About a couple of weeks ago, I went on one of Missouri’s toughest hikes. We started our hike at Taum Sauk and ended at the Johnson Shut Ins. Now I like to think I am in shape, but boy was this hike hard. It is 14.5 miles long with rocky terrain most of the way. The hike took us 8 hours total including breaks. It definitely is not a boring hike and there are many scenic views along the way. From the tallest waterfall in Missouri, to the Devil’s Tollgate, pine trees and bluffs that overlooked the other mountains in the area. I am going to take you all through my day and give some tips on how to survive this hike if you ever decide to do it!
We prepared the night before by packing our food and filling up our water packs since we knew we were going to have an early morning. Be sure to bring plenty of water for this hike especially if you plan on going during the hotter months. When we went, the high was only 65 degrees so it was perfect weather and I didn’t suck through too much water. We hit the road a little after 6:00am and got to the Johnson Shut Ins around 7:40am. Depending on if you go with a group or not, one person can drop a car off at the Shut Ins and then another person can drive to Taum Sauk to begin the hike or you can catch a ride to TS from JSI from one of the park employees. The ride does cost $50, but we thought that would be easier than bringing two cars.
We got to TS right around 8:30 and began our hike right away. Taum Sauk sits at an 1,772 ft elevation, the highest point in Missouri. It was nice starting here rather than ending here. I don’t think I would have made it up this mountain if we started at JSI. Heading down the mountain the trail is mainly made up of rock. If you have ankle or balance problems, I would recommend bringing walking sticks or breaking in some good hiking boots before going. At the bottom of the mountain is the waterfall. There is a place where you can look at it from the top and from the bottom. There wasn’t too much water flowing from it at the time, but I hear it fills up during the rainy months.
About 30-45 minutes after the waterfall, you will come across the Devil’s Tollgate. It is two volcanic rock formations that the path passes through. Pictures do not do its justice of how cool it was to see this in person. If you are feeling daring too, you can climb to the top. There is a pretty easy path on the other side, you just have to do a little climbing. You’ll notice a stream to the right side of the path. We decided to venture through the trees and check it out. The rocks reminded me of the Johnson Shut Ins and it was fun to just get off the beaten path and explore a bit.
Next started our uphill battle towards Proffit Mountain which had a 1,703 ft elevation. And when I say battle, I mean battle. The picture below was how most of the terrain was going up the mountain. The rocks weren’t this big the whole time, but you can see how rocky it is. I slipped two times during this hike. The first time was going down Taum Sauk and I bruised up my hand and knee pretty good. The other time was during this rocky part and I like to blame these rocks for my hip pain the next day. So take it easy during this part if you’re not a pro.
The trees were just now starting to change color when we went and to walk through these golden trees with the sunlight coming through made me feel like I was in a Lord of the Rings movie. Most of the time you have to stare at the ground to make sure you don’t twist your ankle, so be sure you take the time to look up every once in a while and snap some good pictures. Towards the top of the mountain, there are plenty of areas to take pictures and just take the time to really appreciate how beautiful nature is. Since there were many large rocks, we decided to take a break and eat lunch in this area.
After lunch, we ended up on the side of the mountain out in the open. We were able to see the water reservoir, which was pretty neat. During this part, there is an electric fence that runs pretty close to the path so be on the lookout for that. The rest of the trail, once making your way down Proffit Mountain, eased up a bit. It was mostly gravel and dirt, with some occasional bigger rocks. This is where we really started feeling sore and tired. The last 5 miles were the absolute hardest even though the terrain wasn’t as bad.
Once you get to the point in the path where you have to go right or left, GO LEFT. We made the mistake of going right and walked the wrong way and had to walk along the highway to get back to the park. (lol) With that we ended up walking almost an extra mile. And I when I say walk, I mean crawl. We were crawling at the end.
This is a hike I would definitely recommend to anyone who enjoys hiking. But I think this is a one and done hike for me. It was very challenging, but with good company was a great time. I would suggest going during the fall for a few different reasons: you can see the colors change in the trees, the temperature is cooler so you are not dying, and the bugs were almost non-existent. We did have a couple of ticks fall on us, but non that actually stuck.
Hiking is a great exercise for those who like to switch things up instead of going to the gym. You work multiple muscle groups, the inclines get your heart rate up, and you burn quite a few calories. Taum Sauk and Johnson Shut Ins offer many other trail options as well if you are not up to doing this long one. Many seasoned hikers and campers will actually split this trail up in two days and camp in one of the camping areas offered on the trail. This trail challenged me physically and mentally, but I am so glad we did this year. Mother nature is so beautiful and most of us do not spend enough time in it and appreciating it. I hope everyone is able to enjoy a good hike in their lifetime and if you ever need a hiking buddy, I will gladly accompany you.
If anyone has any questions about this trail and would like to know more, feel free to ask!