WHERE TO FIND THE WILD HORSES OF MISSOURI
FREE RESOURCE GUIDE BY TIM LAYTON
Hi, I am Tim Layton, and I am happy to help you find the Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri, so that you can enjoy them.
The best way to stay up to date with the latest information, photos, and videos is in the Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri, Facebook Group.
I am a wild horse conservation photographer, and I believe the more people know about our wild horses in Missouri, the better chance they have to survive in the future because we know that people protect what they love.
I also hope that if my photographs help create an emotional connection with some viewers, these people will stand up and help protect them long after I am gone.
There are a few things you should know before you start your adventure.
First, the horses are wild. Some people like to split hairs with words and want to call them feral. People can call them whatever they want, but the wild horses in Shannon County, Missouri, live wild and free. This means there are no fences, rules, or help if they are sick or injured. Nature takes its course, and the natural cycle of life is how they live free and die free.
The wild horses freely roam the landscape in and around the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Shannon County, Missouri. If you are visiting, Eminence is probably the best place to try and find lodging, but there are plenty of great camping options available too.
You should know that are required by federal law to stay at least 50 feet from the horses and if a National Park Service ranger finds you any closer or trying to pet or feed them, they could arrest you and will most definitely write you a citation that will set you back several hundred dollars. If you break the law by doing these things, keep in mind you are now dealing with a federal law issue and not a local matter.
The area has spotty mobile service coverage, so be sure to print or take good notes before you go.
My step-by-step guide below provides you with the latest and up-to-date information on where to find wild horses in Shannon County, Missouri. I follow the horses full-time, so the information I provide below is accurate and up-to-date. This is the only guide I know that is as detailed, accurate, and freely available.
The horses roam freely through the Ozark National Scenic Riverways near Eminence, Missouri, in Shannon County. The landscape can be rugged and challenging at times, so I provide you with detailed information to have a safe and enjoyable experience. I’ve included the four most accessible locations for you to help increase your chances of seeing the horses.
Once you see the wild horses in person, you will enjoy a lifelong relationship with them that will hold a special place in your heart.
Be sure to join my Facebook Group, where I share the latest information about the horses and my latest photos and videos.
I know that people protect what they love, and in our increasingly busy and technology-driven world, it would be easy for these wild horses to be pushed to the background and forgotten.
By conserving and protecting natural resources and wildlife, we are promoting biodiversity, and it is this biodiversity that directly contributes to the sustainability of all life on the planet. Everything is connected.
I am telling the story of the wild horses, so they won’t be forgotten or pushed to the background in our busy world. I know that people protect what they love, so my job is to help you fall in love with wild horses, and when the time comes to stand up and defend them, you and many others will be there.
Read the detailed directions and notes below for all wild horse locations.
PLAN AHEAD FOR SUCCESS
Mobile phone service is non-existent in several places and limited in many. I have found U.S. Cellular to have the best coverage of any carrier, with AT&T being second best and Verizon being the worst. In the town of Eminence, you will get 5G coverage.
When planning your visit, keep this in mind and prepare printed maps and information that I will share with you in this detailed guide. If you plan to visit more remote areas, let family and friends know your plans because some regions can include high water creek crossings and rugged terrain.
You will want to wear boots, and I recommend tall boots like “mudders” that come up to your knee. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen people show up in shorts and flip-flops! I have seen many poisonous snakes in the summer months, and ticks can be terrible, depending on the year, so make sure you bring some insect repellent.
I frequently find myself in places that I never planned on going because you never really know where your visit will take you when following the horses. Depending on the season, you can expect to be in muddy fields, cross creeks, and be in the grass up to your waist or even higher.
The grasses in the morning can be wet, soak your shoes and pants, so you will keep your feet dry by having on boots. In addition to my “mudders,” I own a pair of hip and chest waders because I am in the water more than I ever plan. I also keep a backpack with my water, snacks, bug spray, sweat rag, and basic first aid materials. I also keep a second set of clothes because I have had many unplanned experiences over the years.
