Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is a Missouri natural and historic treasure. There are hundreds of small swimming holes and natural waterslides with deep, clear water and one of the most beautiful hiking trails in Missouri.
The Missouri state park is nestled along the East Fork Black River in the Francois Mountains region of the Missouri Ozarks on the southeastern edge of the Mark Twain National Forest.
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We visited in early spring and spent half a day exploring the Missouri State Park.
During our visit, we hiked the Scour Trail, dipped our toes in the river water (it was a bit too cold for a full plunge) and learned about the 1.5 billion years of geologic history at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park.
What to Expect When You Visit Johnson’s Shut-Ins
The water at Johnson’s Shut-Ins is crystal clear, the hike is rugged, but not difficult and the scenery is breathtaking. I completely understand why it’s one of the most popular places to visit in Missouri in summer!
Plan to bring water shoes, swim gear, and a change of clothes (they have changing rooms and bathrooms). You’ll also want to bring plenty of water if you are hiking or spending time on the water.
Park activities include camping, hiking, swimming, and rock climbing.
What is a Shut-In?
The term “shut-in” refers to a place where the river’s width is limited by hard rock that is resistant to erosion. In these shut-ins, the river cascades over and around smoothed and worn igneous rock, creating a naturally narrow canyon with many small, narrow shoots, pools, and natural water slides. An actual natural water park for visitors when water levels are at safe levels.
There are many shut-ins in the St. Francois Mountains, but Johnson’s Shut-ins is extra narrow and extra rocky. The Johnson’s Shut-Ins forge is more rock than river compared to other shut-ins. It is also considered one of the best places in the Taum Sauk Caldera to see exposures of volcanic rocks.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park Location
Johnson’s Shut-Ins are located on the East Fork of the Black River in Reynolds County in southeastern Missouri.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins are located 10 miles north of Lesterville and 18 miles southwest of Ironton. From St. Louis, it’s 1 hr 45 minutes (98.6 miles) via US-67 N and I-55 N.
The park entrance is located off State Hwy N.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is a total of 8,781 acres and is a jewel in the Missouri State Park system; a place with something for everyone: pretty picnic areas, Ozark landscapes, natural places to swim, and great campsites.
There park is free to visit and there is lots of parking.
A great place to begin your experience at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is the visitor center. It highlights the geological wonders of the park and the history of the area.
At the center you can learn about the catastrophic flood in 2005, when the Taum Sauk reservoir broke through its walls, sending billions of gallons of water rushing down the valley and through the shut-ins. Luckily, no one was seriously injured, and the park reopened for full use in 2010.
You can also watch some interesting videos on “A Billion and a Half Years in a Nutshell,” “Rebuilding Johnson’s Shut-Ins,” and check out many interactive exhibits.
Johnson’s Shut Ins Observation Deck
After the visitors center, head to the path that will take you to a quarter-mile wooden walkway that will take you to an observation deck overlooking the shut-ins. In the warm months, lots of people are in the water and on the rocks below.
It’s a gorgeous view and looks refreshing and fun to get into the clear water. We hope to head back in early fall to have the full swimming experience!
The wooden walkway ends at a set of stairs that leads to a well-marked rugged trail (with blue squares) where you will traverse rocks, roots, and a dirt trail. Hiking boots are a better option than tennis shoes for the dirt trail portion of the hike.
Swim at Johnson’s Shut-Ins
The real draw is at Johnsons Shut-Ins, at least in summer, are the numerous swimming, wading areas, and natural waterslides.
From the observation deck, there are several sets of stairs with easy access down to the river.
The upper part of the water area includes shoots, or shut-ins that are natural rock waterslides. These are rock formations that you must navigate. The water can be fast, the rocks can be slippery from moss, and all of that can be dangerous.
After the shut-ins portion, there is a deeper section of water for swimming
If you hike the Scour Trail, there will be numerous places to access the river and additional swimming holes. You do not have to climb the rocky areas to get in the water from many sections of the Scour Trail.
If you plan to spend most of your time in the river, wearing a good pair of water shoes is a must.
There are hundreds of small swimming holes; some areas are full of rushing water like a waterfall and others are quiet and calm pools of deep, clear water. The rocks provide great jumping or diving opportunities, and they also make for some excellent natural water slides.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins Hikes
How often can you hike a trail that showcases 1.5 billion years of geologic history?
Park trails include a ten-mile (16 km) Goggins Mountain Equestrian Trail loop, the 2-mile Scour Trail loop and a section of the Ozark trail,
The Scour Trail
During our visit, we hiked the Scour Trail.
It is a moderate to easy 2-mile loop in the St. Francois Mountain forest with some rugged terrain, but gorgeous scenery.
Since it’s a loop you can do the trail in either direction. The main direction takes you through the forest, down to the water, then inland and then back to the parking area.
If you walk the 2-mile loop counter-clockwise, you’ll end at the shut-ins. To walk it this direction, look for a sign before you get to the observation deck and the view of the shut-ins.
The entire trail is well marked with blue squares.
The estimated average hike time on the sign at the park said 1hour and 40 minutes. I have seen many reviews that say a more accurate hike time is one hour. I can’t give you our timeframe, because we stopped many times to head down to the water and for photos.
The shutins are gorgeous and if you are anything like me, you’ll want take lots of pictures.
