Trail Highlight: Joe Clark Trail at Lake Wilson
Contrary to what you might imagine, summer is my least favorite season for hiking in the Ozarks. This is due mainly to the heat, but the ticks, chiggers, and abundance of Kevlar-like spider webs stretched across the trails get a strong honorable mention. But the delights of summer hiking, and of the outdoors in general, far outweigh the fairly minor discomforts of our steamy summer weather and various bloodthirsty critters, so Doc and I can still be found rambling about the woods on any given day, though generally a bit earlier than in cooler seasons. Lake Wilson is a great little hike for when it's too hot to hike very far, but we're still looking for some solitude and a full contingent of the Ozarks best wildflowers, not to mention lots of wading opportunities for tired paws.
This sweet, compact lake is popular with fisherman, cosplayers (get there early on Saturdays to avoid the elves and wizards!), and families with small children, but it's never crowded. The trail is just 2 miles if one sticks to the lake-adjacent options, it's level, and offers some fun features like creeks, bridges, gorgeous lake views, and a spillway which creates a minor waterfall feature if we've had good rain. The big draw for me here is the wildlife. This is a prime spot to see some neat mushrooms, lots of butterflies, all the wildflowers, and to get a good look at some favorite birds. I've seen Kingfishers, Indigo Buntings, and Goldfinches here pretty regularly. Mushroom identification can be tricky, but I do enjoy seeing the variety of mushrooms on this trail, and trying to improve my ID skills. I'm most comfortable with the flowers and butterflies that populate this spot, and Lake Wilson is my go-to destination for some species.
I get particularly excited about the Button Bushes. They grow about person-high, and sprout white flowers that look like something you might use for a craft project. This member of the coffee family is native to the US, and it's beloved by pollinators. If you enjoy watching butterflies, bees, beetles, moths, anything that helps spread pollen, next to some Cephalanthus occidentalis is where you want to be.
While this trail is a good interactive primer of all your basic Ozark wildflowers, it's also a surprisingly good spot to see some flowers that are a bit more unusual. I understand Button Bushes grow all over the place, but Lake Wilson is where I go to find them. Similarly, American Water-willow, one of my favorite wildflowers, is not rare, but this trail is the only spot I have encountered them.
And my first, and so far only, sighting of Buffalo Clover was here. This stunning clover is just edging into NatureServe's "at risk" category, so we might be looking at a rare flower here.
If you don't have a lot of time or energy, this trail is a gem. It's a gem even if you do have some time and energy - Doc and I have been known to go around more than once - and there are lots of side trails should you wish to explore the surrounding woods. The side trails are a good opportunity to see some different flowers and insects that prefer a dryer environment.
I haven't ever seen Lake Wilson mentioned in any guidebooks or articles. For whatever reason, it doesn't make any of the "best of" lists. It could be that I'm letting you in on a well-kept local secret, so add the opportunity to feel "in the know," and perhaps a little bit smug to the list of reasons to visit this trail. It's certainly top on my list, and Doc's as well, particularly during these Dog Days of summer.