If bugs, ticks, and things like this bother you, you will probably have difficulty in the fields. Depending on the season and location, bugs/flies/mosquitos can be pretty annoying. I like the early mornings versus the late evenings because the bugs tend to be much less bothersome at this time. I always keep bug spray in my pack, and I also have a face net that I wear when the flies are nasty near the rivers.
I wear light-colored pants to see if ticks are crawling on me, and I also wear long sleeves to cut down on the chance of getting chigger bites, etc. Another tip is to go directly to the shower when you get back home or to your lodging because this will cut down on chigger bites, ticks, etc.
Bring a folding chair, snacks, and water because you never really know where your adventure may take you. You may think you are only stopping for a quick visit; then you find yourself there for hours!
Also, if you visit one of the more accessible locations like Shawnee Creek or Broadfoot Campground and don’t see the horses in the field, this doesn’t mean they are not there. Often, they are in the woods near the areas or down by the river. Walk the tree lines and along the creek and river.
If you are fortunate enough to find one of the herds, you may have to stay awhile to see the good stuff. Be prepared to spend a few hours at a location, especially if they are grazing.
If you are a photographer, you will want to bring your longer telephoto lenses because you won’t likely get very close to them. Even if one of the friendlier herds like the Shawnee Creek will come up to you out of curiosity, you should never pet or feed the horses. These horses are wild, and they are unpredictable. You could be seriously injured, which is also unsuitable for the horses. They are beautiful and a joy to see, but for your safety and theirs, resist the temptation of petting or feeding the wild horses. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen people try and pet the horses at Shawnee Creek. I have also seen several people nearly get seriously injured due to not respecting the horses and their wild nature.
The best times to see the horses are first thing in the morning and the evenings a little before the sun goes down. The national park service and the Missouri Wild Horse League plant some vegetation fields in critical areas around the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Shannon County to help provide a reliable food source for the horses, which helps keep them from wandering too far off into undesirable areas and the busy roads.
I want you to have a fun and enjoyable time, and if there is anything I can do to help, contact me and let me know.
BE NICE & RESPECTFUL, PLEASE
Please don’t throw your trash (e.g., water bottles, food wrappers, etc.). Whenever I am in the field, I pick up trash from visitors, and I don’t understand how anyone can think it is okay to trash such a beautiful place. Please don’t be that person.
Never feed the horses because this will harm them and make them dependent on people versus continuing to survive on their own as they have for nearly 100 years. They have survived a long time before you arrived and will continue to do so after you leave.
If you are a smoker, please refrain from smoking during your visit because this can be a fire hazard and will lessen your chances of seeing the horses because they can smell the smoke from miles away.
Never pet wild horses, even if one unexpectedly gets close to you. If this happens, slowly walk away from the horses at an angle and don’t look them in the eye because you can appear to be a predator to them and can’t predict how they may respond. If a park ranger catches you closer than 50 feet or petting or feeding a wild horse, this is a federal offense, and you won’t like what comes next.
WHERE TO FIND THE WILD HORSES OF MISSOURI
Four main herds are named based on their general locations (Shawnee Creek, Broadfoot, Round Spring, Rocky Creek). Within the last few years, a fifth herd has emerged, but it is too remote and difficult for most people, so I don’t list this new herd in this guide.
Keep in mind; some herds are easier to find and see than others. For example, the Rocky Creek herd is very elusive and will typically run at the site of you.
The terrain can be challenging and often dangerous, so you will probably want to start with more accessible locations like Shawnee Creek or Round Springs.
In each section below, I provide a difficulty rating to help you gauge how difficult it is to find the location and the wild horses. The frequency rating indicates how likely you will see the horses at this location. And I provide directions and a quick tip for each of the sites. The Facebook Group is a good place to ask questions or get help.
