Busiek State Forest is one of my favorite places in the 417 area. We have spent many a day there with kids and extended family or friends playing in the creek water or hiking one of the many trails. I’m also known to run over on many a nice morning or afternoon with my trusty puppy boy, and often from one to all our 5 kiddos, in tow.
Busiek is such a wonderful getaway because it feels so secluded in the woods yet I can still just jump in my car and be there in 12 minutes. There are not too many places you can do that!
It is miles of rock-lined creek/stream that, depending on the time of year, the water can be high enough to find some decent water playing spots or basically non-existent. This is something to consider if you plan to hike or bike, as all the trails will cross the creek at some point, and some of them cross multiple times.
Busiek is just off HWY 65 almost smack between Springfield and Branson.
It consists of 18 total miles of trails for hiking, biking, or horseback riding, an unstaffed shooting range, and 9 primitive campsites.
From the highway, you will turn to the east and follow a road down the hill to where you can turn to the left or right. To the left there are camping areas and nice areas to play in the water and 3 of the six total trails. To the right is the shooting range and the other 3 trails.
Note: Busiek does not have amenities of any kind.
There’s no place that’s for everyone, but Busiek offers such a wide variety of experiences for just about anyone. From families with young ones who want to spend a day playing in the stream and throwing rocks to the casual hiker or horseback rider who wants to get in the woods for a spell to the avid mountain biker or hiker wanting a full day or two of adventure.
I have hiked all of the trails at Busiek, some more than others, totalling dozens of times.
There are 6 hiking trails total, three to the west of the highway and 3 to the East.
Although all the trails are enjoyable, my favorites are the west side trails. The only downfall is the shooting range. But you get out of ear shot pretty quickly and you know when you’re getting close to the end as the gunshots begin to be heard again.
The trails used to be a little confusing but in recent years have become well marked with paint on the trees and some nice maps located at the forks of the trails thanks to a local eagle scout.
The variety of trails and the option to combine trails offers so many different enjoyable and unique outdoor experiences.
During dry months, the streambed is more dry gravel than stream. During the wet months or after hard rains, there is a decent creek and some pretty muddy and wet spots on the trail.
Just know if it’s springtime you will likely want to wear nice waterproof hiking boots or similar but other low rain times a nice pair of tennis shoes will typically do.
East Side Trails
- Red Trail – 3.6 mile loop
- Yellow Trail – 4.33 mile loop
- Blue Trail – 2.1 mile loop
The Red Trail offers some fairly easy hiking, but there is a creek crossing and some rugged terrain. After heavy rain, the trails can be muddy and the creeks slightly more perilous to cross.
Although, if you just want a nice short stroll, you can walk to the old cemetery and then back to the lot, which a lot of people do.
The Carter cemetery is one of the coolest features of the red trail. It is near the top of a hill, about half a mile walk from the parking lot. Established in 1891, the small, inactive but maintained graveyard has 29 grave markers.
Starting fairly level from the East parking lot, going counter-clockwise this trail begins with a crossing of Woods Creek. Apart from crossing the creek, it starts as a nice easy stroll, the terrain does get quite rough in places, though there are no really dangerous surfaces.
Going clockwise, the trail begins with a nice even walk until you get to the Woods Creek crossing, shortly after that the trail gets rough and starts to climb. Whichever way round the trail you go, you’ll have to cross the creek and the water can get quite deep (knee deep) there but lower most of the time.
I recommend taking the trail counter-clockwise your first time, but you can decide that.
Overall, the red trail is the easiest and best trail for the more casual hiker or if you have young kids in tow. This is the trail we walked for years with our young kids.
The yellow trail extends from the red trail, so you will begin the same way from the parking lot, and it will overlap the red whether you follow the red trail to the left at the fork or you follow the yellow trail straight and loop back around.
This trail includes a couple of hard rough climbs on stone covered trails. There are three crossings of the creek and no bridges, so be prepared to get wet when the creek is running.
From the parking lot, cross the bridge to the trailhead. At the fork, go right and continue until you reach a creek. Cross the creek and pick up the trail downstream. Follow the trail until you reach a fork with a sign post. Go right to stay on the Yellow Trail. Keep going until you reach another fork. This is where the Yellow Trail joins the Silver Trail, and this is where people get lost. When in doubt, go right.
The trail starts to head down, which means you’re getting closer to the second water crossing. After you cross the creek, the trail heads back up. You’ll make your way to the top of a ridgeline where you’ll find panoramic views of the valley you just climbed out of. The trail ends near the historic graveyard, which is a great place to stop and explore.
