Play in the shallows of the East Fork of the Black River. Shoot through natural hydraulics in the shut-ins. Hike a trail that will show you geologic wonder. The swift waters of the Black River flow through a canyon like volcanic gorge, called a “shut-in” creating a beautiful photographic and swimming opportunity. The park is also Missouri’s most botanically diverse state park. Johnson’s Shut Ins is a jewel of the system, a place with something for everyone: pretty picnic areas, Ozark landscapes, natural places to swim, great campsites. (13 miles from Elephant Rocks on Hwy N, 15 miles from Pilot Knob)
Most of the park, including the shut-ins and two miles of river frontage, was assembled over the course of 17 years and donated to the state in 1955 by Joseph Desloge (1889–1971), a St. Louis civic leader and conservationist from the prominent Desloge lead Mining family, which has continued over the years to donate funds for park improvements.
On December 14, 2005 the park was devastated by a catastrophic flood caused by the failure of the Taum Sauk pump storage plant reservoir atop a neighboring mountain. Part of the damage was the eradication of the park’s campground, but being a weeknight in December, the campground was unoccupied; the only people at the park were the park’s superintendent and his family; the family survived, sustaining some injuries. The park was closed because of the extent of the damage it received.
The park partly reopened in the summer of 2006 for limited day use, but due to dangerous conditions, swimming in the river and exploring the rock formations was prohibited. In 2009 the river and shut-ins were reopened for recreation in the water. A new campground opened April 30, 2010. The park is now fully functional including extensive trails, some paved and others rugged. Activities abound for any outdoor enthusiast. Come and enjoy Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park.
The giant elephant-shaped granite boulders are the star at Elephant Rocks State Park. The coarsely crystalline red granite forms are popular with all ages. The park has a trail that winds through the rocks, which is an interpretive Braille trail. Abundant picnic areas and vibrant fall colors add to the park’s appeal. Elephant Rocks State Park is within miles of well known Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park and Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, Missouri’s highest point.
(Hwy 21, 3 miles north of Pilot Knob in Graniteville)
The park has thirty picnic sites and a one-mile (2 km) circular interpretive trail in the Elephant Rocks Natural Area. This trail is called the Braille Trail and is unique among Missouri state parks in being designed specifically for visitors with visual and physical handicaps. There are several spur trails which are not handicapped accessible. Each of these spur trails has its own unique feature. One spur passes through “Fat Man’s Squeeze,” a narrow gap between two boulders, leading hikers to the old quarry. Another spur goes through “The Maze,” a 100-foot (30.48 meter) section of scattered boulders. Within the maze is a semi-enclosed area called “The Devil’s Kitchen.”
Since no official census of the herd has ever been taken, the exact number of “elephants” inhabiting the park is unknown. Although the elephant rocks are continually eroding away, new elephants are constantly being exposed. Information collected on Dumbo, the patriarch of Elephant Rocks State Park, shows that he is 27 feet tall, 35 feet long and 17 feet wide. At a weight of 162 pounds per cubic foot, Dumbo tips the scales at a hefty 680 tons.
Just outside the park is the oldest recorded commercial granite quarry in the state. This quarry, opened in 1869, furnished facing stone for some Eads Bridge piers across the Mississippi River, and from 1880 to 1900, millions of paving blocks for the St. Louis levee and downtown streets came from this quarry. Other nearby quarries supplied granite for many major St. Louis buildings, as well as stone for the turned columns on the front porch of the Governor’s mansion in Jefferson City. Today, this granite is used primarily for monuments and building veneer.
Numerous picnic sites among the giant red boulders provide ample opportunity for family picnicking and exploration of the elephant rocks. Camping is not available in Elephant Rocks State Park, but can be found in several nearby state parks. Pets must be on leashes. Rock-climbing equipment is not to be used in the park.
Climb to the top of Taum Sauk Mountain State Park and be on top of Missouri – literally. The park’s 7,500 acres include the highest point in the state. Located in the St. Francois Mountains, the park’s glades provide a beautiful, solitary experience for hikers. A series of trails, including a portion of the Ozark Trail, wind through the park’s picturesque setting and provide awesome views of the surrounding countryside; including the state’s tallest waterfall & its deepest valley which can all be seen on an afternoon hike. (8 miles south on Hwy 21, then take Hwy CC)
The park has a rustic campground, a paved trail to the highpoint, picnic facilities, and a lookout tower from which a good view can be had; the dense forest on the mountain obscures the view from most other vantage points.
