I spent this last weekend celebrating the birthday of a good friend by camping out and mountain biking at Lake of the Ozarks. We enjoyed good trails, great weather, and discovered an awesome place to get some unique beers. The plan was to camp at Lake of the Ozarks State Park and to ride Honey Run and Bittersweet, while there are other trails in the area open to mountain bikes, these two are of superior quality.
We camped at the Lake of the Ozarks State Park modernized campground since they provide shower facilities. Properly hydrated mountain bikers may make for good fun on the trail, but not so much for a three hour drive home without a shower. We stayed all the way at the end of the campground to get a spot on the lake. On these sites your are guaranteed to not be surrounded by RV's on at least one side. Since the weather was so cooperative we opted not to setup the tents and slept out by the fire under the stars instead, we were able to do this on both Friday and Saturday night.
Saturday morning we set our GPS for the Honey Run trail head and began our journey. Our navigator, Ms. Garmin, chose the shortest route to the trailhead. This route was comprised of many exciting gravel back-country roads, and in particular a very scary bridge called Grand Auglaize Swinging Bridge on Swinging Bridges Rd. This is a 0.8 lane, 90 year old bridge built with all eye-balling: no calculations, no blue prints. The bridge is comprised of rusty, strands of wire wound together for supports. The deck of the bridge is a series of loose 2x6's which run across the bridge. By design none of the boards are nailed down. Some of the boards were rotted, broken, and many even completely missing. The bridge is still in operation at a weight limit of 5 tons. I wouldn't suggest testing the weight limit, but driving across it is a loud, rickety, experience to be had, even if only once. Riding the trail seems perfectly safe after crossing this bridge to get there. Needless to say we found a different route on the way back at the end of the day.
For more information and to see a video of what it is like to cross this bridge see the URL's below:
http://www.historicbridges.org/missouri ... hotos2.php
http://www.historicbridges.org/missouri ... /index.php
After much adventure we did arrive at the Honey Run trail head in one piece. We rode the connector trail out to the low water bridge. We found the trail to be fun and flowy, but also found that the mid-day sunlight created strange shadows which made it quite hard to differentiate many of the stones from shadows.
Once we reached the low water bridge we crossed another low water bridge and rode the north loop counter-clockwise. This section was by far the best Honey Run has to offer. While not as flowy as the connector trail it offers very rewarding downhills to match its cardio-inducing climbs. Even through the leaf-on we were able to see nice views of the lake, this was an all around great trail. We did not ride it the opposite direction as we were already running low on steam, the last mile or so of the trail in the counter-clockwise direction is an absolute blast. The trail builders did a wonderful job here.
When we returned to the road we crossed the two low-water bridges and rode the south loop of the trail from east to west. We had been told that this section of the trail was very fast. With the combination of vast overgrowth and our unfamiliarity with the trail we found it difficult to safely go very fast through here. This section certainly sees overgrowth that the rest of the trail doesn't have a problem with. Perhaps in the fall, winter, or very early spring this could be a fun section, but not so with the overgrowth. The smooth design of this portion of the trail means that without the ability to travel fast it doesn't have very much to offer to the intermediate or advanced rider. In fall or winter, or when the trail has been recently trimmed, ride this section and ride it fast, otherwise, you won't be missing much.
After completing one lap on the south loop, and having about 12 miles of riding on our legs for the day, we began the trek back to the trail head on the connector. The trail description is accurate here: it's mostly uphill on the way back. Upon arrival at our car we concluded that despite the disappointment on the south loop this is a good trail, and it would only get better with familiarity or with proper trimming. The total mileage for the day was 14 miles.
After a good night's rest we woke up, packed up camp and headed to the Bittersweet trail. We had tried to stop and check out Oz Cycles, the local bike shop, only to find that it is closed on Sundays. We did peek in the windows, and it looks to be a great outdoors store. They cover mountain biking, kayaking, and maybe just about anything an avid outdoorsman might want to do in the Lake of the Ozarks area. It is certainly worth checking out and I hope to make it back some other time on a Saturday when they are open. It is only about a quarter of a mile out of the way en-route to the bittersweet "trail head", just around the corner from the intersection of Business 54 and Horseshoe Bend.
