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Missouri: Naturally good

Courtesy Elephant Rocks State Park

Elephant Rocks State Park
Pink granite boulders, some weighing over 600 tons and standing more than 20 feet tall, are strewn across Elephant Rocks State Park like a giant natural playground. The rocks were formed by slow-cooling molten rock as it bubbled up into the earth’s crust. The mile-long Braille Trail winds through the rocks, and an extension off the trail leads to the ruins of a railroad engine house.

“Elephant Rocks is one of Missouri’s smaller parks, and it’s nicely laid out with its asphalt trail,” said interpreter Brick Autry. “Visitors can view the whole park and have a great time within an hour.”

Shut-Ins State Park
The east fork of the Black River runs through Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. Its clear waters beckon visitors to stick their toes in or shoot through the park’s natural water slides. A quarter-mile trail leads from the parking lot and overlooks the shut-ins (sections of the river confined in a deep, narrow channel).

“Beyond that, steps go up the hill and then descend to access a larger pool where people can swim,” said Alan Lancaster, assistant superintendent of Johnson’s Shut-Ins and Taum Sauk Mountain state parks. “There’s also a rocky beach.”

The visitors center features interactive natural, cultural and historical displays and a film, “The Power of Water.”

Taum Sauk Mountain State Park
Taum Sauk Mountain State Park’s trail cuts through the hickory forests and rocky glades to Missouri’s highest point. The rugged Mina Sauk Falls’ three-mile loop trail leads to the state’s tallest waterfall. In wet weather, the falls drop 132 feet down a series of rocky volcanic ledges into a clear, rock-bottom pool.

“That trail is for those who want a true wilderness experience and are in good shape,” said Lancaster.

One mile below the falls, along the Ozark trail, lays Devil’s Tollgate. A footpath winds through 50 feet of volcanic rhyolite standing 30 feet high.


Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.