Mina Sauk Falls, the highest waterfall in Missouri, is on Taum Sauk and can be visited by hiking a rugged trail that makes a three-mile (5 km) loop from the highpoint parking area. The falls have cascading waters only during times of wet weather; at other times they are reduced to a trickle or less.
The Taum Sauk Section of the Ozark Trail is 35 miles long and runs through the heart of the ancient St. Francois Mountains. One of the most popular and scenic portions of the Taum Sauk Section is the 14.5 miles between Taum Sauk Mountain State Park and Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. This rugged portion of trail through two state parks winds across mountains of oak-hickory woodland dotted with shortleaf pine trees, bluffs and rocky glades.
Head south on State Route 21 from Arcadia, Missouri for about 4 and a half miles. Turn right onto Highway CC which is signed for Taum Sauk Mountain State Park. Along Highway CC you will see an Adopt-A-Highway sign listing the highpointers club and it’s founder Jack Longacre who apparently lived in this area. After a few miles the pavement will end near a fork in the road. To the left is a lookout tower with wonderful views, to the right is Taum Sauk Mountain State Park. Once in the park there will be a viewing platform on the right side of the road that includes a panoramic photo labeling the peaks and valleys before you. At the end of the road is parking for many vehicles.
The Confederates under Gen. Sterling Price may have taken the fort, but Union efforts at Fort Davidson in the Battle of Pilot Knob were crucial to blunting the last Confederate offensive into Missouri. Fort Davidson State Historic Site preserves and interprets the running battle through the Arcadia Valley. The site’s open, grassy fields include the fort’s old earthworks, two Confederate burial trenches, and a visitor center with a narrated story of the battle. (in Pilot Knob on Hwy 221)
Every three years, 10,000+ visitors gather in September for the re-enactment of the Battle of Pilot Knob. In 2014, the 150th anniversary was celebrated by a week long series of concerts and lectures, culminating in the weekend battle re-enactment. Over 25,000 visitors attended this anniversary event. The next re-enactment will be in September, 2024.
Fort Davidson Historic Site winter hours – CLOSED on Mondays!
The original engagement occurred on September 27, 1864, just outside of Pilot Knob in Iron County, Missouri. Although outnumbered by more than ten-to-one, the Union defenders managed to repulse repeated Confederate assaults on their works, and were able to slip away during the night by exploiting a gap in the Southern siege lines. The attacking Rebels took possession of the fort the next day, but Price’s profligate expenditure of men and ammunition ended his goal of seizing St. Louis for the Confederacy.
Today, the battle area and a museum is operated by the Missouri State Parks system as “Fort Davidson State Historic Site”. The earthworks of the fort are still generally intact, surrounding the huge hole that was caused by the powder explosion. Following the battle, the Confederates retained the field and were therefore responsible for burying the dead. One of the rifle pits was accordingly selected for use as a mass grave. Although the exact number of Confederate casualties are unknown, park historians estimate that total Southern casualties were approximately 1,000. This compares to 200 Union casualties, 28 of whom were killed. The mass grave is now marked by a granite monument. The site is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Located near Lesterville & Annapolis, the Black River is a crystal clear river, perfect for floating, tubing and swimming. There are many locations along the Black River to put in for a perfect float trip. Whether you are wanting to play in the water, soak up the sun, or just a leisurely float on the current, the Black River in Lesterville is a great vacation destination.
(14 miles south on Hwy 21)
The three forks of the Black rise virtually within the shadow of the highest point in the state, Taum Sauk Mountain, and join near Lesterville to flow quickly toward the lowest section of the state. The upper Black is exceptionally clear and has enough feeder springs to produce some good smallmouth bass fishing. Below Clearwater Lake, the river moves more slowly and is less clear but is still a good float-fishing stream. Some of the most beautiful scenery in Missouri is to be found in the upper reaches of the Black. This includes several “shut-ins,” areas where the stream runs through jumbled rocks and potholes in gorge-like valleys. One such area open to the public is Johnson Shut-ins State Park on the East Fork. Shut-in Creek, a tributary of the East Fork, has a section which drops 70 feet per mile, but these upper shut-ins of the Black are not boatable. Mill Creek (10.7) is the best starting point during normal or low-water levels.
For a list of outfitters along the black river, please visit the Black River website.
This is an abandoned mining town on the St. Francois River with shut-ins, 200 foot bluffs and scenic hiking trails. There is a 2-mile Silver Mines Trail which follows both sides of the river, leading to various picnic areas. Also a 1.2-mile trail spurs to Millstream Gardens Conservation area, where visitors can view spectacular rock formations along the river.
