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Why start a BLOG? And why a blog about CAMPING IN MISSOURI?!?

April 1, 2013
One of my favorite places

One of my favorite places

So first of all, I need an outlet to express myself. I have had too much free time and personal introspection and doubt in the past couple of years to deny that camping and hiking are a big part of who I am. Heading to the woods is a lot of things for me, and ultimately I would prefer to live on some land, surrounded by forest with a creek and a mountain nearby, spending my days being closely connected to the nature there.

That is the dream.

I can’t get there yet.

So I spend every reasonable chance I have to be in the forest, by a fire, on a trail, or in a tent listening to the owls and coyotes off in the distance. I have come to the conclusion that in Missouri, we DO NOT have the majestic beauty and stunning scenery of other parts of the world, but we do have a lot of great places to spend time and really cool stuff to see. And as I tend to be generally confined to the eastern parts of Missouri, I have found that a lot of areas worth experiencing aren’t that far away.

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One of the first places that I ever went to, back when I was a weird little homeschooled adolescent, was Rockwoods Reservation. This is a place out in the Wildwood area, just north of Eureka off of 109. My mother used to take me and my sisters there, for outings with the homeschool group we were a part of, or just as a family to get us out of the house. There are a handful of trails there, with a lot of regional history of human influence to be discovered, and I am now able to share it with my children. The area hasn’t changed all that much in the past 20 years, even with the increase in popularity. Sure, you can’t walk through the giant man made other-worldly cavern any more (which was always a highlight), but they now allow pets in the park.

Another place that I make it a point to visit and play at with the kids at least once a summer is Elephant Rocks State Park, down off of highway 21 in Belleview, MO about an hour and a half south of St. Louis. This park is just about the coolest natural playground for any kid that likes climbing, jumping, crawling, and exploring outside. The first time you pull into the parking lot and see the granite cliffs and boulders on the right hand side, it doesn’t even prepare for the wide eyed excitement that you will experience after you follow the trail into the main area and emerge through the trees to see the immensity of the giant rock hill before you, strewn about with rain and weather carved boulders and pathways. The downfall of this place is that you will be too worn out to explore all of it in a day.

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One of my favorite places in the world is Sam A. Baker State Park, which I have a strong personal connection to, due to a lot of trips down there starting since I was 17. It is in Patterson, MO right at 2 hours south of St. Louis. It is in the St. Francois mountain range, centered mainly on Mudlick Mountain, and wrapped by the Big Creek and the St. Francois river. With 2 campground areas, cabins you can rent, and hiking and backpacking trails with stone shelters you can stay in, it has a lot to offer when it comes to your personal preference for accommodations. They also have a camp store, a lodge with a great restaurant (All you can eat fish buffet on Fridays with FROG LEGS, at least last I knew), a lot of fishing and swimming access, and a visitors center that has all sorts of cool information about the area, including the history involving the Civilian Conservation Corps’ influence back in the 30s. Most of the buildings in this park were built by the CCC. This is by far my favorite park in our State Park system.

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And since I keep bringing it up, I have to say that I am a big fan of our Missouri State Parks. There are great places to camp all over Missouri, private and public, and there are some differences between our State Parks and the more commercial campgrounds all over the place. The State Parks tend to be more strict concerning their rules, but they also seem to be better (in my experience) about handling nuisances that may come up, especially concerning facilities and disruptive behavior. With the private campgrounds you usually tend to get a little more freedom, and amenities like firewood and ice are sometimes included in the price to stay there (which is generally a little more expensive, also in my experience). Depends on what you like. I think my biggest draw to the State Parks is their connection to the role of conservation in our state and our lives. I feel like I am doing my part supporting and enjoying these protected natural areas by visiting them, and see it as an investment so that my kids and grandkids might still have them around when they hit the road to see what’s out there. At this time we have just over 40 parks that you can camp in all over the state, and I have only camped in 16 of them. Being on the eastern edge of the state causes distance to be a considered factor, but one day I will see them all. I love our State Parks.

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We also have a lot of areas, mostly in the southern half of Missouri, protected and available to visit in the Mark Twain National Forest system. Protecting 1 and a half million acres of natural area, they offer a bunch of notable and scenic places to stay and experience. I have only been to a handful, and I see this as an example of how much there is really out there to see.

There is also the Ozark Trail for those who want to backpack across more than 350 miles through some of the prettiest areas of our state. It was conceptualized in the late 70s, and especially in recent years there has been an increased interest and more devoted maintenance, mostly by volunteers . About 15 years ago, my buddy Jeremiah and I hiked about 30 miles of it, and even though we were inexperienced and didn’t have the right gear, it was still a memorable trip. I am going to have to get back to hike some of it soon.

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Then there is the Missouri Department of Conservation, which is a bit less camping/a bit more what you’re gonna do when you’re there. They have invaluable information regarding just about anything you might end up doing out on the woods, and they offer a lot of programs (usually free!) to learn how to do it.

Missouri may not be the state that is featured in all those gorgeous coffee table books with the panoramic pictures of what this planet’s beautiful nature has to offer. We don’t have the majestic peaks and the mile high waterfalls and the tropical forests. But we do however have a lot of natural charm and beauty to discover, and a day or more spent in it will show you just how satisfying and memorable it can be to be a part of it. Or maybe I’m just crazy.

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