Or from the parking lot and head south across the newly constructed bridge then head up the switchback to the first node where Carter cemetery resides. The trails meanders through the woods in a East SouthEast direction before going south. 1/4 of the way through there is a Yellow trail shortcut. At times water may be up and you must look for a ford to make any crossings. Generally the water is very low.
Should you choose to cross the water, you can continue along the full length of the yellow trail approximately 4.33 miles or take a cut off route along the creek to circle back around to the trail head.
The yellow trail is not much more difficult than the red trail, just longer. So if you’re up for a bit more than the short hike of the red trail, it’s a great option!
The Blue Trail (used to be silver) is technically a 1.8 mile lightly trafficked loop trail that forks off the back of the yellow trail, although the loop part has been closed for restoration.
The parking lot to find direct access to the blue trail is Off HWY A, which is the first road to the south of the main Busiek entrance. It can be easy to miss the turn from HWY A, so you have to be looking fairly closely. A short distance from HWY 65 there is a dirt road to the left that looks like it is part of someone’s driveway. Once you’re there though you can tell it’s the right road.
Starting at the South Trailhead, the blue trail consists of a steep pretty challenging loop up one side, a short walk along a ridge, and right back down. It has loose gravel and can get quite muddy at places after a good rain. There are a couple of skinny streams to cross.
You can also access the blue trail following the yellow trail all the way back. The Yellow and blue trail overlap toward the south trailhead.
All in all, we really like the blue trail for a less crowded shorter hike. When the loop is opened it has really nice scenery from the top, particularly in the months when the leaves are not blocking the view.
West Side (gun range side) Trails
As previously mentioned the west side trails have become my favorites. But again, you will hear gunshots at the beginning and end of your hike.
- Purple Trail – 3.6 mile loop
- White Trail – 4.43 mile loop
- Orange Trail – 5.71 mile loop
The purple trail is a great choice for a really enjoyable shorter hike.
This trail, although steep in places and including several creek crossings, is fairly easy going.
From the parking lot, crossing the bridge and entering the trailhead just behind the shooting range, after about a mile, the Purple Trail splits off from the White Trail. There is a long challenging climb. Once at the top, the trail curves to the right and follows the ridgeline for more than a mile and then descends the mountain using a series of switchbacks, eventually ending back at the parking lot.
Or you can take the trail the other direction, counter clockwise. Either way is enjoyable. The switchbacks are definitely an easier climb than the trail up the other way.
The switchbacks in the glade area feature beautiful wildflowers at certain times of the year and are often wet and muddy.
I really love the purple trail. It, like the red trail on the east side, is the trail we hiked for years with young kiddos. Only in recent years have we ventured onto the white and orange trails.
The white trail is one of our newly favorite trails. Forking off the purple trail, it is a beautiful loop full of all types of terrain.
There are some fairly difficult climbs and many areas can be quite muddy, as well as stream crossings.
One thing we enjoy about the white trail (our dog in particular) is the dozens of armadillos seen. It is also one of the lesser hiked trails, so can feel a little more peaceful.
There are some great places on the white trail to stop and play in or just enjoy the water.
The White trail is perfect for a slightly longer and more secluded, and yet absolutely beautiful hike or ride.
The orange trail is the trail the farthest to the west. You get to it by taking the purple/white trail from the parking lot.
In our experience, it is the most secluded of the trails as it is for a little more serious hiker or mountain biker.
There are steep and rough climbs, a little cave area the kids like to play around, occasional dripping waterfalls, and many beautiful sights.
Whenever I or we have enough time to spend and want to really feel in the woods 12 minutes from our house, the orange trail is the top pick!
Camping at Busiek
Busiek offers 9 spots for primitive, no amenities camping along the creek close to the parking lot on the east side of HWY 65.
A permit is needed and can be acquired through the Southwest Regional Office.
The Shooting Range
West of Highway 65 along Camp Creek, Busiek has an unstaffed paper target firearms shooting range. It is open every day during daytime hours, except for Mondays when it’s closed for maintenance. maintenance.
Busiek Water Play
The water at Busiek is very clear because the creek bed is almost entirely gravel, and home to many crawdads, minnows, and other fun creatures.
We have spent countless hours playing at any one of our favorite swimming holes. There’s the place we like to race sticks with grandma, the area our kids affectionately named Mermaid Rock, the perfect spot close to the parking lot to jump off the tree trunk into a shallow pool, the vine ropes, and more.
All of our kiddos have spent hours throwing rocks into the creek as toddlers, and a kid or two have become champion rock skippers during our times at Busiek.