(12 miles east on Hwy 72)
Silver Mines offers a variety of recreational opportunities and is abundant with historic and geological wonders. This beautiful area is located along the St. Francis River, the only river in Missouri classified as “white water,” and is used for kayaking during the spring high waters. Silver Mines is located at a historic mining operation and is known for its Precambrian granite and felsite rocks. Silver Mines Recreation Area is named for the abandoned “Einstein Mine”, which was mined for Silver, Tungsten and Lead. The Einstein Silver Mining Company began mining in 1877, and mining ceased completely in 1946.
The 2-mile long Silver Mines Trail follows both sides of the St. Francois River. The west section of the trail leads to the Riverside Picnic Area. The east section (1 mile) leads to the Turkey Creek Picnic Area. From there, the trail leads 1.2 miles to the Millstream Gardens Conservation Area, home to the Missouri Whitewater Championship Races every spring.
Eight picnic sites are available, each offering a table and pedestal grill. A group pavilion Is also available, with 6 picnic tables, a large pedestal grill, and parking for up to 20 vehicles.
Although mostly popular with kayakers in the spring, the St. Francois River is also a popular swimming hole during the summer months. There is no acutal designated nor managed swimming area, so please enter the river at your own risk. The current can be swift at times, especially during high water. Large rocks and drop-offs are abundant in this river.
The only whitewater kayak area in Missouri is home to the first race of the season in March of each year. The large volume of water of the St. Francois River flowing through Tiemann Shut-Ins is another of the Valley’s beautiful sites. The park has a paved trail down to the shut-in area. (8 miles east on Hwy 72)
Millstream Gardens Conservation Area is a 697-acre tract of land in Madison County, about halfway between Fredericktown and Arcadia, off of State Route 72. The Tiemann Shut-ins are within the area’s boundaries. The St. Francis River forms one of the area’s western boundaries, then meanders eastward for 1.2 miles through the area’s mid-southern section, before rushing through the shut-ins and passing into the Silver Mines area. The area’s woodlands are composed primarily of oak, hickory, and pine in the uplands, and ash, elm, and maple along the river border and its drainages. The St. Francis River at Millstream Gardens, and its wooded corridor, is a part of Missouri’s Natural Area System. This large stream contains an adjoining slough and large igneous shut-ins. A wide variety of animals live here. Wildlife species such as whitetail deer, turkey, and squirrel inhabit the uplands.
Within the Hughes Mountain Natural Area is a glade with an outcrop of columnar jointed rhyolite designated the Devil’s Honeycomb. Devil’s Honeycomb is listed in the book, Geographic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri.
(5 mi. east on Hwy M from Hwy 21)
The area around Hughes Mountain was first settled ca 1810 by John Hughes, his wife (Susannah) and their children, resulting in the mountain being named Hughes Mountain. The mountain itself remained public land until 1861 when purchased by John Hughes’s son, Mahlon Hughes and afterwards remained in the Hughes family until it was purchased by the Missouri Conservation Commission in 1982. At that time it was designated a State Natural Area.
The Hughes Mountain State Natural Area can be accessed by the public via a 1.4 mile (2.253 kilometers) linear/loop trail with the trail head in a small parking area on Highway M 3 miles (4.8 km) southeast of Irondale. Within the Hughes Mountain Natural Area is a glade with an outcrop of columnar jointed rhyolite designated the Devil’s Honeycomb. Devil’s Honeycomb is listed in the book, Geographic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri. The natural area is divided between forest land (about 2/3 the total area) containing three types of forests, and glades(about 1/3 the total area).
Bonne Terre Mine is listed as one of Americas top ten greatest adventures by National Geographic. Boat & walking tours available; Along this tour, you will see Huge Pillar Rooms, Grand Canyon, Billion Gallon Lake, Trout Pond, Underground Flower Gardens, Beautiful Calcite Falls, and ancient abandoned mining tools, submerged ore carts, wrapped pillars, and ancient abandoned overhead wooden cat walks suspended 50-100 feet above the lake. (On Hwy 67 in Bonne Terre)
One of the world’s largest man-made caverns, founded in 1860 as one of history’s earliest deep-earth lead mines. This was the world’s largest producer of lead ore until it was closed in 1962.
The mine has five levels. Not suitable for service animals. The two upper levels are lighted and used for one-hour, guided walking tours along the old mule trails, showing were miners dug with pick and shovel in the 1860s. (Tour includes a 65-step staircase, in and out.) The mine is a constant 65-degrees, year-round; never affected by the weather.
