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By Tom Uhlenbrock
Division of State Parks
Several Missouri state parks offer the dual delight of a hike on secluded trails followed by a dip in a pristine Ozark stream. Here are the top three:
Hawn State Park: The 10-mile Whispering Pine Trail is among the state’s top long hiking and backpacking trails. The trail has two loops, and the South Loop follows the River Aux Vases, where there are shaded pools beneath sandstone ledges lush with ferns and mosses. The pools even have small sand beaches from the eroding hillsides where you can picnic in privacy.
If you don’t want to hike quite that far, Pickle Creek Trail is less than a mile and follows a clear, sand-bottomed stream. The creek has sculpted the granite boulders and bluffs that line the valley, creating tiny waterfalls and shut-ins perfect for wading.
Sam A. Baker State Park: The Mudlick Trail is an 11-mile loop that can be challenging.
The trail climbs nearly 1,000 feet from Big Creek Valley to the top of Mudlick Mountain. When you get back down, the creek is waiting. A beautiful Ozark stream, Big Creek is just behind the main campground and full of shallow riffles and deeper pools.
The park’s most popular hike is the Shut-Ins Trail, which heads 1.25 miles from the dining lodge through a bottomland forest to a gravel bar for a swim in the shut-ins. The large pool at the base of the granite bluff is deep, full of fish and clear enough for snorkeling.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins: The park has more than 45 miles of trails, including a connection to the Ozark Trail. A new 1.5-mile loop is called the Scour Trail because it goes through the scour left on Profitt Mountain by the breach of the Taum Sauk Reservoir. The rushing water gouged the land down to bedrock, revealing a billion years of geology.
The East Fork of the Black River runs through the park, and carved out the state’s most popular swimming hole, a series of chutes and pools for which the park is named. The crystalline river cascades through the ancient pink boulders of rhyolite.
In the rebuilding of the park after the disaster of December 2005, the natural meanders were returned to the river above the shut-ins. The gentle, gravel-lined curves make a good place for families with small children to enjoy the water.