By Chuck McHenry
Those of us who have seen the real Royal Gorge find it amusing to have one in Missouri- however, there is an Ozark Trail branch (Ketcherside) that hikes up this gorge, offering stunning vistas of what truly is a highway 21 gorge. The plan is that Ketcherside will eventually link to Crane pond, which links to Marble Creek, and then another future Link will connect to Sam A Baker State park. When completed this will be a stunning addition to the Ozark Trail.
The run is extremely short. On this day I was lucky to run into Bill Fordyce who was scouting some of the local runoffs, and he took a few pictures for me.
Park at the “Ketcherside” parking are (this was formally called Claybaugh). Cross the highway and put on the creek there, which is called Minor Creek. This is one of the forks that when joined, makes Big Creek. You will have about a tenth mile of warm-up before the gorge. The gorge itself, only 1/10th mile long, is pretty intense, with one rapid requiring a difficult move to twist down. It all calms down at a parking lot just past the WPA stone fencing along highway 21. On this day I really wanted to keep going and do Big Creek on to highway K, but did not have a shuttle.
There is another Fork of Big Creek just on the other side of the ridge and along railroad tracks that looks to have at least some Cl-II in it, but I thought it was on the verge of too brushy last time I saw it.
The put-in and take-out are at the top and bottom of the Royal Gorge along hwy 21 just outside of Ironton.