The Taum Sauk section of the Ozark Trail is touted to be one of the most beautiful stretches of the trail. Our plan was to hit the Highpoint, take our pictures and then head off to hike from Taum Sauk to Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park on an out and back hike of about 27 miles. Things did not go according to plan for a few reasons: Our biggest concern was hiking for more that a couple of days with little chance of finding water. Also, if we did get to Johnson’s Shut-ins, 13.5 miles away, the chances of getting a camping spot was remote. The final kicker was the weather. We had one night before the temperatures dropped below freezing. Hiking in cold weather is fine, but sleeping in freezing weather when your gear is rated for 30F isn’t fun.
So we changed our plans to hike “as far as we felt like it”, camp and return the next day. We arrived at the park and started off at about 9am. The highpoint was a quarter of a mile down a paved path, and we took our pictures.
The Missouri Highpoint is about two hours south of St. Louis in the Ozark Mountains, east of the Mark Twain National Forest. Taum Sauk Mountain sits at 1,772 ft above sea level, it is the 41st highest state summit of the US state highpoints. The o/b trail from the parking lot is just under a half mile with negligible elevation gain. We started at 9:10 am and made the summit in a few minutes, even with photo op stops. We spent 5 minutes on the summit. Parking at the visitor center is free. The trail is paved. There are valut toilets near the trailhead and primitive camping at the park (call for reservations). We didn’t have any bug problems, shorts and light hikers are fine if the Highpoint is your only destination.
If you want to hike to the highpoint, you have a few options by picking points on the Ozark Trail which has over 230 miles of connected trail. We combined the HP with a 27 mi o/b hike in the directions of Mina Sauk Falls to Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park, which morphed into a 24.2 mi o/b hike because we stopped short of the Shut-ins.
Side Note: What are Shut-ins? Wikipedia definition, “A shut-in is a rock formation that carve through a mountain ranges, causing a complex of pools, rivulets, rapids and plunge pools. They are found in streams in the Ozarks.” Someday, I really want to see these. But I want to see them when there is water. Click on this link to see Ben Childer’s Drone Video and you may add this park to your to-see list.
Before we started, I had to wait for Jason to get an extra mile of hiking completed. He forgot the treking poles in the truck. He walked back to the truck and realized he left the keys in his pack which he left with me. So he walked back for the keys and after retrieving his keys did the whole thing again. It wasn’t 24 hours prior to this that he was explaining how he could open up the truck with an app on his phone…oh well.
We started our Ozark trail hike at 9:40 am on Sunday in mid October. The fall colors were outstanding, the terrain was gorgeous, and the Mina Sauk falls were completely dry. In fact, we only passed small pools of water in the first 3 miles of the hike – but it was enough to be encouraging. However, that was the last water we saw, the trail was completely dry. At about mile 10, that was troubling. But we forged on. It was warm, a little muggy and with the threat of water rationing, I was experiencing a little bit of misery.
At mile 12.2 we found water, and filtered and drank and filtered and filled up. Whew. Along the route we passed a spur trail that we think would have taken us to a huge reservoir, and we found water in the “scour” band where water would be released from that reservoir. The hiking alternated between great trail, to rocky trail, to slow rocky climbs and dips over ridges. We gained and lost 2,400 ft of elevation, half of that in the last 2 miles getting to and from water.
At the point where we found water, mile 12.2, we decided that was far enough. We were hiking at about 2mph on the rocky terrain, and it was 4:30 pm already. Instead of walking to the Shut-ins and having to turn around, we just turned around and found a campsite about a mile back towards the truck. We had a real nice campfire, and relaxed. Jason saw a fox, I missed out. The temps dropped the next day, making the 11.3 mile hike back to the truck a lot more pleasant.
We started back to the truck at about 8:30 am, and we walked faster over a shorter distance to arrive at about 2:30 pm. The only hiccup we had on the trail was skirting around a garter snake (I had to step up to perform snake removal). Our overall distance was 24.4 miles, with an elevation gain and loss of about 2,700 ft. It took us about 7 hours to complete the first half, and 6 hours to return. We relaxed at the truck with Coke’s and homemade turkey and ham sandwiches – fresh food tastes so good after eating freeze dried food. The prior day we registered as hikers with the rangers, and then lost cell service. Now that we were back at the truck, Jason had an email telling us there were no campfires allowed. oops. The weather was calling for at least 2 and maybe 3 nights of freezing weather. Freezing nights camping with no fire…we started to re-plan.
In my next post: The rest of the trip. Until then,