Points of Interest:
- See the geologic wonder that is the 40 feet long natural bridge over Clifty Creek.
- Hike through a microcosm of Ozark natural communities from dry glades to lush stream bottoms.
- Enjoy a wide variety of Ozark birds all season long.
Clifty Creek was the first designated natural area in Missouri (1971). Visitors to the area will encounter cherty dry-mesic upland forests with mature northern red oak, white oak, and mockernut hickory on north facing slopes. Look for maidenhair and Christmas ferns here. At the base of north facing slopes and cliffs you will find wild ginger, jack-in-the pulpit and Jacob’s ladder in the spring. Along the gravel wash of the creek occur Ward’s willow, sycamore, and leatherwood. Small dolomite glades provide vistas of the creek valley and contain Indian paintbrush, puccoon, and purple prairie clover. Dry woodlands with cherty or sandstone derived soils have bird’s foot violet, goat’s rue, rough sunflower, downy goldenrod, and dittany. The scenic dolomite cliffs support wild columbine, wild hydrangea, walking fern, and Drummond’s goldenrod. 458 plant species have been recorded for this area.
Add to these botanical riches is the area’s scenic natural bridge with a span of 40 feet and a height of 13 feet. The natural bridge is formed where a tributary of Clifty Creek goes through a spur of Gasconade formation dolomite. At some point in the geologic past the tributary took a short cut through the ridge, following a joint in the bedrock that enlarged to a fissure from water erosion.
The early Missouri geologist G.C. Broadhead visited this site in 1857 and described the area:
“A perfectly clear stream of water courses through this valley. The bottoms near are overspread with dense growth of trees and vines, among which I noticed the Muscadine grape. The valley at this point, being shut in by its perpendicular cliffs, with not a path to guide the traveler through the dense thickets is wildly picturesque and romantic in its loneliness.”
Today the visitor to Clifty Creek Natural Area will find a similar scene but the woods of the natural area are really not that lonely as you will see and hear a variety of birds throughout the seasons. Along the creek look for kingfisher, northern parula, and Louisiana waterthrush. In the woods look and listen for wood thrush, scarlet tanager, black-and-white warbler, worm-eating warbler, pileated woodpecker, and red-eyed vireo.
This natural area is owned by the L-A-D Foundation (call 314-621-0230) that is dedicated to sustainable forest management and protection of exemplary natural and cultural areas in Missouri. The outstanding conservationist, Leo Drey, began the Foundation in 1962. The Foundation’s properties also include Pioneer Forest that conducts sustainable forestry on over 150,000 acres of Missouri Ozark lands. Missouri’s Natural Areas Program owes much to the pioneering work of Leo Drey and the L-A-D Foundation.