanie and Ginger collected a load of persimmons before we left and I’m told persimmon fudge will be on the menu some day soon.

Hercules Glades Backpacking 2012-09

Our Backpacking Trip - Topo map provided by USGS.

On the way out we stopped to take pictures of a Survey Marker complete with Witness Tree – we’ll write more about these in another post.

Witness Tree - near Coy Bald Trailhead

Witness Tree - near Coy Bald Trailhead

Survey Marker - near Coy Bald Trailhead

Survey Marker - near Coy Bald Trailhead

Notes on our preparations

Water was a concern, there had been some rain in the Glades area, but we didn’t know what the conditions were likely to be. We made a back-up plan to only stay one night if we couldn’t find any filterable water. The weather was also set to be a little variable. Dry, but with temperatures varying from 85°F in the day to 45°F at night. We are also in the middle of the Missouri bow hunting season, we packed two hunting orange vests. One for Lanie, and one for me. I need it as all my gear and clothes tend to be camo green. Ginger with her white shirts and bright blue backpack has a lot less to be concerned about.

We don’t go out into the wilderness during rifle hunting season, we don’t consider it worth the risk. Bow hunting, and to an extent muzzleloading season is different. They have to be much closer to their prey, be even more certain of their target, and the ammo doesn’t carry anywhere near as far. They probably hear us a mile off.

We decided to pack as much water in as possible, and to also carry our fleece bags for use around the campfire at night. As I’d be carrying 15lbs of water I decided to forego my trusty Coleman Exponent Stove in favor of the lighter and more compact MSR Pocket Rocket (Which in terms of the noise it makes certainly lives up to its name). I was going to also take my hobo stove, but opted not to save on space. I packed my big camera – 2.5 lbs. For sleeping I opted for my Go-Lite 1+ season quilt, Ginger her 0°F MontBell bag, and she loaned Lanie her MontBell 30° bag. I decided the weather was stable enough to leave the weather radio at home.

Clothing. All I carried was a fleece and base layer. The fleece is something I always pack – if only to act as a pillow. The base layer was just in case the temperatures dipped unexpectedly. They didn’t. My base layer, our emergency kit and spare batteries for the GPS were the only things I took that I didn’t use.

Finally, just before we left I emailed a copy of our plans to Ginger’s mother and a friend. Something we always try to remember to do.

What do you think?