I had previously heard of Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park, and that it was very popular, but I really didn’t know exactly what a “shut-in” even was or why I would want to visit. But, it was one of the destinations for my dad and I on our 2020 Show-Me September Adventure.
The shut-ins are a unique geological formation. It is when a river is limited by erosion-resistant rock. The water cascades around the smooth igneous rock and creates a natural water park to the delight of swimmers of all levels and observers of the beauty of the gorge. There are areas with water low enough for wading and small children, much deeper areas to explore and rocks to climb for those who want that challenge. There are places in the rocks that are filled with water and look like little hot tubs.
If you are planning to swim, be warned that the parking lot can fill fast in the afternoon and the area is closed to additional people. The day we were there was just after Labor Day on a weekday and by afternoon, the lot was about half full. I would imagine in the middle of summer, you would have to arrive in the morning to secure your spot. Life jackets were recommended and sturdy water shoes are a must. We saw several random lost sandals at various locations. With the movement of the water, sandal straps can become soaked and loose and you can be suddenly without a shoe that you may never see again, if you are in an area with rushing water. They have a flag system tied to the rate of the water flow that allows visitors to know how safe the conditions are. At a red flag level, the area is closed to swimmers.
Because I had a new full-face snorkel mask I had never tried, I decided to bring it and my snorkel vest along to test them out. It wasn’t the ocean or the Great Barrier Reef, but I did get nose to nose with some local fish and was able to advise my dad about the fishing possibilities in the Black River. I had fun.
The park was originally the homestead of the Johnson family who eventually sold the land after three generations to Joseph Desloge, who was a St. Louis community leader and conservationist who developed the park and donated to the state. There is a family cemetery at the park that my dad and I explored.
Swimming, of course, is the big deal, but you can enjoy hikes of different levels, including a short accessible hike on pavement, a boardwalk hike with a lot of steps to view the shut-ins and a deep blue-green pool. There is gravel trail to view other sections of the park. There were also a couple of dirt and rock trails that were rated moderate.
In addition to the scenery of the shut-ins, you can also view the surrounding St. Francios Mountains, that include the highest point in Missouri, Taum Sauk Mountain. If you really want to make a day (or two) of hiking or backpacking, the Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park adjoins the Taum Sauk Mountain State Park via the Ozark Trail. It’s 12.3 miles one way. We did not hike any of this and from what I have read, sections of it are quite challenging, so definitely do more research on it.
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