By Larry Rice
MINGO SWAMP, MISSOURI: Deep in the boot-heel country of southeast Missouri, just 80 miles south of St. Louis and 40 miles west of the Mississippi River, is a sprawling depression ringed by rolling hills and limestone bluffs. Covering some 16,000 acres of the 21,676-acre Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, Mingo Swamp is the kind of place in which Huck Finn might have gotten lost.
To the Shawnee and Osage Indians who made camp here hundreds of years ago, Mingo meant “treacherous and unreliable.” Today, Mingo Swamp is a haven for both wildlife and nature enthusiasts. The refuge has three hiking trails, including boardwalks into the swamp, but to really feel Mingo’s pulse you’ll need a boat, preferably a canoe.
After stopping at the visitor center off State Highway 51, launch your canoe on Stanley Creek or the Mingo River. These narrow, dark, and sluggish streams wind sinuously into the ancient swamp, of which 7,730 acres have been designated a Wilderness Area where no motors or man-made alterations are allowed. Here, in the quiet of wooded wetlands with their magnificent stands of cypress, tupelo, and swamp cottonwood, listen to the call of wood ducks and pileated woodpeckers; watch for herons, beavers, raccoons, muskrats, swamp rabbits, and a rare mink, otter, or bobcat. There are plenty of venomous snakes in the swamp, especially cottonmouths, but the serpents pose no threat unless one accidentally plunks into your canoe from a trailing vine.
Figure on a leisurely one- to two-hour paddle on the Mingo River or Stanley Creek to Monopoly Marsh, in the swamp’s interior. You can explore all day, but all visitors must be out of the refuge by one-half hour after sunset.
A visit to Mingo can be worthwhile at any time of year, but the most desirable months are March to May and September to November, when temperatures are cooler and wildlife is most abundant. (Note that in certain seasons parts of the refuge are closed to provide an undisturbed sanctuary for waterfowl and nesting bald eagles.) Camping is not allowed in Mingo, but camping facilities are available at Wappapello Lake, eight miles west of the refuge, and Duck Creek State Wildlife Management Area, five miles to the north.
Contact: Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, (573) 222-3589. Inquiries on camping should be directed to U.S. Corps of Engineers, Wappapello Lake Management Office, (573) 222-8562; or Duck Creek State Wildlife Area, (573) 222-3337.
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