Shepherd Mountain Inn and Suites

Address: 1321 N Hwy 21, Ironton, MO 63650    RESERVATIONS - For FASTEST Service Call: 573-546-7418

Author: Robert Brock

Elephant Rocks State Park

The giant elephant-shaped granite boulders are the star at Elephant Rocks State Park. The coarsely crystalline red granite forms are popular with all ages. The park has a trail that winds through the rocks, which is an interpretive Braille trail. Abundant picnic areas and vibrant fall colors add to the park’s appeal.

The reddish or pink granite has been quarried in this area since 1869, and two abandoned granite quarries are within the park. These and others nearby have provided red architectural granite for buildings in states from Massachusetts to California, but most particularly in St. Louis, including stone for St. Louis City Hall and the piers of the Eads Bridge. Stones unsuitable for architectural use were made into shoebox-sized paving stones that were used on the streets of St. Louis as well as on its wharf on the Mississippi River. Stone quarried in the area currently is used for mortuary monuments and is known commercially as Missouri Red monument stone.

The park has thirty picnic sites and a one-mile circular interpretive trail in the Elephant Rocks Natural Area. This trail is called the Braille Trail and is unique among Missouri state parks in being designed specifically for visitors with visual and physical handicaps. There are several spur trails which are not handicapped accessible. Each of these spur trails has its own unique feature. One spur passes through “Fat Man’s Squeeze,” a narrow gap between two boulders, leading hikers to the old quarry. Another spur goes through “The Maze,” a 100-foot (30.48 meter) section of scattered boulders. Within the maze is a semi-enclosed area called “The Devil’s Kitchen.”
(location from our hotel: Hwy 21, 3 miles north of Pilot Knob in Graniteville)

To explore all that Elephant Rocks State Park has to offer, visit the official Elephant Rocks State Park website.

Elephant Rocks State Park – front of top rocks in usa

Johnson Shut Ins

Play in the shallows of the East Fork of the Black River. Shoot through natural hydraulics in the shut-ins. Hike a trail that will show you geologic wonder. The swift waters of the Black River flow through a canyon like volcanic gorge, called a “shut-in” creating a beautiful photographic and swimming opportunity. The park is also Missouri’s most botanically diverse state park. Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is a jewel of the system, a place with something for everyone: pretty picnic areas, Ozark landscapes, natural places to swim, great campsites.

Most of the park, including the shut-ins and two miles of river frontage, was assembled over the course of 17 years and donated to the state in 1955 by Joseph Desloge (1889–1971), a St. Louis civic leader and conservationist from the prominent Desloge lead mining family, which has continued over the years to donate funds for park improvements.

On December 14, 2005 the park was devastated by a catastrophic flood caused by the failure of the Taum Sauk pumped storage plant reservoir atop a neighboring mountain. Part of the damage was the eradication of the park’s campground, but being a weeknight in December, the campground was unoccupied; the only people at the park were the park’s superintendent and his family; the family survived, sustaining some injuries. The park was closed because of the extent of the damage it received.

The park partly reopened in the summer of 2006 for limited day use, but due to dangerous conditions, swimming in the river and exploring the rock formations was prohibited. In 2009 the river and shut-ins were reopened for recreation in the water. A new campground opened April 30, 2010.

Camping, hiking, swimming, and rock climbing are available at the park. A one-fourth-mile walkway takes visitors to an observation deck overlooking the shut-ins. A section of the Ozark trail also crosses the park.

An extension to the park provides an auto tour that passes by the ongoing recovery effort, as well as the recovered endangered fens area, terminating at a shaded overlook of the flood path accessible from the park entrance. From this one can walk a path through the boulder field created by the flood. The boulder field contains many examples of the minerals and rocks that make up the St. Francois Mountains of the Ozarks.

Plan your visit to come visit one of Missouri finest state parks.

(13 miles from Elephant Rocks on Hwy N, 15 miles from Pilot Knob)

Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park – middle in USA

Taum Sauk Mountain State Park

Taum Sauk Mountain State Park contains the highest point in Missouri. With beautiful trails and scenic overlook points, this is a wonderful place to see the splendor of the St. Francois Mountain Region. Climb the outlook tower, or take the 3 mile loop trail past the highest waterfall area. Taum Sauk Mountain is part of the Ozark Trail.

Climb to the top of Taum Sauk Mountain State Park and be on top of Missouri – literally. The park’s 7,500 acres include the highest point in the state. Located in the St. Francois Mountains, the park’s hickory forests and rocky glades provide a beautiful, solitary experience for hikers. A series of trails, including a portion of the Ozark Trail, wind through the park’s picturesque setting and provide awesome views of the surrounding countryside. The park also has a 12-site basic campground, a special use area for non-profit youth organizations, and a picnic area.