We parked our car at the grocery store on the corner of Horseshoe Bend and Bittersweet, the "trail head" for bittersweet. It's questionable how official this trail head is, and perhaps the entire trail itself as well. A don't ask, don't tell policy seems to be in effect here. After unloading our bikes we headed west on the paved path in search of the entrance single track near the intersection of Yonkers Ct. and Horseshoe Bend. After 5 minutes or so of search we found it: well out of sight off Yonkers Ct., a private gravel road, behind the fire station. Again the phrase "don't ask, don't tell" came to mind.
Those not familiar with the design of Bittersweet can easily get lost. Every piece of trail here is one-way. There is a one-way entrance trail, which leads to a one-way main loop, with a one-way exit trail also intersecting the main loop. Near some marina there is a small exception to the one-way rule, some tiny little connector trail which runs up to somebody's back yard. I'm not sure what's going on there.
The entrance connector was fast and flowy with some climbing towards the end. You are introduced to your first major wooden structure on the trail here: a banked turn. While a little off-putting at first it is quite fun to ride. There are also some narrow wooden boards that cross creeks, after utterly failing on one we opted to walk the rest.
Upon reaching the main loop you turn right and cross a road, immediately on the other side of the road is where the main loop intersects the exit connector, keep left. Eventually the loop comes back to here and this is where later on you will go right to get back to the grocery store. From the intersection with the exit connector Bittersweet starts to show off. Riding the entrance trail one might mistake this for a rough but fairly friendly cross country trail, not so. For the next couple miles the trail features technical climbs and seriously fast, steep, rewarding drops.
The second half of the main loop gets even more exciting with the downhills, and features more wooden structures. Riders beware here: we found some of them in disrepair. Get off your bike and check out anything wooden that you intend to ride before hand. There are a couple more great downhill sections here as well that had us begging for more.
Upon again reaching the exit trail we decided not to do a second lap. The exit trail begins with a snaking climb, and as we soon found out, for good reason. This connector soon drops the rider into the grand finale downhill section. The exit trail also features another built-up banked turn in an extra flowy portion of the trail.
We found Bittersweet to be all around good fun, but it is not without its flaws. Some of the wooden structures on the main loop were in disrepair, and with no signage or official contact there is no way to find out just who if anybody is responsible for fixing them. The one-way, main loop, entrance/exit connector design of the trail system allows for some steaming, balls-out, downhill sections and technical but doable climbs. This also unfortunately makes it very easy for unfamiliar riders to get lost. To add to the confusing design of the trail urban sprawl has cut off some sections of the trail, there are some points where the trail abruptly runs into fairly new housing developments, and it crosses many roads. It doesn't take long to find the right path around these, but it does lead to some moments of confusion. It will be interesting to see over time if the trail is able to stick around as this area is developed more. Our total mileage for the trail was 9 miles.
Both Honey Run and Bittersweet offer riders an exciting experience. Both trails feature quite gravely trailbeds at times, which means that your average cross country tire just won't cut it here. For riding in this area a minimum 2.1" tire with some good, knobby tread is must have. I rode on WTB Weirwolfs and my buddy used Kenda Nevegals, both worked quite well. Both trails were within an hour's drive of the campground.
We found the camping to be great, in particular the showers came in handy as the trails in this area are a really good workout. The Hy-Vee near MO-42 & US-54 has a great liquor store, including a fridge packed with one-off microbrews for individual sale. Spending the evenings sampling brews from small shops across the country in front of a campfire was a great contrast to the heart pumping, adrenaline charged trails in the area. With the campground right on the lake the state park has great swimming and fishing opportunities as well, meaning it's quite feasible to bring the whole family down for this trip and everybody will have fun. Mountain biking at Lake of the Ozarks is simply a must do.