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Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park Campground – June 8-10, 2018

The Campground

The campground at Johnson’s Shut-Ins is very large.  There are five “loops” of campsites, of varying types.  Loop 1 offers equestrian sites (but can also be reserved by those without horses).  Loops 2, 3, and 4 offer electric, some offer water, and there are some “camper cabins” in one of the loops.  We stayed in Loop 5, which is the most primitive and basic of the available options.  This map is from the Missouri State Parks website and shows loops 4 and 5.  We stayed in site 514, which is ADA accessible despite being a walk-in, because the path from the parking lot to this site is paved.  During our stay there was a rather intense rain storm and the path got very muddy in spots, so my walker had some issues navigating, but it was otherwise an easy trip from the lot to the site.  It was also an easy walk to the shower house and bathrooms.


This walk-in site has no electric/water/sewer, but it has a wooden pad, a fire pit, a lantern post, and a picnic table that can be moved around as needed.  There was a hole in the platform which could’ve caused an injury if we hadn’t noticed it, and my foot actually cracked one of the boards when I fell funny on it, so they’re not particularly strong – there was evidence of wood rot, in fact.  The image from the state park website shows it uninhabited.

Here’s how we set up our tents – well, at least a start.  We actually have two tents, which we set up catty-corner to each other on the platform.  There are hooks and loops on the wooden platform that make it easy to attach the tent ropes so it stays down.

I was also impressed with the amount of space around the platform.  Though there are limits on how many people and tents can inhabit a site, we could’ve easily set up 4 more 6-person tents on the flat ground.  There was a bit of a hill leading down to the platform but it could’ve held a tent or two, as well.

We currently have very basic Ozark Trail 6-person tents from Walmart.  We have two of them because we are all space hogs when we sleep, and we wanted ample space.  We’re planning to upgrade to a single 10-person tent, though, because of this situation:

Yep, those are hail stones.  Our tents withstood the onslaught quite well, but during the downpour we were stuck in our separate tents with no way to communicate and nothing to do.  There is no cell service in the campground (on our carrier, anyway) so we couldn’t even text each other to see if the tents were leaking.  We were bored for about 45 minutes during a heavy downpour.  This picture was taken when I unzipped the door briefly to get a look, but we couldn’t leave it open because the hail bounced up into the tent.  One unfortunate thing I noticed after the storm was that water ponded under the platform and never completely dried up, so we ended up with a hefty number of mosquitoes later that evening.
This campsite had its fair share of noise, but it was tolerable – except for the whip-poor-wills. These are extremely annoying birds that are mostly quiet during the day, then wind up to an extremely ear-splitting screech during the night.  During the night, I was certain the one that was in the trees of our campsite was intentionally torturing me, but after the fact I realized that birds likely have no vendetta against me personally.
As I mentioned, the hail and rain messed with our plans.  We are newbie campers, and we didn’t even think to protect our wood pile… so we were unable to start a campfire to cook our food, even using the maxi-pad method I learned at Girl Scout Camp 25 years ago.  We ended up having to drive to the visitor’s center to get cell signal, then hunted down a McDonald’s to get some lunch.
Because of the storm, our plans to walk to the actual Shut-Ins didn’t work out.  We ended up doing a little bit of shopping in nearby towns (Ironton and Arcadia), and we went to Elephant Rocks State Park after things cleared up outside.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park
Image from Mo State Parks website

The Visitor’s Center is interesting, and we watched a couple of films about the power of water and about the disaster that hit the Shut-Ins a few years ago (see below).  The Shut-Ins is a naturally formed enclosed area along the Black River where water has played with the rocks for millions of years, creating pools and eddies that create a natural water park.  There is a partially paved, partially wooden trail that leads to the shut-ins, but due to their nature, it isn’t especially easy for disabled persons to access the rocks and shut-ins.  There is a nice overlook, though.

The Disaster
Image from Wikipedia

In 2005, the wall of the nearby Taum Sauk resevoir failed, sending over a billion gallons of water down the side of the mountain into the state park, destroying all of the man-made structures and obliterating all signs of many of the natural features that made the park so special.  The shut-ins themselves weren’t destroyed, but were filled with debris, rocks, and trash.  The deluge also deposited huge boulders all over the place, and they have now been relocated near the visitor’s center.

Nearby Attractions

Elephant Rocks State Park is the closest, most interesting attraction.  It is a fascinating natural arrangement of huge granite boulders.  They are enormous – as you can see by the 15-year-old walking between them.  There is a trail that leads from the parking area to the huge rocks, and it is paved and accessible. However, the huge boulders themselves are not really accessible to those in wheelchairs or with mobility issues.

Also nearby is Taum Sauk Mountain State Park.  Taum Sauk is the highest point in Missouri, part of the St. Francois mountain range.  Now, keep in mind that this “mountain” isn’t even 1/2 a mile high, so it’s really more of a big hill, depending on what you’re comparing it to.  Taum Sauk offers a few very basic campsites for those looking for an escape.  There is no electric, water, or sewer at these sites so you won’t be overrun by the noisy RVs that populate most of the parks.
Here’s a basic screenshot of the Google map of the area, which you’ll obviously want to look up for yourself if you’re in the area, since this one isn’t clickable.


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