Heading Outside? Here’s an Inside Look at Camping in Missouri

The Hughey brothers – (left to right) Nathan, Jacob and Samuel – cook their dinner at Sam A. Baker State Park.

So if Missouri is the best spot for camping, what are some of the prime state parks to pitch a tent or pull in a camper?

In a recent nationwide poll at About.com, readers voted Missouri the best state for camping. Montana and Colorado were next in the online voting.

Bill Bryan, director of Missouri State Parks, credits the state’s diverse geography for its popularity with campers.

In Missouri, Bryan said, you can camp one weekend on a flowing stream, like the Current River, and the next weekend in a prairie.

A mild winter and a nice spring have increased the number of campers showing up at state parks. Bryan said camping trips are up 40 percent this year. Camping is especially popular with families seeking an affordable way to enjoy the outdoors.

Missouri has 86 state parks, and about half offer camping. Accommodations range from full-service sites with electricity, sewer and water, to 16 parks with hiking trails leading through the forest to backpack camping.

To see what is available, or to use the camping reservation system, visit MoStateParks.com.

Asked for a half-dozen of his favorites, here are picks from Bryan, the man most familiar with all of Missouri’s state parks.

The campgrounds at Montauk State Park are next to the Current River.

Montauk State Park, at the headwaters of the Current River, near Salem: Montauk, Bennett Spring and Roaring River are the state’s three trout parks, which are popular camping spots for fishermen. Campgrounds are located along the gurgling spring-fed branches.

Pomme de Terre State Park on a lake north of Springfield: This is the smallest of the parks near large man-made lakes popular for water recreation. Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock, Stockton, Truman and Mark Twain also are parks located near impoundments. Many of the camp sites at the parks offer lake views. Bryan said Pomme de Terre offers a quiet spot to enjoy nature.

Hawn State Park in southeast Missouri: The park is known for its large stand of short-leaf pines and hardwoods, which put on a gorgeous autumn display. Orchids and wild azalea bloom in the spring. Pickle Creek and the River Aux Vases flow below the sandstone ledges, and Whispering Pines Trail is perhaps the state’s most-popular long hike.

Meramec State Park off Interstate 44, an hour’s drive southwest of St. Louis: The campgrounds are on the Meramec River, which offers easy family floating. Eight camping sites are available to backpackers on the 8.5-mile Wilderness Trail, and shorter hikes lead to scenic overlooks from majestic bluffs.

Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park on the Black River in southeast Missouri: The park was devastated by the collapse of a mountaintop utility reservoir in 2005, but has been rebuilt and restored to its former grandeur. The campground has a full-range of choices, from walk-in campsites that offer solitude to sites built especially for equestrians hauling trailers.

Sam A. Baker State Park in southeast Missouri: The Mudlick Trail is a rugged, 11-mile walk through wilderness, with several camping shelters built by the Civilian Conservation Corps along the way. Big Creek is a lovely, shallow stream that cuts through the park by the campgrounds.

That was six, but Bryan offered a footnote.

He said Wallace State Park, near Kansas City, is a small park with beautiful campgrounds and nice short trails.

And Van Meter State Park is off the beaten path on the Missouri River in north-central Missouri. The park has a campground built by the Civilian Conservation Corps amid towering trees. The park includes a historic Missouria Indian village, which makes it one of the oldest campgrounds in Missouri.

Written by Tom Uhlenbrock, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Division of State Parks