Whether visitors to Echo Bluff State Park decide to take a walk on the mild side and stay in one of the lodge’s beautiful rooms or they decide to rough it, they quickly get the idea that they are close to Ozarks nature at its best.

“We had one person who was staying with us complain that we let horses run through the playground,” said Renee Greenshields, sales manager at the lodge. “We told her we couldn’t do anything about that. Those were wild horses. They come and go as they please.

“She was just amazed. “

Many people are. Echo Bluff State Park, which is the newest addition to the Missouri State Park System, was carved out of a wilderness-type setting and designed to give even the most “citified” visitors a look at what the Ozarks is all about.

Those staying at the lodge can throw back the curtains in their rooms and take in the beauty of the bluff for which the park was named. Sinking Creek, a major tributary of the Current River, meanders through a gravel-strewn bed, tumbling over shallow riffles and pausing in clear pools.

Management of the Missouri State Park system set out to build a unique tribute to the Missouri Ozarks when it purchased the land near Eminence, Mo., south of Rolla. When you lay eyes on this place, there’s little doubt that they succeeded.

“The idea was to have a year-round base camp in the Ozarks,” said Bill Bryan, director of Missouri State Parks. “We wanted something unique; something that would stand out.

“We’re pleased with the way it turned out. Echo Bluff just opened on July 30, but it’s already attracting national attention.”

For those who would rather walk on the wild side, there are elevated camping platforms where visitors can pitch their tents. The 476-acre state park also rents cabins and offers primitive campsites for those who wish to hike to more remote spots.

Adventure is never far away. The Painter Ridge Trail winds past deep Ozarks hollows, along beautiful waterfalls and rugged bluffs. The trail is used by hikers and mountain bikers alike.

A special feature for mountain bikers is a challenge route that includes elevated ladder bridges, narrow balance beams, ramps and boardwalks.

Kayakers can paddle to the edge of Echo Bluff on the shallow Sinking Creek and find out how the spectacular rock formation got its name.

Located near the Ozark  National Scenic Riverways, Echo Bluff is in the right neighborhood. The Current and Jacks Fork rivers have long been a major tourist attraction.  There are hiking trails that cut deep into the Ozarks region, springs, caves and other geological formations to explore, and vistas to sooth the soul.

Visit the nearby Peck Ranch Wildlife Area, and there’s a chance that you’ll see some of the elk that the Department of Conservation stocked as part a of a reintroduction project. Deer, wild turkeys and a diversity of songbirds also are roam the rolling forests.

The little town of Eminence is proud to be the gateway to this special place. Town leaders point out that about half of Shannon County’s square miles is public land that is undeveloped. Tourism is one of the county’s prime economic drivers, and leaders see the development of Echo Bluff State Park only adding to their drawing power.

“We have a special place down here,” said Eminence mayor Jim Anderson, who owns Shady Lane Cabins and Motel in town. “For years, this has been almost a secret. We want to get the word out.

“We’re pretty proud of what we have.”