I spend a minimum of five days a week in the woods as a park ranger, but unfortunately, it’s in an urban area. So when I need to escape the masses, I head for the oldest exposed rock in middle America– Missouri’s St. Francois Mountains.
And my destination of choice is Sam A. Baker State Park. The park’s 5,164 acres are a combination of oak, hickory and pine forest set amongst patches of glades (the Show Me state’s version of desert), and the park has some of the best camping in the Midwest.
The author poses along the Shut-Ins Trail, which is along the St. Francois River in Missouri’s Sam A. Baker State Park.
Set within the park’s boundary are the 4,420-acre Mudlick Mountain Area (one of the state parks largest wilderness areas), the 1,313-foot Mudlick Mountain, and a canyon-like gorge known as the shut-ins. But there’s more: Since Missouri is synonymous with floating, you can enjoy canoeing on the Big Creek and St. Francois River.
Eighteen Miles Of Great Trails
Within the park’s border are 18 miles of trails: the 12-mile Mudlick Trail (the best), the 1.5-mile Shut-Ins Trail, and 4.5-miles of old fire roads.
A good place to start the Mudlick is from Camping Area 1. Don’t do like I did the first time and attempt to travel the Mudlick in one day; it’s best accomplished as a two-day trek. As you head north along the trail, you’ll go from 415 feet to 1,000 feet along Miller’s Ridge to 1,313 feet near the fire tower.
The trails are quite a workout, and summers (spring and fall are delightful) are brutal. But there’s a respite: End your day with a dip into Big Creek and spend the night at the north backpack camp (three shelters are also available).
Wildlife is plentiful: Whitetail deer, bobcat, turkey and hawks reside in the area. You have the option of spending a second night at the south backpack camp (you’ll need to bring water). And if you still haven’t had your fill of trails, there’s 37-miles of trails available at the adjoining Wappapelo Lake Section (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) of the Ozark Trail.
In addition to its backpack camps, the park has 98 electric and 94 basic campground sites. And if you’re looking to sleep with a roof over your head, the park also rents cabins.
The Way: From St. Louis, take Interstate-55 south for 40 miles to Hwy 67, head south on Hwy 67 for 89 miles, head west on Hwy 34 for 4 miles, head north on Hwy 143 for 4 miles to park.
Crowd Control:Weekends between Memorial and Labor Day are busiest. The park is especially scenic in the fall foliage and the spring when flowers are in bloom.
Pit Stop:Try the brisket and catfish at the park’s dining lodge.
Maps and Guides:Free trail maps are available from the address below.
More Information: Sam A. Baker State Park, RFD 1, Box 114, Patterson, MO 63956, (573) 856-4411