I have always enjoyed hiking Three Creeks CA. The topography is variable and can be challenging if approached in the right way. There are also many gems tucked away in this unassuming conservation area. One of my favorite places to hike in Three Creeks is an unofficial trail that comes off the Tomlin Hill Road parking area (38°50’23.02″N; 92°18’16.53″W). The trail proceeds southwest from the parking area along a bluff with beautiful views of the surrounding hills and creek below. The initial portion of the trail is especially lovely during fall when the leaves have begun to change color. Camping on the bluff trail is always a treat. It is nice to wake up to scenic views in the morning. As you proceed on the trail, the bluff begins to slope down towards the elevation of the river. Once you have reached the elevation of the river, the trail abruptly ends. There are two ways you can go at that point.
First, you can travel west into the extreme western portions of the CA. This area provides some decent hiking, but your trip will be cut short by the boundaries of the park. One gem that this area of the CA offers is small numbers of morels during the spring. I have hunted morels here couple of times and have never come back empty handed. I have never seen any other morel hunters while I have been there. The downside is that there are very few and I have much better areas to hunt.
The second direction you can go is to follow the river back along the bottom of the bluff you were just on. You are guaranteed to get wet on this portion of the trip, so bring waterproof boots if you decide to do it. Following the river northeast brings you to the confluence of Bonne Femme Creek and Turkey Creek. The confluence has a deep scour hole that is never dry. I have not attempted to determine the actual depth of the hole, but you cannot see the bottom. The hole is perfect for swimming. There is a rope and several vines that are used for launching yourself into the water. You can also climb out onto a tree that is parallel to the water’s surface. I have caught bluegill there with a Missouri backwoods fishing pole that I made from what I could find around the hole. The swimming hole offers a sandy beach that is perfect for camping and relaxing. It is frequented by locals that often lose their inhibitions while they are there. I have more than once walked up to find naked people running around the swimming hole.
After visiting the swimming hole, you can continue travelling northwest along Bonne Femme Creek and meet up with a trail that will either take you back to your vehicle if you follow it north or take you farther into Three Creeks if you follow it south or southeast. You can also continue along Bonne Femme Creek to see beautiful bluffs and yet another hidden gem of the CA. Along the creek, not far from the trail you crossed is an extensive grove of pawpaws that is on the south bank of the creek. The pawpaws are old enough to produce fruit and if you visit at the right time of year, the fruit is prolific. It is always a place I like to visit when the pawpaw fruit is in season. You may also catch a glimpse of the Zebra Swallowtail that lays eggs on the pawpaws. I consider these to be one of the most beautiful butterflies in Missouri.
Three Creeks can be made into a challenging hike by avoiding the trails, which are mostly designed for bikes and horses. The terrain, when taken head-on, will present a tough and fun hike that is difficult to get from other parks in the area. There are some other off trail gems that you can find in Three Creeks, such as Hunter’s cave and other caves. However, due to White Nose Syndrome in bats, all of the caves in Three Creeks have been closed to public access.