SHAWNEE CREEK HERD
The Shawnee Creek Herd is the easiest to find, and your chances of seeing them are pretty good. This is a great location to see the wild horses, especially if you are a first-time visitor.
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Frequency: High, but there can be spells when they can’t be found.
Tips: Great location for first-time visitors, kids, and the elderly.
Directions: Located off of Highway 106 and County Road 106-211. From Eminence on Highway 19, go east on Highway 106 for 2.9 miles until you see a sign for Shawnee Creek Campground. You will turn left at the gravel road (106-211) and follow for 1.7 miles until you see the campground and the river. No special vehicle is required to access this location.
Additional Tips & Helpful Information: Many fields near the campground area border the Jack’s Fork river where the horses frequently graze, so your chances of seeing them are pretty good, especially in the early morning and late evenings.
This location is a good choice for older people and kids too. It is pretty flat and easily accessible. The grasses can be very high in the summertime, so I suggest wearing pants and a long-sleeve shirt to minimize the chigger bites.
Depending on the day and time, you should expect to do a fair amount of walking. There are a few first-come-first-served camping spots along with public restroom facilities (no running water) that you may want to take advantage of. Keep in mind if the river is high, this location can and does flood, especially during the spring and fall.
There are a few parking spots right at the opening to the fields where you can park and start your walk.
You are not allowed to drive in any of the fields with any type of motorized vehicle, only on foot. If you are caught on your ATV or any motorized vehicle, the National Park Service could arrest you and they will most certainly write you a very expensive ticket. I have personally seen people be arrested and receive tickets because they don’t pay attention to the signs that are clearly posted.
If you don’t see the horses in the field, walk down to the left towards the river and follow that along to the woods. You will have to explore this area along the river bank as well as the interior of the woods at times in order to find the horses. I’ve seen the horses cross the river in the mornings and evenings, which is a lot of fun to watch. You can also hike the perimeter of the fields along the woods if you don’t see them and I frequently find them in the woods. Depending on the conditions that day, this can be easy and enjoyable, or it can be pretty difficult because of heat and humidity, mud, standing water, flies/insects, etc.
If you don’t see the Shawnee Creek Herd at this location, go back 106-211 to Highway 106 and turn left (east). Turn left on Highway V towards Two Rivers campground and approximately 2.2 miles on the left there are some vegetation fields where the Shawnee Creek herd is frequently seen.
They travel in the woods between these fields on Highway V to Shawnee Creek Campground. I’ve hiked through the woods between the locations and found the horses, but I wouldn’t recommend that unless you know the area and understand the terrain and conditions. You have to wade across water and unless you are an experienced hiker, I would not recommend this to the average person.
At the V highway fields, there are no clearly defined parking places at these fields, but you will see where people pull off to the side of the road and park.
Once again, be prepared to do a lot of walking. I’ve walked as much as 5 miles or more in a single visit in order to find and follow the horses at these locations. Sometimes they are in the middle of the fields, and very little walking is required, and other times, you have to be patient and wait for them or do a lot of walking along the river or in the woods to find them. I always wear boots and you should expect to get a decent workout.
I want to make sure you are prepared to have a good experience and understand the range of possibilities. Just because you don’t see them in the middle of a field doesn’t mean they are not in the area. These are the times when you need to do more walking, and also you can increase your chances by going first thing in the morning or the late evenings before sunset.
THE BROADFOOT HERD
The Broadfoot herd is the third easiest to find and your chances of seeing them have been pretty good until recently.
After a recent capture event, the remaining horses except for an old mare fled the area. Captures happen because of herd management requirements, which is administered by the nonprofit Missouri Wild Horse League.
The Missouri Wild Horse League cares for the captured horses and manages the adoption process to find them loving and good homes.
The horses returned after about a month only to leave again after the fields were mowed and baled. They will return, so be sure to visit this location during your visit.
