Hiking Missouri’s Taum Sauk Mountain State Park

Taum Sauk Mountain State Park proves there’s more to Missouri than arches, Cardinals’ baseball, and the corporate headquarters for Budweiser beer.

Just a short two-hour drive from St. Louis, I was able to view the “Show Me State’s” longest waterfall, trek its toughest trail, and summit 1,772-foot Taum Sauk Mountain, which is on the 12.8-mile section of the Ozark Trail between Taum Sauk Mountain State Park and Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park.

“Taum Sauk Mountain is the best day hike in Missouri,” says Chris Rufkahr of the Hike Club of St Louis, “you can’t beat it.”

Heading out from the state’s high point, I was treated to a wildflower show on one of the many glades (Missouri’s version of desert) overlooking the St. Francois Mountains. Indian prairie, rattlesnake master, little bluestem, and white prairie clover, covered the 7,448-acre park of oak, hickory and short leaf pine.

Hello Mr. Rattlesnake
After hiking 1-1/2 miles, I found myself looking up to the top of Mina Sauk Falls; the 132-foot waterfall is the state’s longest. Trekking on, I came across the Devil’s Tollgate, a 30-foot-high volcanic passageway, and found myself sharing the trail with a lone timber ‘rattler. During my mid-week visit this was the only other trail user I came across.

Taum Sauk Section of the Ozark Trail along the upper falls of Mina Sauk Falls.

Stopping for the night near the 1,656-foot high Proffit Mountain, I was greeted to the howls of coyotes and a starry night that rivaled the times I hiked in Alaska. In the morning I would finish a rugged, rocky hike by relaxing in the cool waters of the Black River in its volcanic chutes, potholes and gorges.

The Taum Sauk Section of the Ozark Trail runs 12.8 miles (point-to-point) between Taum Sauk Mountain State Park and Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. It is best accomplished as a two-day trek (or a grueling day hike). If you’re looking for a longer hike, the Ozark Trail’s Taum Sauk Section covers 33 miles and makes for a four-day hike.

Day Hikes
Soak your “dogs” and view the spectacular shut-ins (canyon-like gorge) along the 2.5-mile Shut-Ins Trail at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. For a great 5-mile day hike, extend your trek on the 3-mile Mina Sauk Falls Loop by going to the Devil’s Tollgate and back.

The Taum Sauk Section of the Ozark Trail drops from 1,772 feet at Taum Sauk Mountain to 1,100 feet near the Devil’s Tollgate, climbing back to 1,656 feet at Proffit Mountain before descending to 900 feet at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park.

Don’t miss the cascading waters and volcanic ledges of Mina Sauk Falls — the state’s highest waterfall at 132 feet.

The best time to go is in the spring and fall. It’s colorful and the time guarantees solitude. Avoid going in the summer with its humidity and the weekenders who seek respite in the waters along the Shut-Ins Trail. Also, water may be scarce during summer months, but ticks will be in abundance so take precautionary measures.

Camping is prohibited two miles east and west of the main lot at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. If you choose to backpack the trail, backcountry sites are free. Primitive sites at Taum Sauk State Park are $8 a night. Additional Camping is available at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park.

Pit Stop
After the trails, if you’re looking for a place to fuel up and replace those spent “carbs” be sure to stop at the nearby Arcadian Cafe for a great meal. They feature “live” entertainment most weekends and they also can provide a car shuttle if you plan on backpacking the 33-mile Taum Sauk Section of the Ozark Trail. The Arcadian Cafe is at 123 Main Street, Arcadia, MO 63621; (573) 546-2432; E-mail: acafe@misn.com

Making The Trip
Taum Sauk Mountain State Park is two hours drive time (100 miles) south of St. Louis, and 7.5 hours (400 miles) from Chicago. To get there from St. Louis, take Interstate 55 south to U. S. Hwy. 67. Then go south on U.S. Hwy. 67 to Hwy. W. Head west on Hwy. W to Hwy. 21. Make a left and head south on Hwy. 21 to Hwy. CC. Make a right on Hwy. CC and head west three miles to Taum Sauk Mountain State Park.

For More Information
Contact Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, C/O Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, HC Route 1, Box 126, Middlebrook, MO 63656, (573) 546-2450.

Reference Guides: One Hundred Nature Walks in the Missouri Ozarks, by Alan McPherson (Cache River Press, 888-582-2665; $17.95).

A free reproduction topo map is available from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Ozark Trail Coordinator, (573) 751-2479; (800) 334-6946.

Be sure to visit the Ozark Trail Association website for additional information: http://www.ozarktrail.com/taumsauk.htm.

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