The great thing about America’s vast system of state parks is that there is literally a park out there somewhere for every nature enthusiast’s interest. For the nature enthusiast who loves to fish and do a little exploring to pass the time between outings, Bennett Spring State Park in Missouri is the best catch in the midwest.
Located just over ten miles west of Lebanon, Missouri, the park is — as its name suggests — centered around a spring which flows into the Niangua River. In addition to its widely-touted fly fishing, the park offers canoeing, hiking, camping, and many other activities (and natural sights) to keep one nature enthusiast, or a family of them, quite busy. But make no mistake, with 100 million gallons of freshwater flowing through this park, the vast majority of attractions involve the spring and its natural formations.
Historically, the area that now comprises Bennett Spring State Park was an area full of flour and grist mills in the 19th century. The mill industry in this area of Missouri is what first turned the area surrounding the spring into a camping area for travelers and farmers waiting for their grain to be ground into flour. The park is still heavily centered around the camping industry, with accommodations for both smaller tents and campers as well as larger RVs and motorhomes. Travelers who don’t own an RV are not left out, however. Bennett Spring State Park offers a wide array of cabins for small groups and families as well as what they call a “rustic motel” for larger groups. These cabins must be booked in advance, but are a great way to experience the park without having an RV to bring along for the trip. The park also offers a rustic dining hall and — for those who might not be as enthusiastic about the spring — they offer a swimming pool for guests.
Catch and release fishing season runs from March 1st to October 31st in Missouri, while catch-and-release season runs from mid-November to mid-February. Fishing in the spring, as well as the Niangua River, is divided into three geographical zones, all of which are restocked with trout daily. The park’s fishing rules are fairly well-structured, and it’s important to brush up on these guidelines before setting out for trout. Each zone requires a unique type of bait, with the first zone focusing on artificial flies, the second zone permitting single-hooked lures, and the third zone requiring either soft plastic bait or natural bait.
For the members of your family or group who are less interested in fishing, but more interested in the vast stretches of natural beauty that surround Bennett Spring State Park, be sure to set aside some time to check out the so-called “Natural Tunnel.” The tunnel is an open-ended cave that was cut by a tributary of Bennett Spring. It’s an easy walk from the cabins and fishing areas, and can be walked through any time of day. For a longer journey, the Natural Tunnel can be integrated into the park’s trail system, turning into a key part of an 8-mile natural journey. Many visitors have reported seeing deer, turkeys, and other forms of wildlife on this fascinating stretch through the park.
Finally, the park offers a large and educational Bennett Spring Nature Center, staffed full-time throughout the year, that focuses on the many natural springs throughout Missouri as well as exploring the rich natural environment surrounding Bennett Spring State Park. The nature center’s staff also offer educational nature programs and guided nature tours of the park for guests.
Overall, Bennett Spring State Park is a solid choice for any group of wildlife enthusiasts. Whether it’s the vast stretches of fishing, the natural features of landmarks like the Natural Tunnel, or just an escape from everyday life in one of the park’s many cabins, there is truly something for everyone. And with a pool, a dining lodge, and a rustic motel, it’s also a great place for large groups or those who like a little modern convenience on their rustic trip to the outdoors!