Camping in the Ozarks at Echo Bluff State Park
For generations, children made their way from cities and suburbs to find respite and recreation in the rural hills of the Ozark Mountains. From 1929 to 1986, a slice of land along Sinking Creek in southeastern Missouri was known as Camp Zoe, a popular summer destination. Today, the camp itself is long gone, but a different kind of visitor is returning to explore this picturesque landscape that has been transformed into Echo Bluff State Park.
Opened in 2016, Echo Bluff showcases some of the Show Me State’s finest natural features. Its namesake is the grand bluff that rises above the heart of the park, forming a dramatic backdrop for the pristine waters of Sinking Creek. On hot summer days, children splash and play under the cool shadow of the bluff, while deeper swimming holes beckon to teenagers and adults.
Across from Echo Bluff, iconic Betty Lea Lodge is located on a hillside, rivaling the bluff in size and grandeur. Offering a restaurant, gift shop and guest rooms, the lodge serves as the focal point for park activities. During winter, visitors gather around the massive stone fireplace.
Recreational opportunities abound in this 476-acre park, starting with tubing and paddling along the creek. Eight miles of trails crisscross the woodlands and connect to adjoining forests for hiking and mountain biking. The park’s nature-inspired playground is a big hit with kids, thanks in part to its arcing water fountains. Special events take place year-round.
Outside the park, Ozark National Scenic Riverways protects 80,000 acres surrounding the Current and Jacks Fork rivers. Floating down a rippling river is a quintessential summertime tradition in the Ozarks, and these waterways offer a sight-seeing bonus — a band of wild horses has been spotted roaming the area for more than a century.
The Missouri State Parks system spent $52 million developing Echo Bluff, which includes the Timbuktu Campground facilities. Sixty spots are available for RVs, all with concrete pads, water and electric hookups, and Wi-Fi access; some have sewer stations. Restrooms are well-maintained. Tent sites, lodge rooms and cabins round out the accommodations.