(located 8 miles south on Hwy 21 from Pilot Knob)

Fort Davidson Historic Site

The Confederates under Gen. Sterling Price may have taken the fort, but Union efforts at Fort Davidson in the Battle of Pilot Knob were crucial to blunting the last Confederate offensive into Missouri. Fort Davidson State Historic Site preserves and interprets the running battle through the Arcadia Valley. The site’s open, grassy fields include the fort’s old earthworks, two Confederate burial trenches, and a visitor center with a narrated story of the battle.

This engagement occurred on September 27, 1864, just outside of Pilot Knob in Iron County, Missouri. Although outnumbered by more than ten-to-one, the Union defenders managed to repulse repeated Confederate assaults on their works, and were able to slip away during the night by exploiting a gap in the Southern siege lines. The attacking Rebels took possession of the fort the next day, but Price’s profligate expenditure of men and ammunition ended his goal of seizing St. Louis for the Confederacy.

Fort Davidson State Historic Site serves as a memorial to those who gave their lives on the battlefield, and the Visitor’s Center provides detailed information about the battle through the use of artifacts, a diorama, and film. Additionally, a self-guided driving tour around the Arcadia Valley directs visitors to some of the most significant points on the battlefields. Each stop is marked by a red granite monument. Maps for this tour are available at Fort Davidson State Historic Site.

(in Pilot Knob on Hwy 221)

Update: Fort Davidson Historic Site – Winter Hours – CLOSED on Monday

Hughes Mountain-Devils Honeycomb

Within the Hughes Mountain Natural Area is a glade with an outcrop of columnar jointed rhyolite designated the Devil’s Honeycomb. Devil’s Honeycomb is listed in the book, Geographic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri. Two-thirds of the area is wooded. The forest is dominated by post and white oaks with areas of stunted specimens of blackjack oak and black hickory.

The area’s glades are natural openings on western or southern slopes and are dominated by native grasses and a variety of wildflowers. Glades occur where the soils are extremely thin and usually include areas of exposed bedrock.

The area around Hughes Mountain was first settled ca 1810 by John Hughes, his wife (Susannah) and their children, resulting in the mountain being named Hughes Mountain. The mountain itself remained public land until 1861 when purchased by John Hughes’s son, Mahlon Hughes and afterwards remained in the Hughes family until it was purchased by the Missouri Conservation Commission in 1982. At that time it was designated a State Natural Area.

The Hughes Mountain State Natural Area can be accessed by the public via a 1.4 mile (2.253 kilometers) linear/loop trail with the trail head in a small parking area on Highway M 3 miles (4.8 km) southeast of Irondale. Within the Hughes Mountain Natural Area is a glade with an outcrop of columnar jointed rhyolite designated the Devil’s Honeycomb. Devil’s Honeycomb is listed in the book, Geographic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri. The natural area is divided between forest land (about 2/3 the total area) containing three types of forests, and glades(about 1/3 the total area).

 (5 mi. east on Hwy M from Hwy 21)

Royal Gorge

A photographer’s paradise with its natural rock bluffs. The Missouri Department of Conservation has opened a trail above Royal Gorge at Ketcherside Mountain Conservation Area.  This 2.5 mile trail gives beautiful views high up on the cliffs, looking both directions.  Plan to hike the area throughout the year and experience the wonder of the changing seasons.

Located next to Highway 21 south of Arcadia, Royal Gorge has long been a popular spot for pulling over and taking a quick look at the shut-ins

The Royal Gorge Natural Area (visible from Highway 21 just south of Ironton), is a portion of this 3,276 acre segment of the St. Francois Mountains Natural Area. Hike or backpack through igneous  glades and cliffs, scarlet oak-pine forest, oak-hickory forest and a headwaters stream of the Ozark Natural Division. Mostly forest, birdwatchers will find glade and forest birds. Hunt for deer, squirrel or turkey. With a special use permit, furbearer trapping is also allowed. Horseback riding is permitted on roads open to vehicles. The Taum Sauk section of the Ozark Trail passes through Ketcherside Mountain Conservation Area (Horseback riding is prohibited on this section of trail). Nuts, berries, fruits, mushrooms and wild greens can be found in abundance and may be taken for personal use.

 The St. Francois Mountains in southeast Missouri are believed to be some of the oldest mountains in the eastern United States and feature many interesting geologic sites. One of the most interesting parts of the St. Francois Mountains is contained in Iron County which boasts the highest spot in the state at Taum Sauk Mountain State Park as well as Elephant Rocks State Park.

At the point where the shut-in passes alongside Highway 21, motorists will see a beautiful wall constructed of granite stones built there by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression (photo left). The Highway Department maintains a scenic overlook and parking pullout for motorists to view Royal Gorge. To visit the gorge drive 4 miles south of Arcadia on Highway 21.

