Last updated on April 14th, 2022 at 01:43 pm.
Elephant Rocks State Park is home to one of Missouri’s most unusual geological formations.
Located in Arcadia Valley in the part of the Ozarks known as the St. Francois Mountains, Elephant Rocks State Park is one of the most visited Missouri State Parks.
The rock making up these mountains formed over one billion years ago when molten magma beneath the earth’s thin crust cooled. In the millions of years to follow, the land experiences erosional cycles that have created these truly unique geologic formations.
Elephant Rocks is considered one of the most geologically interesting Missouri State Parks. The park is fairly small and very easy to navigate on the paved path or you can venture off to explore side trails, climb up onto the old granite rocks and find narrow cracks in between the massive boulders to traverse.
One-Mile Braille Trail
20 plus educational signs are on the trail written in both English and Braille that make up the one-mile braille trail loop for easy exploration of the giant granite rocks, old quarry site and engine house ruins that make up Elephant Rocks park.
The park itself is easy to explore. The path through the site is asphalt and has varying slopes and conditions.
In addition to the interpretive stations with Braille signage, there are carpet patches followed by hand-rope mark stations to alert for changes in the pathway. Most of the one-mile-long trail is shady and rest areas are provided.
As you enter the park, if you head right on the loop trail you’ll head toward the Engine House Ruin first. If you head left on the loop trail, you head toward the main Elephant Rock formation.
Throughout the entire loop, you’ll see granite bounders in different shapes and sizes, but the famous formation most come to see is the set of rocks that look like a small herd of elephants.
How Did These Rocks Form?
Elephant Rocks are technically known as a “tor”; a stack of spheroidally or round weathered granite boulders that sit on top of a bedrock of the same rock.
The giant, red granite rocks, were formed in place as they stand today. The famous ‘elephant rock’ formations as well as the other rocks were formed by erosion and weather over millions of years.
What is very interesting is that the giant granite boulders were first shaped beneath the earth’s surface, then over time were exposed by erosion.
Elephant Rocks Formation
The main Elephant Rocks geologic feature sits on a massive granite dome. It is a row of huge, pink granite boulders resembling a herd of elephants. They have been described as giant boulders standing end-to-end like a train of circus elephants. I’ll confirm this is true and you can especially see it from different angles.
The largest rock on the dome is known as Dumbo and is 27 feet tall and weighs almost 680 tons.
If you head left to walk the loop, you’ll reach the Elephant Rocks formation fastest.
Near the elephant rocks feature are large granite rock walls with gaps created by joint fractures in the granite bedrock. If you don’t have issues with narrow spaces, they are fun to explore.
Exploring the Trails & climbing the Boulders
One of the most fun things to do is get off the main trail and walk the paths that lead to the top of the boulders. The views are beautiful and there are plenty of areas you can only see by getting off the main path.
These are considered “Spur Trails” and 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. Another spur goes through “The Maze,” a 100-foot section of scattered boulders.
Some of the other trails aren’t named and simply lead into and on top of the boulders.
When I visited with my husband, we found numerous places for great photos and places to explore.
Missouri’s Oldest Commercial Granite Quarry
Just steps from the Elephant Rocks main formation is the oldest recorded commercial granite quarry in the state (once known as Sheehan Quarry). This quarry opened in 1869, and was famous for red granite called “Missouri Red.”
From 1880 to 1900, millions of paving blocks for the St. Louis levee and downtown streets came from this quarry. In addition, the quarry mined the facing stone for the Eads Bridge piers standing on the Mississippi River levee in St. Louis and the columns on the Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City contain this Missouri Red granite.
This was the only quarry in the eastern Ozark region to produce red granite of any commercial importance.
There is a vertical wall that falls 30 feet to a water-filled quarry. The water is 40 feet deep.
ruins of an old engine house
Along the loop path are additional trails and one leads to the Engine House Ruin. The Engine House Ruins trail is a short walk to the location of what was originally built to repair train engines.
The railroad was the way they transported the granite blocks to St. Louis and throughout the country.
The Engine House Ruin is what is left of the building where train tracks still stand that helped move this important granite in the late 1800s.
Near the parking area is a large shaded area filled with picnic sites with picnic tables, BBQs, a playground area, and two swing sets. Bring a picnic lunch to make the most of your visit to Elephant Rocks State Park.
There are public restrooms available at the park as well (located near the start of the trail).
Native American History in Arcadia, Missouri
It’s important to note that Delaware, Peroria, Osage, Sauk and Fox Indian tribes at one time lived or hunted in Arcadia Valley. At the entrance of Elephant Rock State Park, there are many informational placards sharing information about the Indian tribe of Arcadia Valley.
The Osage were said to be the most powerful tribe in the lower Midwest. They moved from their original home along the Ohio River to western Missouri before the beginning of the French Mississippi and Missouri River fur trade in the 18th century.
Native American tribes repeatedly helped settlers cross the Plains, sold wild game and other supplies to travelers, and served as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Unfortunately, despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still presumed the possibility of an attack. Learn more about Native American Indian history in Arcadia Valley.
Directions to Elephant Rocks State Park
Elephant Rocks State Park is located off of Route 21, 4 miles north of Pilot Knob.
From Pilot Knob take Highway 21 north for about 3.75 miles. The entrance to the park will be on the right (north) side of Highway 21.
The park entrance is about 0.5 mile west of Graniteville on Highway 21.
Elephant Rocks State Park is within miles of the popular Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park and Taum Sauk Mountain State Park (Missouri’s highest point).
Elephant Rocks State Park Address: 7406 Hwy 21, Belleview, MO 63623
St. Louis to Elephant Rocks is 1.5 hours (86 miles) and a fun and easy day trip to Southeast Missouri to see these magnificent giant red boulders!
The park is managed by Battle of Pilot Knob State Historic Site.
Best Lodging Near Elephant Rocks
Shepherd Mountain Inn & Suites in my recommendation for lodging in Arcadia Valley. The Inn is located in the mountain town of Ironton and just 15 minutes from the state park.
The Shepherd Mountain Inn is a motel-style hotel, within walking distance to several restaurants including the on-site Baylee Jo’s BBQ Seafood & Grill, a grocery store, hiking trails, and the Shepherd Mountain Bike Park.