This area is botanically rich, supporting 541 native vascular plant species and 152 bryophyte (liverworts and mosses) species. A number of these species are considered glacial relicts. Glacial relicts are species that were more common in Missouri 12,000 years ago during the last Ice Age. Since then, the climate has warmed, forcing some species to inhabit micro-climates that mimic the cool, moist conditions of glacial times. Glacial relicts at Hickory Canyons include hay-scented fern, fir clubmoss and winterberry. The area is rich in fern species with over a dozen species represented.
The Lamotte sandstone here was formed from the sandy beaches of a shallow ocean that existed 500 million years ago. Layers of limestone were deposited over the sandstone, but millions of years of erosion and uplift of the Ozark Plateau exposed the sandstone we see today. After a rain event a wet-weather waterfall can be enjoyed from the end of the hiking trail on the east side of the county road. In the spring the headwater creeks here are a good place to spot a Louisiana waterthrush.
Two short hiking trails offer good views of the area's distinctive bluffs and canyons. A one-quarter mile trail from the parking area leads to a steep-walled box canyon. Across the road from the parking area is a more strenuous, one mile trail that traverses the steep terrain through the sandstone forest. It also crosses a scenic creek in a few locations.