St. Louis, MO: Hidden Wonders (Taum Sauk Mountain State Park)

See Missouri's tallest waterfall and stand on its tallest peak on this overnight on the Taum Sauk section of the Ozark Trail. BY MARK HINCH
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See Missouri's tallest waterfall and stand on its tallest peak on this overnight on the Taum Sauk section of the Ozark Trail. BY MARK HINCH

In just a couple of hours on the Ozark Trail, I’ve already hit the state high point and the state’s tallest waterfall. And yet the big and the tall aren’t what make the Ozarks great. The miniature forests of lichens, the tiny pools at the foot of quiet cascades, and the glades hidden within rolling hills prove that here, in southeastern Missouri, it’s all about the small stuff. And count yourself among the little things, because that’s exactly how you’ll feel amid the deep forests of oak, walnut, and maple that seem to go on forever.

Trip stats:
Distance: 13.3 miles (point to point)
Time: 2 days

Turn-by-turn
From the Taum Sauk trailhead

(1) Pick up the Taum Sauk Trail and head southwest past 130-foot-tall Mina Sauk Falls (mile 1.5) to a junction at mile 3.2.
(2) Stay right and continue 8.9 miles on the Taum Sauk, passing a handful of campsites , to another intersection.
(3) Split northwest (hiker’s right) onto the Johnson’s Shut-Ins Scour Trail and take it 1.2 miles to your shuttle car.

Campsite
Unnamed creek (mile 4.8)

Don’t be tempted by the first few trailside sites: Keep walking to mile 4.8 where a social path veers hiker’s right off the Taum Sauk into a large flat area amid a grove of oaks. (Fall bonus: The oaks turn in mid-October, and some red usually persists into November.) A small stream flows nearby year-round, making water duty a breeze.

Don’t miss
The hike starts on the state’s high point, 1,772-foot Taum Sauk Mountain. It’s a drive-up, so not remarkable, but the vista overlooking the fall-radiant hardwoods is worth admiring. At mile 1.5, pass 130-foot-tall Mina Falls, the tallest in Missouri, which tumbles down four tiers into a jade pool. Then walk through Devils Tollgate, a 50-foot-tall hunk of fractured granite that’s supposedly 10 times older than the Rocky Mountains.

Stay longer
The best part about hiking a small section of a 350-mile long path? It’s easy to keep going. Instead of splitting off onto the Johnson’s Shut-Ins Scour Trail, keep going south through the rocky Scour and across the Black River. Regular glades offer great views and there are plenty of social campsites in the oak woods. Loop back to your shuttle car via the Goggins Mountain Loop and Johnson’s Shut-Ins Scour Trails. This adds another 13 miles.

DO IT Shuttle car 37.556145, -90.839596; 14 miles southwest of Middle Brook off State Hwy. N Trailhead 37.572746, -90.728016; an hour east of the shuttle car off MO 21 Commercial option Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park ($50/group; bit.do/johnsons-shut-ins-sp) Season Year-round, but it’s best in shoulder seasons (less humidity). Permit None Custom mapbit.do/BPmapTaumSaukTrail ($15) Contactbit.do/taum-sauk-ozark-trailTrip databackpacker.com/taumsauktrail

Trail Facts

  • State: MO
  • City: St. Louis, MO
  • Distance: 13.3
  • Contact: bit.do/taum-sauk-ozark-trail
  • Land Type: State Park