Most people drive right by the Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area on their way to Silver Dollar City, but there’s a hidden gem here for people who like to hike, bird watch, or simply get off the beaten path by themselves. Spread over 1,534 acres of wooded hills accented by scenic glades and an Ozarks stream, it was largely donated by Ruth and Paul Henning as a wildlife refuge (it’s designated an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society). Although the name might not ring a bell, Paul Henning was the creator of the Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres and Petticoat Junction TV series.
The Conservation’s other claim to fame is that several of its geographic landmarks were featured in Harold Bell Wright’s 1907 novel Shepherd of the Hills (which made Branson famous), including Sammy Lane’s Lookout, The Signal Tree, Little Pete’s Cave and Dewey Bald. A “bald,” by the way, is the local reference to a glade. Because vigilantes after the Civil War often met on balds, they were known as the Baldknobbers.
There are five hiking trails of varying lengths, two of which begin at the parking lot just off Highway 76. The 0.4-mile asphalt Dewey Bald Trail is wheelchair accessible and leads to a 40-foot viewing tower (which is not handicap accessible) on top of Dewey Bald, while the 1.1-mile Glade Trail takes in Boulder Bald and connects to other trails that lead to the opposite end of the park, passing several old homestead sites.
Interestingly, you’re allowed to gather mushrooms, wild greens, nuts, berries and fruits from the land, so don’t be surprised to see people foraging in the woods.