Friday, February 19, 2016

Our Favorite 2015 Camping Destination

Winter continues here and so does my reflection of warmer times. We had an amazing 2015 camping season that took us to new places and some of our old favorites. Reflecting on past trips and planning new ones is honestly how I get through these winter months. 
Unanimously, The Taylor's and The Todd's agree that Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park was our favorite 2015 destination. Johnson's Shut-Ins is located near Lesterville, Missouri which is just over 100 miles south of St Louis, under 200 miles east of Springfield, and 295 miles southeast of Kansas City, MO, which is where we are based.
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Park Details:
  • Johnson's Shut-Ins is a state park.
  • Senior Citizens receive a discount.
  • Special sites are designated ADA and can't be used by the general population.
  • There are 5 different loops with a total of 85 sites.
  • There is designated sites for camping, hike-in camping, camper cabins, electric only, electric/water, and electric/water/sewer sites.
  • Due to the 2005 Taum Sauk Reservoir breach, the campground was relocated to a new location in the state park and is brand new.
  • There are ample pull-through and back in sites.
  • Each site in loop 1, 2, 3 and 4 have concrete pads.
Camping Fee's
Basic camping (non-improved site) is $13.00 a night. Electric Premium sites (50 amp service) is $23.00 a night.. Electric/Water Premium site is $25.00 a night and full service (sewer/electric/water) is $28.00.
Booking:
Missouri State Parks uses an online registration system. The site is relatively easy to research and select a site. We use the campground map as well as the online photos. There is also a toll free number if you prefer to speak to a person instead of the online registration. Missouri State Parks allows advance registration six months prior to your trip.
Size of the Campground:
The entire state park is over 6,000 acres. The campground is large. The sites are spacious. There are five camping loops at Johnson's Shut-Ins.  The first loop is designated for Equestrian  and has ten water and electricity sites. Loops 2 and 3 have a total of forty, 50 amp service some with electricity and others have full hook-ups. Loop 2 also has six camper cabins. Loops 4 is designated for walk-in camping and has 14 sites, and Loop 5 is designated basic for tent campers and also has 14 sites.
johnsonsshutins1Campground Details:
Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park became a state park in 1955 but people have been enjoying the Shut-Ins longer than this park has been in existence. What is a Shut-In? Well, simply put it is a constriction in a waterway. In this case, granite boulders from the St Francois Mountains have jutted up to the surface in the Black River. The Black River is constricted with these boulders and the erosion has made pools of water, water falls,  and chutes in this canyon-like gorge. People love to come and spend time cooling off and playing in the Shut-Ins.
In December 2005, the Taum Sauk Reservour that is housed high above the Shut-Ins breached and sent 1.3 billion gallons of water rushing down Proffit Mountain. The water brought down boulders, trees and other debris with it and literally almost destroyed Johnson Shut-Ins. The campground, then located near the Shut-Ins was destroyed. The campground host and his family barely survived. The ecosystem at Johnson Shut-Ins was severely damaged. Since 2005 this park has been under restoration. Cutting edge technology has been used to try and save the ecosystem and the campground area was relocated to higher ground as a safety precaution.
We expected to find very little shade at Johnson's Shut-Ins due to how new the campground is. Instead, we found the exact opposite. Sites 2, 3, and 4 had great tree coverage.
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Amenities:
There are a total of three stores in Johnson's Shut-Ins. One inside the Visitor Center, one by the Shut-Ins and a large general store in the campground. The Campground General Store does have wi-fi available but you do have to go and visit the store in order to get the wi-fi. Our teenage boy spent a lot of time sitting outside the general store!
The general store also has a coin laundry room. There is a changing room outside the store at the Shut-Ins.
Each camping loop has one showerhouse with a separate restroom. We visited the showers during our stay and found them to be very clean and nice. Due to our too close encounter with some of the parks wildlife, we took early showers so that we were not walking around the park in the dark.
There is no pool. Visitors/guest of the state park have access to the Shut-Ins. Parking is limited at the Shut-Ins. I am told that day visitors line up for parking spots. The good news, registered campers are given passes to special parking that we found to be easily accessible.
The Visitor Center is a nice amenity that should not be overlooked.There is so much history and science alive in this area and the videos and displays do a great job of helping to educate the public, young and old. New history has been added as well. The entire 2005 reservoir breach and subsequent efforts to recover have been documented and are available for viewing. We found the visitor center to be informative, entertaining, and a cool place to hangout on a hot day!
Overall Thoughts/Feelings about the Campground/Visit:
We loved this campground and this park. We went into our trip expecting to love the Shut-Ins but not loving the campground. As I indicated earlier in this post, knowing this was a "new" campground we expected to find a stark campground with no shade or trees. I can't even express how happy we were to find the exact opposite. The campground sites were concrete and spacious. We honestly felt like we were at a private campground with the extra space of a state park.  We had a fire ring and a picnic table. We had a pole with a hook that allowed us to hang both a lantern or our trash.