The lower three levels form a one billion gallon, seventeen-mile long lake, illuminated by more than 500,000 watts of stadium lighting above the water’s surface. Boat tours are available on the crystal clear water, with spectacular views of the abandoned shafts and equipment below.
The mine is home to the largest fresh water scuba diving venue in the world. (Diving reservations are required.) The clear, 58-degree water, illuminated from above, affords divers visibility more than 100 feet down. Diving is conducted in groups of nine, always accompanied by two guides.
On the National Register of Historic Places, this building still contains the original hand hewn wooden pews, the original pipe organ, and the sonorous bell, still in use today. (in Pilot Knob)
As the Civil War broke out, a group of German immigrants began building their new church. Little did they know that in 1864, three years after the building was completed, wounded soldiers would lay dying in the place of worship. Doctor Seymour Carpenter, Major, US Army, established several makeshift hospitals in the town of Pilot Knob in preparation of the day of battle. On September 27, 1864, despite the good doctor’s efforts, there were more wounded soldiers than his staff could handle or his hospitals house. Since that day, the church has barely changed and remains a beautiful example of a small town 1860s church right down to having the original pastoral robes.
When the Civil War began, many of Immanuel’s men enlisted in the Pilot Knob Home Guard to protect the area from rebels. From time to time, the church was used by them and later the Union Army as a meeting place. The railroad terminated just a few blocks east of the church, as did the telegraph lines. Early in the war, the church made an ideal outpost for the soldiers who were stationed in Arcadia at Fort Curtis. Many of the troops from Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri were German immigrants or of German stock and mixed freely with members of Immanuel. Several frequently joined the church members in their worship.
After Fort Davidson was built in 1863, Immanuel still served the Union cause, because the fort was only a fortified position and lacked any buildings necessary for the army’s administrative functions. To this day, the congregation possesses a Union telegram book, many of whose telegrams do not appear in the official Records of the Civil War.
The entire Arcadia Valley shook with cannon and gun fire on Sept. 26 and 27, 1864, as Gen. Sterling Price’s Confederate army hammered at Ironton and Fort Davidson. By the time the fighting ceased on the 27th, more than 1100 soldiers lay dead or wounded. After rebel fire began peppering St. Mary’s and the schoolhouse, Dr. Carpenter commandeered Immanuel Lutheran Church as the main hospital and several local houses to tend to the wounded.
The attractively colored dolomite, from which the area is named, can be seen as well as remains of a grist mill and dam. Swim in the old mill pool where the creek was once harnessed to power the mill. Enjoy picnicking, hiking, biking or fishing!
(15 miles on Hwy E)
This area with its beautiful creek, camp and picnic grounds is located between Fredericktown and Arcadia, MO. Marble Creek, rushing 20 miles through the rugged St. Francis Mountains, is named for deposits of attractively colored dolomites which were mined and used in the building trade as “Taum Sauk Marble”. Within the recreation area, you can see the concrete remains of a grist mill dam and building foundation. This dam was the third to be built here and was operated until 1935. This quiet campground and recreation area is the main trailhead for the Marble Creek Section of the Ozark Trail. This 8-mile segment goes to Crane Lake and is open for hiking, equestrian and mountain bike use. Horses are allowed at trail head, but not within campground or picnic area.
A photographer’s paradise with its natural rock bluffs. This gorge is referred to as a shut-ins. Shut-ins occur where a broader stream is “shut in” to a narrow canyon-like valley. In Missouri, shut-ins typically are found where streams flow through softer sedimentary bedrock such as dolomite and then encounter more resistant rock like rhyolite. Rhyolite is considered an igneous rock, one formed from magma, molten rock.
Above the creek valley the vegetation is stunted growing on the open rhyolite rocks with a western exposure. These igneous glades provide harsh growing conditions. Short-statured and gnarled blackjack oaks are scattered across the rock outcrops.
Along the creek valley the rare winterberry and northern arrow-wood occur. Both of these species are only found in the Ozarks in Missouri and only at scattered locations along rocky streams such as this. They provide fruits valuable to songbirds.
In the creek lives the Big Creek crayfish. The world-wide distribution of this crayfish species is restricted to the St. Francis River basin of Iron, Madison and Wayne Counties. This crayfish prefers small, high-gradient rocky creeks. Unfortunately the introduction of crayfish species not native to the St. Francis River basin can cause problems for the Big Creek crayfish. Inter-basin transfers of crayfish species through bait bucket dumping and other methods have caused declines in many endemic crayfish populations.
(7 miles south on Hwy 21)