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Living Life to the Fullest In Southwest Missouri

Devil’s Den State Park

Devil’s Den State Park

You know those magical times when taking a day trip can transport you to world that contrasts so greatly with the one you just left that the experience leaves you somewhat bamboozled?


That’s the kind of day I had today.


We’d planned a trip from our home in Joplin to Devil’s Den State Park, located in the Boston Mountains just a half hour south of Fayetteville, Arkansas, as a day trip during spring break. Our goal was to be on the road by 8 a.m., but a surprise line of thunderstorms popped up and made us rethink our plans. Would we get caught in the storms while we were hiking? If we missed the storms, would the trails be muddy and the bluffs slippery? Should we just scrap our plan and do something indoors instead?


After studying the radar for another hour, we finally decided to go for it.


The temperature in Joplin was only in the 50s, so I made sure everyone dressed in layers. We piled into the minivan and headed south. With every mile we passed, the clouds grew thinner, and by the time we reached the park, we were bathing in abundant sunshine and off came the layers of clothing. It had turned into a warm spring day.


devils falls


Visitor Center

We checked in at the visitor center to get some information (and for a bathroom break). There’s a small exhibit in the center detailing the history of this 2,500-acre park, which was a Works Project Administration (WPA) project by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that began in 1933.


We got a kick out of name of the CCC newsletter that went out to the men working in the camp: Voice of Satan. No, it wasn’t named after me (although my kids may tell you otherwise); it was a play on theme of the park’s name, Devil’s Den.


What’s the story behind that name, anyway? My middle daughter wanted to know so she asked a park ranger who said, “There are a couple of theories, but the truth is, no one really knows.”


One theory, he said, goes back to a time when outlaws hid in the many caves of the area to escape being sentenced for their crimes by the local judge who was fond of utilizing hanging as punishment. Another theory speculates that the original settlers used to tell their children that the devil lived in the caves so that they would stay out of them.


devils bat


That wouldn’t work with my kids.


Whatever the origin, the name Devil’s Den was established long before the park was built.


The park sits in the Lee Creek Valley and offers visitors a variety of activities: camping, biking, fishing, horseback riding, swimming, and hiking.


Today, we’d come to hike, and there were seven trails to choose from. We’d wanted to hike both Yellow Rock Trail, a 3-mile trail leading to a bluff that offers a stunning view of Lee Creek Valley, and Devil’s Den Trail, a 1 ½-mile trail with a variety of natural formations to see, but we’d lost a few hours due to the weather delay earlier, so we could only choose one.


Devil’s Den Trail

After eating lunch at a picnic table next to the peaceful lake (formed when Lee Creek was dammed), we headed for the trail. My daredevil oldest daughter immediately found a bluff that she wanted to dangle her feet off of, and I tried not to freak out too much while watching her from afar. “Relax,” said my husband. “She’ll be fine.”


devils bluff


But when my anxiety reached the point of discomfort, I disregarded my husband’s advice and climbed over to her to make sure she would make it safely back down. Have I mentioned that she tends to regularly trip over her own feet even when she’s on flat ground? Seeing her on a precarious edge sent my worry into overdrive.


devils blooms


We all made it back to the trail, which meandered past several crevices and caves. The caves were closed to the public but that didn’t stop my daredevil from climbing down into any dark hole that she came across. I love her spirit of adventure. That is, I love that she has one, but I hate that I have to parent her while she follows it.


The cool blasts of air escaping from the crevices and cave openings, like Devil’s Ice Box, provided natural air conditioning for us, and we were glad to feel it, as the temperature outside had reached into the 80s. The relief continued as we walked under one of the Twin Falls, with droplets of water falling from above and cooling our skin.


devils waterfall


From the Twin Falls, the trail leads to an unexpected – and otherworldly – sight.


devils towers


We stopped here for a bit so that my daughters could make their own cairns to contribute to this natural community art project.


devils spring


Because we stopped and explored along the way, it took us about two hours to complete the 1 ½-mile Devil’s Den Trail, and it was worth every minute. My husband commented that this trail was the perfect hike because there were many diverse things to see in a manageable amount of time. I agree.


Lee Creek

After the hike, we put on our water shoes and cooled off in the clear water of Lee Creek. Two of my daughters ended up getting their clothes soaked: the youngest one (who discovered that the creek was deeper in areas than she’d thought), and the daredevil, of course, just because she’s adventurous.


The extra layers of clothing that were peeled off earlier that day certainly came in handy for the ride home, especially when we returned to Joplin where it was 58 degrees and cloudy.


The change was so drastic that it reminded me of returning from a trip to Florida in the middle of January. You get off the plane, all relaxed and tan from the tropical sun, and you’re wearing shorts, of course, because you are still in vacation mode; then the second you step outside of the climate-controlled airport, the unforgiving winter air slaps you in your face, bringing you back to reality.


That’s how we felt that afternoon as we unloaded the minivan: slapped back into reality. But at least we had the memory of our fun and sunny day at Devil’s Den Park to keep us warm that night.




Devil’s Den State Park is located near West Fork, Arkansas. Click here to visit its website.



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Living Life to The Fullest!

Joplin MO LifeI love seeking out new experiences and finding places off the beaten path. I started Joplin MO Life in August 2013 as a way to share my discoveries with others in the Joplin community so that they can learn about the resources that exist right in their own backyards.

I have worked in education and event planning, and have always loved to write. I hold a master's degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a bachelor's degree in marketing from Tulane University.

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