The noisy, early evening thunderstorm was a double delight.
First, I got to watch the light show from a rocker on the porch of my cozy camper cabin at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. To the north, lighting flashed and thunder rumbled over Goggins Mountain. To the south, patches of blue sky peeked through the clouds.
The deluge that followed overnight would have been a problem for a tent camper.
Camper cabins, which offer a comfortable compromise between a housekeeping cabin and a tent, are hot items at four state parks. Johnson’s Shut-Ins and Mark Twain state parks have six camper cabins, Stockton has five and Wappapello has four.
When the campground at Johnson’s Shut-Ins was relocated and rebuilt after the collapse of the AmerenUE Taum Sauk Reservoir in December 2005, six camper cabins were added on a hillside overlooking Beaver Pond.
The two-room cabins have a queen-sized bed in the bedroom and a futon in the kitchen. They have rustic wood furniture, including a dining table and chairs. They have electricity, heating and air conditioning, but do not include water or bathrooms. The central showerhouse and restrooms are a short walk away.
Each cabin has a ceiling fan, microwave/toaster, compact refrigerator and coffee pot. A porch bench and rocker, picnic table, lantern pole, pedestal grill and campfire grill are outside. Guests bring their own cooking and eating utensils, and bedding linens or sleeping bag.
The cabins at Johnson’s Shut-Ins were built on-site, while the cabins at the three other parks were prefabricated. The pre-made log cabins include a carpeted sleeping loft for the kids.
The camper cabins at Johnson’s Shut-Ins rent for $75, plus tax, per night. Rates at Stockton, Mark Twain and Wappapello are $65 a night, with some parks offering cheaper prices during the week and in the off-season. The parks recently started a “Cabins for Canines” program that allows dogs in designated cabins. Guests are provided with a kennel in case they have to leave the dog alone in the cabin. The charge is $15 a night per dog, with a limit of two dogs.
The rain at Johnson’s Shut-Ins let up at dusk in time to barbecue dinner, but picked up again overnight. The next morning, the sun highlighted the mist that encircled Goggins Mountain and hovered over Beaver Pond.
The promise of a beautiful day provided the second delight. Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is in the heart of the lovely Arcadia Valley, which is one of the Ozarks best outdoor playgrounds. I knew many of its features would be at their best following a hard rain.
The main attraction at Johnson’s Shut-Ins is the Black River and its tumbling shut-ins. I started the morning with a short hike to the shut-ins, and found a roiling torrent. While waders play in the pools and chutes under normal conditions, only a whitewater kayaker in a helmet would dare venture now. The power of water, which had carved out the shut-ins in the ancient rhyolite rock, was an awesome sight.
I packed up and headed to nearby Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, where I soon was standing at Missouri’s highest point. From there, it was a 1.5-mile hike down to the base of Mina Sauk Falls, which is the state’s tallest at 132 feet and would be thundering after the two-inch rainfall.
The hike down was rugged. The rocky trail was turned into a creek by the rainwater, and even Gortex hiking boots soon were soaked. It passed through several glades that are gorgeous with wildflowers from spring through fall.
At the base of the falls, I scampered over the moss- and fern-covered boulders to get close enough to the bottom pool to be sprinkled by the spray. After a lunch break, I began the difficult climb back out on the three-mile loop, and was astonished to pass a hiker coming down in flip-flops.
One of the most scenic sections of the 350-mile Ozark Trail is from the top of Taum Sauk Mountain 13 miles to Johnson’s Shut-Ins, passing the base of the falls.
Bill Bryan, director of Missouri State Parks, hiked that section last year and wrote: “This hike is epic. The scenery is awesome. The terrain is formidable. The challenge is unparalleled in our park system. In fact, I have been fortunate to have hiked some legendary trails around the country, and this trail deserves its place among the best.”
I reviewed my own notes and found this: “The bottom of the falls, fueled by an overnight thunderstorm, was a green Garden of Eden. But this is a hard climb, in and out. Take your time and enjoy the marvelous views of the St. Francois Mountains. And don’t wear flip-flops.”
Written by Tom Uhlenbrock, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Division of State Parks