The United States Congress designated the Rockpile Mountain Wilderness (map
) in 1980 and it now has a total of 4,236 acres
All of this wilderness is located in Missouri
and is managed by the Forest Service.
Private land virtually surrounds the state's smallest Wilderness area, a heavily forested spot within the Saint Francois Mountains. Its name comes from a mountain in the area that sets the stage for an ancient circular pile of granite erected by some long-forgotten inhabitant. Elevations range from about 1,300 feet to 520 feet.
The Wilderness is primarily a broken ridge with steep rocky sides. One sheltered gorge boasts a tiny virgin forest of basswood, butternut, Kentucky coffee tree, walnut, sugar maple, and white and red oak. Limestone bluffs and caves line the Saint Francis River, which touches the southwestern border. Other than the river, no year-round water sources exist, except in five ponds built before Wilderness designation to trap intermittent springwater and provide watering holes for wildlife. Speaking of which, the most common creatures here are white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, hawks, owls, turkey vultures, and pileated woodpeckers. Lizards, turtles, and snakes, including timber rattlers and copperheads, likewise reside in these parts.
Two miles of maintained trail enter from the north at Little Grass Mountain. Then the trail divides several times to follow abandoned and unmaintained roads that access the rest of the area. The old tracks are unmarked, challenging the adventuresome to explore unknown territory if they are prepared to find their own way. Backcountry exploration and camping are unrestricted. Heavy rains yield a bonus: temporary streams may go on a rampage, tumbling through narrow gorges.