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Devils Backbone Wilderness

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The North Fork River cuts through the dense forested area in the Devils Backbone Wilderness.
Library image #2506: North Fork River


The United States Congress designated the Devils Backbone Wilderness (map) in 1980 and it now has a total of 6,691 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Missouri and is managed by the Forest Service.


A long, narrow ridge (the backbone) supports the center of this Wilderness, with 1,020 feet at its highest elevation. Thirteen miles of maintained foot and horse trails follow the Devils Backbone and four other ridges, dropping off into surrounding hollows in a forest dominated by oaks, hickories, and shortleaf pines. In spring, dogwood, redbud, and service berry trees explode in flowering color. Then, in fall, the oaks, sassafras, and red maples turn yellow, orange, and red, respectively and delightfully. Three springs in the Wilderness (Blue, Amber, and McGarr) feed the North Fork White River, which flows through the area. North Fork Recreation Area on the northern boundary offers campsites and a canoe launch for the river. Blue Springs alone produces an average of seven million gallons of water per day. The water flows clear, but the Forest Service recommends disinfecting all springwater before drinking. The deer, fox, bobcats, skunks, squirrels, coyotes, and raccoons that prowl these parts are most often seen in limestone glades. The sky is often alive with eagles, hawks, owls, and vultures. Potentially threatening (but easily avoided) copperheads and eastern timber rattlesnakes are likewise commonly seen. From the North Fork Campground, a spur trail runs about one-fourth mile south to join the McGarr Ridge Trail, which crosses the area for approximately three miles. The McGarr Ridge Trail then joins the Collins Ridge Trail, allowing you to hike a loop that runs about 5.5 miles up and down the Devils Backbone. You should find the hiking moderate and backcountry camping is allowed, but subject to water and trail setback restrictions.

Planning to Visit the Devils Backbone Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Devils Backbone Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.

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