This location is a great place to ride your own horses as well as camp. The horses here are not quite as friendly as the Shawnee Creek herd and they are a little more difficult to see. I can find them here several days in a row and then nothing for weeks or sometimes even months.
They are very aware of humans in their space and they typically will either slowly move to another area in the fields if they see you or quickly exit the area and find cover in the woods or out of sight somewhere. You can drive the main loop around the fields in your car, so this location is kid and elderly-friendly.
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Tips: Peaceful location with an easy-loop road, but the 4.4 miles to get there can be a little challenging in the rain or snow.
Directions: Located off of Highway 19 and Country Road 19-205 follow the gravel road, always staying to the left at forks until you reach the Broadfoot campgrounds in about 4.4 miles from the intersection of 19 and 19-205. While on 19-205 at 3.0 miles you will fork to the left and then again 3.2 miles and then continue to you arrive at Broadfoot.
Additional Tips & Helpful Information: During some seasons, you will want a 4WD vehicle to be able to fully explore this location, and if this is not an option, a regular 2WD automobile will allow some access to the dirt road around the main field.
The gravel and dirt roads to get to Broadfoot can be decent, but it can also be very difficult and feel like you may lose a kidney before you get there because the roads can be very rough. I travel this road in the winter and when there is ice and snow, it can be dangerous because you could very easily slide off the road and in some places, this could mean a very serious drop to the bottom of a valley. Unless you are experienced and have the right vehicle, keep these things in mind before heading out in difficult weather conditions.
During the seasons when the loop road has deep ruts, be careful about driving through the seemingly innocent looking mud puddles because some are much deeper than you probably expect. I’ve seen one person in a regular car get stuck, and water got inside their car because of how deep it was.
The location can be a little confusing to find on your first visit, but after you get it figured out, it is pretty easy. From the turn off at highway 19 and 19-205, just keep veering left until you reach Broadfoot in 4.4 miles.
The location itself is wonderful because you can drive around in a loop on the main field and there are public restrooms, and a few campsites are available.
The herd here is much wilder than the group over at Shawnee Creek, and you probably won’t get very close to them. Also, keep in mind during the spring, summer, and fall seasons, people frequently ride their horses along the roads to get to Broadfoot, so this can be challenging and you should always be alert when driving these backroads.
If you want to photograph the wild horses at this location, you will want a long telephoto lens because of the distance between you and the horses and the vastness of this location. The horses will look very small in the frame without a telephoto lens. I use my 600mm F4 and 800mm F5.6 lenses frequently at this location.
As with the other locations, the early morning and late evenings provide the best opportunity to see the horses. The river runs along the backside of the fields, and this area can flood, and the insects can be maddening during the summertime, so keep that in mind.
THE ROUND SPRING HERD
The Round Spring Herd is the second easiest to find and your chances of seeing them are hit and miss.
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Tips: Keep coming back, and you will eventually find them.
Directions: Located directly off of Highway 19 at the Round Spring campground north of Eminence, this is the easiest location to find and look for wild horses.
Additional Tips & Helpful Information: If you are camping at Echo Bluff or Current River State Park, this is an easy location to be able to check every morning and evening during your visit. Just head back south on Highway 19, and you will see Round Spring on your left. You don’t need a 4WD or special vehicle to access this location; most of the time, you will not even get out of your car.
The two best areas to find the Round Spring herd are down along the river by the group campground area which is just past the main entrance for Round Spring and the second-best opportunity is right off of Highway 19 just past the bridge heading north. The horses will tend to gather in these two areas from time to time. You can also look at the Sinking Creek campground area as well which is just down the road a little bit.
The Round Spring area seems to either be hot or cold, meaning you will see them fairly frequently or nothing at all for a while. It is a very easy location to check, so just enjoy the ride, and hopefully, you will get a chance to see and enjoy them.
THE ROCKY CREEK HERD
The Rocky Creek Herd is the most difficult to find and your chances of seeing them are pretty low unless you are a local that visits very frequently.
