Missouri is home to some incredible state parks that are home to incredible wildlife, unique geological features, and beautiful fresh water. If you haven’t yet had the chance to explore some of this incredible wilderness, or if you don’t know where to start, I’m here to help! I’ve put together a collection of some of the finest Southeast Missouri State Parks, along with some of the activities you can enjoy at each. Take a look!
Amidon Memorial Conservation Area spans over 1,600 acres on the upper reaches of the beautiful Castor River. It has multiple hiking trails where you can observe a variety of trees, birds, and other wildlife. The Castor River Shut-Ins is a part of the river with boulders and rocks that create small, shallow pools suitable for swimming, although the current can be rough, and there are no lifeguards on duty. Due to the dangerous nature of the river, I don’t recommend this spot for smaller children, but older kids and teenagers can likely handle the challenge.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is a special place to visit, particularly the Shut-Ins, which is a geological feature similar to a gorge that creates calmer areas for swimming. The river water cascades around billion-year-old rocks, creating waterfalls, chutes, and other unique geological features. Swimming with life jackets is recommended! There are also plenty of other ways to enjoy Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, including fishing in the Black River, camping, hiking, and more. There are several picnicking areas throughout the park, as well as some playground equipment for little explorers!
So named for the elephant-shaped boulders at the park, Elephant Rocks State Park is a unique geological destination for all kinds of adventurers. The rocks, made from 1.5 billion-year-old granite, stand end-to-end like a train of circus elephants. You can take in the elephant rocks from the Braille Trail, which was designed specifically for people with visual and physical disabilities. There are plenty of picnic tables to enjoy a nice lunch, as well as a food truck selling simple fare for an easy way to refuel.
Sam A. Baker State Park is the perfect place for enjoying the beautiful and secluded St. Francis River. Whether you swim along the shore, canoe, or kayak, floating along the river is the perfect way to spend a day on the water. There are also several miles of hiking, backpacking, cycling, and equestrian trails and a nature center that educates visitors about the natural and cultural history of the park. There are plenty of picnic areas available, or you can choose to camp out for a longer visit.
Pickle Springs has some of the area’s most beautiful waterfalls and cool box canyons that are home to fascinating plants and animals that are considered glacial relics from a time when Missouri’s climate was cool and wet because of glaciers. A great spot for nature enthusiasts, their two-mile trail known as The Trail Through Time winds through the park and lets visitors get up close to 500-million-year-old geologic features carved in sandstone.
Lake Wappapello is a beautiful vacation spot for campers, featuring a modern campground, cabins, and rustic camper cabins. The lake itself is picturesque and perfect for boating and fishing, and the miles of surrounding trails are great for a little extra exercise and exploration. Enjoy horseback riding, swimming, and biking, as well as learning something new at their nature center!
I hope you’ll take the time to explore some of the spectacular wildlife we have right here in our backyard! These Southeast Missouri State Parks will get you and your family out and exploring, connecting with nature, learning about the world around us, and enjoying your time together!
If you’re looking for additional ways to make some memories with your little one, why not book some family portraits? I’m a Missouri photographer as well as a mom myself. I understand how chaotic this season of parenthood can be, and I love getting to let families freeze time so they can actually enjoy it. If you’ve been considering booking a session, I would love to connect to tell you all about my process! Contact me today to find out more.