Nearly every weekend, I get the urge to get outside and hike. Because I crave variety, I like to switch up the types of hikes that I do, so before I put on my hiking shoes, I think about what type of nature adventure I’d like to have that day.
Do I want to take a walk through a shaded forest?
Do I want the challenge of navigating rocks that have been made slippery by cascading water?
Do I want to follow the banks of Shoal Creek, or do I want to wade and splash in its clear water?
Do I want to take a peaceful stroll through unique chert glades?
Do I want to climb a bluff and enjoy a breathtaking view?
The great thing is, all of these options are available to me in one convenient location right here in Joplin: Wildcat Park.
Up until 2018, when I said I was “going to Wildcat,” it either meant that I was going to walk the trails in the area known as WildcatPark, or that I was going to visit the nature center called Wildcat Glades Conservation and AudubonCenter. Today, the center is no longer associated with the Audubon Society, and it no longer has the word “Wildcat” in its name. It’s now called Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center, operating under the direction of the Missouri Department of Conservation. So, now when I say I’m “going to Wildcat,” there’s no confusion: it means I’m going to Wildcat Park.
Are you still with me?
Good. Because this change is a work in progress. In fact, a new map of the trails in Wildcat Park is currently in development, so until that is complete, I’ll be referring to this map, which is from the Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Society days.
Enough of that. Now, let’s talk trails.
If Wildcat Park is your destination, I recommend stopping at the Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center before you hike. This nature center is a gem in this area, offering lots of information about the plants and animals that you might encounter on the trails in Wildcat Park.
Rotary Centennial Trail (.36 miles)
If you exit through the rear of the visitor center, you’ll find the hiking trail that takes you through the chert glades.
We are fortunate to have access to these rare chert glades right here in Joplin, making a hike along this trail a unique experience. The chert glades ecosystem is actually dry, so don’t be surprised when you spy a cactus sprouting from a rock, a lizard sunbathing, or a scorpion scurrying for cover as you walk along Centennial Trail.
After the glades, we usually turn left and head towards the bridge that crosses Silver Creek, a tributary of Shoal Creek. The change in scenery is dramatic: from dry, sunny glades to cool, shaded forest.
St. John’s Woodland Loop (.33 miles)
After the bridge, there’s a nice, flat, ADA-accessible loop trail that meanders through the forest, offering occasional views of Shoal Creek, as well as the tall bluffs that jut out from the sparkling water, demanding admiration.
St. John’s Creek Trail (.56 miles)
You can access this trail by turning left from the woodland loop, and it will take you along the banks of Shoal Creek, all the way to Redings Mill Bridge. There are several bluff overhangs to explore; you can even peek into a cave entrance on this path. We’ve also been lucky enough to spot a fox along here.
Bluff Trail (1.0 mile)
We usually access this trail from Castle Drive, which allows us to walk through the woods to access the creek before – or after – the steep climb to the bluff. When the water is low, we like to play in Shoal Creek, and to scan the creek bed for arrowheads.
We then make the climb to the bluff. The view from here is breathtaking! There are some picnic tables just off the trail where you can eat or rest . You can also park on the road above and walk down to the tables, which is a less strenuous way to go.
Continuing along the trail, you’ll come to one of the most iconic spots in Joplin: Mother Nature’s Gap (many locals replace Gap with Crack when referring to this spot).
If you’re not up for jumping over the crack to reach the other side, there’s a solid section that will take you there, as well.
Wildcat Glade Nature Trail (.2 miles)
In writing this post, I realized that this is one trail at Wildcat Park that I’ve never explored. What?! It’s next on my list.
To access the spring, simply drive to where the road dead-ends, and the spring will be just a few feet away. There are a few steps that lead down to the spring where the water is crystal clear.
Just past the spring, you’ll come across a faint path on the right which will take you to a rocky area. When there’s been enough rain, water will cascade down these rocks, creating a waterfall effect.
I often forget about this area because we usually spend our time on the other side of the park, but I think this may be my favorite spot because it reminds me of a fairytale forest.
With so many different types of landscapes in such a compact area, you can experience a new adventure each time you visit Wildcat Park.
Christine is a Chicago native and has lived in Joplin for almost two decades. Growing up in the Windy City, she loved to explore the wide variety of museums, restaurants, sports venues, theaters and parks. When she moved to Joplin her goal was to learn about the unique culture and attractions in the area. Now Christine discovers new things each week, whether it be a little-known park, a new restaurant or a community event. Joplin can be just as exciting as a major city if you dive in to all the community has to offer.