Camping is a rite of passage. For my friend Sara and I, taking our sons on a camping trip to Hawn State Park in southeast Missouri is a culmination of parenthood. So skipping the part of that aforementioned trip, where the boys hit each other in the back seat of the car, screamed at the top of their lungs for no apparent reason and acted like crazy animals, let’s get right to the good part: why you would want to go camping at Hawn.
Hawn State Park is tucked away in the middle of southeast Missouri’s wine country. Picture in your mind rolling green hills, sweet burbling streams and stands of hardwood canopying some of Missouri’s best trails. And, I mean that literally. Missouri was nominated America’s Best Trail State in 2013 by American Trails magazine. Not a surprise.
Hawn has wonderful trails and there’s a small stream right off the campground. However, Pickle Springs is our favorite hike. You’ll find the trail head for Pickle Springs just a few miles down the road outside of the park. There’s a small parking lot and picnic table. There are no bathroom facilities at the trailhead or anywhere on the trail. So, keep that in mind.
The trail itself is a two mile loop that includes a sweeping vista, small wooden bridges and, depending on the time of year and the rains, a short waterfall.
I was really surprised by the arches on the Pickle Springs hike. I didn’t know those existed in Missouri. If the boys would have stood still we could have snapped the perfect photo for the memory books. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
You will find great trails at Hawn and lots of streams for wading, which are perfect for young children. Our boys love to strip down to their undies and wade around looking for frogs and small fish.
The kids love the water. Period.
The rustling pine trees and rippling water are serene backdrops for roasting marshmallows and telling stories around the campfire. Facilities are nice and, if you’re down on your luck (because we’ve all been in that situation before), fellow campers are there for help.
We always meet friendly faces at Hawn. There’s lots of kids—lots of marshmallow roasting. Every time we camp there someone helps in some way. Last year a man and his son lent us a pair of pliers to unstick a stuck tent bag zipper!
The Little Extras
Problems occur. Weather turns bad. Kids become restless. We’ve all been there. Luckily Hawn State Park, while tucked away in seclusion, is nestled between two cities just a short ride away.
The first time we camped, my son was only 3. It was nice to know that if we absolutely had to leave, we were close enough to Farmington and Ste. Genevieve to grab a hotel room if it came to that. Plus, some day, I’m coming back to try the wine at Chaumette and Crown Valley!
Novice Camper Essentials
- Battery operated lantern or headlamp. Forget the flashlight, you can’t sit one down on a picnic table and they are too easy for the kids to fight.
- Tent (obvious). Plastic drop cloth to go under the tent (not so obvious). The drop cloth is essential if it’s muddy or wet. Find them at any hardware store. You can often find them specifically sized to go under tents.
- Hammer. These manmade beauties make pounding in tent stakes spectacularly easy, especially when it’s dark and you can’t look for a rock that might help you do the job.
- Hand broom. With a little elbow grease and a hand broom, sweeping out the tent before packing up keeps everything neater and tidier.
- Table cloth. You’re looking for the kind that will cover a picnic table. Most campgrounds come equipped with picnic tables at each campsite. Covering your table with a red and white checked tablecloth basically ensures that only you will know that you are a novice camper. All the cool kids have their own tablecloths.
- Bottled water. Yes, there is water on site. But, honestly, for the novice camper having bottled water right where you need it is really helpful. Bring jugs.
- Camping stove. Okay, this is where we border into too much camping equipment. However, if you have young children or have never cooked over a fire, the camp stove will make the whole outdoor experience so much more comfortable. Pick one up online or at any hardware or superstore. Set it up on top of your picnic table (covered with a tablecloth) and you’ve just graduated to intermediate camper. If you need a campfire for marshmallows, that’s where the neighboring campsites come in!
- What you won’t need: firewood (you can buy that on site), store-bought sticks for roasting marshmallows (there’s plenty of bonafide sticks at the campground!) or your cell phone (depending on your provider, you may experience sketchy service).