One often overlooked spot is Royal Gorge Natural Area south of Arcadia on Highway 21. The natural area features a canyon-like shut-in along the highway

(7 miles south on Hwy 21)

Bonne Terre Mines

Bonne Terre Mine is listed as one of Americas top ten greatest adventures by National Geographic.  Boat & walking tours available; Along this tour, you will see Huge Pillar Rooms, Grand Canyon, Billion Gallon Lake, Trout Pond, Underground Flower Gardens, Beautiful Calcite Falls, and ancient abandoned mining tools, submerged ore carts, wrapped pillars, and ancient abandoned overhead wooden cat walks suspended 50-100 feet above the lake.

One of the world’s largest man-made caverns, founded in 1860 as one of history’s earliest deep-earth lead mines. This was the world’s largest producer of lead ore until it was closed in 1962.

The mine has five levels. Not suitable for service animals. The two upper levels are lighted and used for one-hour, guided walking tours along the old mule trails, showing were miners dug with pick and shovel in the 1860s. (Tour includes a 65-step staircase, in and out.) The mine is a constant 65-degrees, year-round; never affected by the weather.

The lower three levels form a one billion gallon, seventeen-mile long lake, illuminated by more than 500,000 watts of stadium lighting above the water’s surface. Boat tours are available on the crystal clear water, with spectacular views of the abandoned shafts and equipment below.

The mine is home to the largest fresh water scuba diving venue in the world. (Diving reservations are required.) The clear, 58-degree water, illuminated from above, affords divers visibility more than 100 feet down. Diving is conducted in groups of nine, always accompanied by two guides.

(On Hwy 67 in Bonne Terre)

Marble Creek Recreation Area

This area with its beautiful creek, camp and picnic grounds is located between Fredericktown and Arcadia, MO. Marble Creek, rushing 20 miles through the rugged St. Francis Mountains, is named for deposits of attractively colored dolomites which were mined and used in the building trade as “Taum Sauk Marble”. Within the recreation area, you can see the concrete remains of a grist mill dam and building foundation. This dam was the third to be built here and was operated until 1935. This quiet campground and recreation area is the main trail head for the Marble Creek Section of the Ozark Trail. This 8-mile segment goes to Crane Lake and is open for hiking, equestrian and mountain bike use. Horses are allowed at trail head, but not within campground or picnic area.

The attractively colored dolomite, from which the area is named, can be seen as well as remains of a grist mill and dam. Swim in the old mill pool where the creek was once harnessed to power the mill.

The campground offers 25 primitive sites, and 1 double site, each with a table, fire ring, and lantern post. There are two centrally located vault toilets for campers and hikers. Sites are not reservable, and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The campground is typically open from March thru October.

There is no drinking water available in the campground, but Marble Creek is a year-round stream. Please treat all water intended for drinking. Marble Creek is also a popular swimming spot in the summer months.

(15 miles on Hwy E)

Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1861

As the Civil War broke out, a group of German immigrants began building their new church. Little did they know that in 1864, three years after the building was completed, wounded soldiers would lay dying in the place of worship. Doctor Seymour Carpenter, Major, US Army, established several makeshift hospitals in the town of Pilot Knob in preparation of the day of battle.

The entire Arcadia Valley shook with cannon and gun fire on Sept. 26 and 27, 1864, as Gen. Sterling Price’s Confederate army hammered at Ironton and Fort Davidson. By the time the fighting ceased on the 27th, more than 1100 soldiers lay dead or wounded. After rebel fire began peppering St. Mary’s and the schoolhouse, Dr. Carpenter commandeered Immanuel Lutheran Church as the main hospital and several local houses to tend to the wounded. Since he was placed in charge of the telegraph, he apparently hid the books in his new headquarters, Immanuel, where one telegraph book was found after the war.

On September 27, 1864, despite the good doctor’s efforts, there were more wounded soldiers than his staff could handle or his hospitals house. Since that day, the church has barely changed and remains a beautiful example of a small town 1860s church right down to having the original pastoral robes.

On the National Register of Historic Places, this building still contains the original hand hew wooden pews, the original pipe organ, and the sonorous bell, still in use today. (in Pilot Knob)

Black River (canoeing)

Located near Lesterville & Annapolis, the Black River is a crystal clear river, perfect for floating, tubing and swimming. The amazing Johnson’s Shut-Ins is located on the Black River. There are many establishments offering floating down the black river in both tubes and canoes. Come float during the day and stay with us in the evening!

The three forks of the Black River rise virtually within the shadow of the highest point in the state, Taum Sauk Mountain, and join near Parks Bluff. The upper Black is exceptionally clear and has enough feeder springs to produce good smallmouth bass fishing. Some of the most beautiful scenery in Missouri is found in the upper reaches of the Black. This includes several “shut-ins,” areas where the stream runs through jumbled rocks and potholes in gorge-like valleys. One such area open to the public is Johnson Shut-ins State Park on the East Fork.

(14 miles south on Hwy 21 from Pilot Knob)