We headed off trail several times to check out the views. There were many little sandy areas that lead to the river. Some had families with kids playing in the water.
Other areas were quiet and deserted (but keep in mind, we were there in early Spring). I imagine as the weather gets hotter, it’s more and more crowded.
As we made our way further downriver, there were some fun places to do a bit of rock climbing.
At the end of the hiking trail near the water, we came to this beautiful pool of water. The water was amazingly clear and beautiful.
Once we headed inland, we saw the Ozark Trail sign heading to Bell Mountain. This is part of the 230 miles of connected Missouri thru-trail from Onondaga Cave State Park in Crawford County, MO to Arkansas. The entire OT is about 400 miles long.
The Shut-Ins Trail has boulders to navigate, rocky crags that require close attention, and a few steep sections of ascent/descent.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins natural area does a great job preserving the natural beauty and Missouri’s geological history.
Taum Sauk State Park to Johnson Shut-ins State Park Hike
If you are looking for something more adventurous on, the Ozark Trail, you can hike from Taum Sauk State Park to Johnson Shut-ins State Park (to the Scour Trail).
It’s 23 miles one direction to the Scour with all the switchbacks. This is a two to three-day hike, which needs to be well planned with plenty of water and supplies.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park History
1800’s: The Johnston family was among the early Scots-Irish settlers in this area that came west from the Appalachia countryside in search of better land. In Missouri, they found beautiful valleys, uncut forests and plenty of room for homesteading.
By 1829, they had established a farm. Three generations of Johnston (the “t” was later dropped) families once worked this land and 36 members of the family are buried in the small cemetery in the park.
By 1900, many of the families that started the community moved away.
1900’s: St. Louis resident Joseph Desloge bought much of the land, donating it for a state park in 1955.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins became a Missouri state park in 1955.
2000’s: In 2005, the nearby Taum Sauk Reservoir, a hydroelectric power station, breached, sent 1.3 billion gallons of water down Proffit Mountain. The water, carrying tons of trees, debris and boulders, scoured the mountainside and destroyed or extensively damaged much of Johnson Shut-ins State Park, including the campground.
The park was partially reopened in the summer of 2006 for limited day use, in 2009, the river and shut-ins were reopened for water recreation. The park reopened for full use in 2010.
While another flood is unlikely, do mind the signs and keep your ears open. There is a new alert system that will sound an alarm in the event of another flood. If you do hear something unusual, head to higher ground immediately.
Day-Use Area of the Park & Picnic Sites
Day-use area of the park includes 15 picnic tables in two picnic areas, along 14 with covered picnic shelters in the picnic areas and in the campground. All are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins Cabins & House Rentals
Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park offers six camper cabin rentals in the campground. The log cabins provide accommodations for a max of four adults and a total maximum occupancy of six with children and adults.
The camper cabins have electricity, heating, and air conditioning but do not have running water or a restroom.
There is a restroom and shower house within a short walk of the cabins and is open year-round.
Each cabin has a dining table, ceiling fan, compact refrigerator, and microwave. Exterior amenities include a porch bench, picnic table, pedestal grill, and campfire grill.
To prepare for your experience, bring your camping gear such as lanterns, cooking and eating utensils, and water containers.
The on-season rate is $80 plus tax. The off-season rate is $75 plus tax. There is a three-night minimum stay on holiday weekends and a two-night minimum stay for all other weekends.
There are also 11 VRBO vacation rentals in Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins Camping
Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park offers walk-in, basic, electric, sewer/electric/water and equestrian electric/water campsites. The park also has a special-use camping area near Loop 5. You are now able to reserve a Missouri State Parks campsite up to 12 months in advance.
In addition, if you are an equestrian, there are 10 sites for those with horses close to the Goggins Mountain Equestrian Trail (a 17-mile loop trail in the forest that meanders alongside the Black River).
There are campsites that offer 50-amp electrical service that include electric, electric/water and sewer/electric/water sites for rv camping.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins is Missouri state parks camping at its best!
There is a Campground Store at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park and is located in the campground. It sells basic camping supplies such as groceries and snack items, laundry detergent, apparel, nature guides, ice, and more.
When to Visit Johnson’s Shut-Ins
To avoid the crowds, go in the shoulder season—early spring or late fall—and try to go during the week if you can. During our visit in early Spring, we only ran into a handful of people hiking the Scour Trail aind had many areas of the river and swimming pools to ourselves.
- Park activities include camping, hiking, swimming, and rock climbing.
- Pets are allowed in most outdoor areas of the park, but they are not allowed on the trail to the shut-ins.
- March 1 through the Wednesday before Memorial Day 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., daily
- Thursday before Memorial Day through Labor Day 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., daily
- Day after Labor Day through Oct. 31 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., daily November through February 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., daily
Johnson’s Shut Ins Address: 148 Taum Sauk Trail Middle Brook, MO 63656, United States
We absolutely loved our short time at Johnson’s Shut-Ins and can’t wait to go back to hike, swim, picnic, and spend more time exploring!
If you do visit Johnson’s Shut-Ins, plan to stop at Elephant Rocks State Park as well. It’s about 20 minutes and well worth a visit.
Another option when visiting or Southeast Missouri is to visit Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, which is about 30 minutes from Johnson’s Shut-Ins.