Going into the vacation, our research taught us that hundreds of people visit the Shut-Ins each weekend so we made plans to visit them during the week. Swimming in the Shut-Ins was fun. It was a new adventure. The water is cool and clear and the force of the water create the most spectacular water park you can imagine. The only thing to remember is; this water park is not made from tubes or pipes. This water park is made of rocks; and some are sharp and jagged. I am glad our children had life jackets and we all had water shoes on. In the end, we only played in the Shut-Ins once. Perhaps if we were staying a full week at this park we would have gone another day but due to our limited four days we had other exciting things to pack into our trip. johnsonsshutins5We like camping at state parks and enjoy our contact with nature. We have been fishing, caught crawdads, observed birds,  gotten close to deer, spied lizards , and maybe even inadvertently feed a raccoon or two. During this trip, we learned our limitations....snakes. On our first night, as the kids were busy riding their scooters around our loop and the adults were sitting by a campfire talking about our travels to the park, the Park Ranger stopped by. He pointed out to us that a copperhead snake was right in front of our campsite heading in our direction. Of course the majority of us had flip flops or sandals on our feet at the time. Thankfully the Park Ranger used a stick and safely scared the copperhead away from us but we decided to call it a night and go to bed early. Interestingly enough, the snake appeared again but never bothered us.
Daily, the camp rangers came by and invited all the kids and adults to the educational program of the night that was held at the parks amphitheater. Ironically, the first show was about snakes! The kids went and learned a lot of information. The second night the show was about comets. The show was high energy and involved glow sticks and again, the kids came back talking about the stars all night long.
Regional Activities:
We found so many activities in the surrounding Arcadia Valley that we honestly were busy every day during our stay. Other than stopping by a few convenience stores for drinks, we did not eat out on this trip so we did not visit any local restaurants.  Here are a few of the things we found and highly recommend:
  • Float Trip: Nothing says summer in Missouri like a float trip down a river. The Black River is perfect for floating; cool and clear water. The Shut-Ins prevent canoes from passing through the part of the river that runs through the state park, you actually need to go into Lesterville to find a canoe outfitter.
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  • Taum Sauk Mountain: Taum Sauk Mountain was approximately forty-five minutes from Johnson's Shut-Ins. We packed a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon hiking one of the trails to the highest elevated waterfall in Missouri.  Taum Sauk Mountain also has the highest elevation point in Missouri and you can access it easily from a parking lot near the elevation point.
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  • The Ozark Trail runs through Johnson's Shut-Ins in continues through the region. Wayne has actually added hiking from Taum Sauk Mountain  to Johnson's Shut-Ins to his bucket list.
  • Elephant Rock State Park: Another short drive from Johnson's Shut-Ins (25 minutes) is another state park that is for day use only. Elephant Rock State Park is scattered with giant red granite boulder. There is an ADA braille trail that winds throughout the park. Children and adults have enjoyed climbing all over rocks that look like elephants from a distance. All of us loved visiting this park. When we ran our of steam from climbing and exploring we found ample picnic tables for our midday meal.
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What we did not like:
Our main complaint was with the dump stations. There was no spigot of water to flush the black tanks. Luckily for us, there were openings in the full hook up sites and we were able to pull into one of them and empty and clean our tanks. It does baffle me that this campground and park that is so newly rebuilt and amazing for a state park does not have water  at their dump station.
The playground is a secondary concern of ours. There is a playground and it was nice but it is near the campground store and not near any of the camping loops. The distance was far too far for us to feel comfortable sending the girls to play there.
We did have a near close encounter with a poisonous snake, a copperhead. We drove 300 miles (clear across the state) to visit this park. That is important because copperheads are just not that common in Kansas City and they were not even on our radar. Thankfully, nothing happened and a very nice Park Ranger educated us in the nick of time. I wish we had been warned about the copperheads at the time of our check in. I would really have like a brochure on the types of animals we might encounter and safety precautions to avoid contact or minimize contact. I know during my visit to Yellowstone National Park we were given ample brochures explaining how to interact with the animals in the park and how to keep ourselves and the animals safe.
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In closing, this was our favorite trip of the year. It is high on our return list. If you are planning a trip to Missouri, or if you are a Missourian, we encourage you to get out and head to this state park.
If you are interested in following our camping adventures, please visit us over at Roam With Friends.

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