Difficulty Rating: Very Difficult
Tips: Need 4WD and Lots of Patience
Directions: Located near Klepzig Mill off of highway NN and Highway H.
From Eminence, take Highway 106 east to Highway H and go south to H-522 on your left. You will need a lifted 4WD vehicle for most of this route. I don’t recommend this route unless you know what you are doing because you have to pass several creeks that can be dangerous and some of the terrains can damage your vehicle. There is zero mobile phone coverage in this area, and it is very remote and isolated. If you get stuck, injured, or lost, it is very likely there will be no one around to help you, so keep that in mind. This is a remote area and I have seen many poisonous snakes during my hunts for the wild horses, especially in the summer months. Avoid walking or sitting on down trees/logs and picking up rocks.
Additional Tips & Helpful Information: There are several vegetation fields along this route where the horses have been seen before. I want to make sure you understand that it is highly unlikely that you will see this herd and the risk of either injury or damage to your vehicle is the highest of all the locations. If you get stuck or injured out here, there isn’t a lot of traffic to help. I have a satellite SOS device that I keep with me when I go here and I am fully prepared in the event of injury.
If you are brave enough and can make your way via this route, you will end up at Klepzig Mill (four creek crossings later) and dump out at Highway NN, which will take you to Highway H. If you go left, you will go to Winona. If you go right, you will go towards Highway 106 and Eminence.
From Winona, take High H off of Highway 19 to the signs for Rocky Falls (Highway NN). Follow NN past Rocky Falls and turn left on the gravel road towards Kelpzig Mill. This route can be partially accessible to regular trucks and 4WD vehicles up until you pass the mill and get to the first creek, which is very deep and swift. During the 1.1-mile drive from the turn until you reach Klepzig Mill on your right, you will see some vegetation fields on your right. The horses are sometimes seen in these fields and even on the gravel road too.
The horses could be seen just about anywhere in this region, and since a lot of the terrain is so rugged and difficult to navigate, I don’t recommend this for first-time visitors unless you are with an experienced guide. There are much easier and safer locations listed above that will provide a much stronger chance of seeing the wild horses.
HISTORY OF THE WILD HORSES OF MISSOURI
Shannon County is home to a beautiful herd of wild horses located in Southeast Missouri in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways on public land about 130 miles from Springfield and 150 miles from St. Louis.
Ozark National Scenic Riverways is the first national park area to protect a river system and the only state where wild horses still roam free. It hasn’t been an easy path for the wild horses over the last 100 years, and it would be foolish to think current conditions couldn’t change and put the horses back in danger again.
During the 1980s, the National Park Service announced a plan to remove Shannon Counties’ wild horses, and people were outraged.
In 1993 the U.S. Supreme Court denied a final appeal to protect the horses and gave the National Park Service the right to remove the horses from federal land. The national park service started removing the wild horses in a profoundly upsetting way to residents and horse lovers around the country. The people of Shannon County and horse lovers around the country rallied together, and the Wild Horse League of Missouri was formed. Luckily, by 1996 the Wild Horse League of Missouri, which was formed in 1992 to save the wild horses, received help from the people of Shannon County, congressman Bill Emerson, Senators Kit Bond, and John Ashcroft.
Their tireless efforts paid off, and President Clinton signed a bill into law on October 3, 1996, to make the wild horses of Shannon County a permanent part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, with conditions. You can read more about the law.
People worldwide visit Shannon County in hopes of seeing these majestic wild horses.
In accordance with the Ozark Wild Horse Protection Act, the Missouri Wild Horse League works with the National Park Service to capture some horses when the herd exceeds 50. The captured horses are taken into care and evaluated before being adopted by loving families for permanent homes.
If you want to support and protect the wild horses of Shannon County, Missouri, the best thing you can do is donate to the non-profit Missouri Wild Horse League. Your gift will be tax deductible and go a long way to helping ensure we have resources to protect the horses in the future.