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Sam A. Baker State Park, Patterson, MO 4/12/2013

April 17, 2013

20130413_161559 So if you know me, you know that I have a lot of history with this state park. I have been coming to Sam A. Baker for half my life. I have stayed in both campgrounds. I have slept in the hiking shelters up on the mountain, and once at one of the cabins. I have sat at the top of the stairs of the fire tower on the cap of Mudlick Mountain, bracing against the wind on a night that the trees below me were coming to life in an ancient, violent dance. I have hiked the Mudlick Trail, overnight with a pack on my shoulders. I’ve eaten frog legs in the Lodge’s all you can eat fish buffet. I’ve witnessed a massive tree plunge down the hill along one of its trails, roots finally giving way as it made its last affirming shout at existence, with the air smelling of soil and life. I’ve sprained my ankle, and had to walk out through immense pain, while being soaked to my skin in the cold rain of early spring. I asked the woman in my life to marry me, in front of my family and friends, at our favorite site there.

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I have a connection to this park. And I have an unexplainable rapport with the life force of the mountain that is it’s centerpiece. So bear with me while I attempt to avoid being overly dramatic in convincing you why you should consider it when making plans to camp someplace this year.

Sam A. Baker State Park is named after a former Missouri Governor, who during his single term in office in the mid 1920s, was instrumental in the evolution of our state park system. Sam A. Baker State Park was dedicated in 1927 and is almost 6000 acres of natural area in the St. Francois Mountain Range, situated near the town of Patterson, MO, the former Governor’s hometown.

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In the 1930s, most of the facilities in the park were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the parts of President Franklin Roosevelt’s initiative to get people back to work in America after the great depression. Many of those structures still stand as the majority of buildings in the park, including most of the Cabins, the Lodge, the Hiking Shelters, and the Visitor’s Center (which was originally a barn with a hay loft). When visiting these places, it is with a reverence that we should appreciate their history, and a thankfulness for their durability as they continue to stand as viable and used structures in the park.

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The park has three campgrounds. Campground 1 is on the southern end of the park and is adjacent to the St. Francois River access. It has 119 sites, and is open from May through October.

Campground 2 is closer to the recreational center of the park, has 101 sites, and is open year-round. It is bordered on its east side by the Big Creek. This is where we usually stay, on site 156. It is at the southern end of campsite loop and backs right up against the Big Creek. This is where I asked Melissa to marry me.

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The third area is an Equestrian Campground that has 21 sites and is open from March through November.

The park also has 18 Cabins, most of which were built in the 1930s, but have heating, air-conditioning, kitchens, and full baths…if you prefer to stay in a more civilized fashion.

Of the other buildings in the park, there is a Visitor’s Center which houses a lot of cool information about the park and the nature and history all around it. Behind the Visitor’s Center is the access and recreation area for the Big Creek. This is great area to be spending time in on those blazing hot Missouri summer days, if you aren’t already heading down the St. Francois River on a canoe.

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There is also a Dining Lodge that is a great place to eat if you just don’t feel like cooking your own meal. I could be wrong, but last I knew, they had an all you can eat fish buffet on Friday nights. Deeeelicious!

And there is a park store, where I guarantee you they will have that thing that you forgot, and a lot more. Once I needed oil for my car and they had it. Check out all the cool Sam A. Baker stuff they have for sale, and pick something up to remember your visit (this is where I bought my FAVORITE HAT from!)

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There are a couple trails at Sam A. Baker, the primary one being the Mudlick Trail, which is about 12 miles around the mountain. Most of this trail is for hiking and equestrian use, but the section that follows the Big Creek past the hiking shelters is for hikers only. It is 1.7 miles from the trail head to the first hiking shelter, and it is worth the walk to see the view (AND to see where I have stayed a handful of times AND to see the stupid rock that severely injured my left ankle!).

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The Shut-Ins Trail is the other one in the park that you ought to check out. This one heads straight along the northeastern border of the mountain through the bottoms, parallel with the Big Creek to a beach area. This trail is about 1 and a half miles from point to point, and if you feel up to it you can hike up the mountain to the first hiking shelter, from the point right before it exits the forest out onto the beach at the end.

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This post will never be satisfying for me, no matter how long I go on here relaying information and stories about this place. It has a lot more to explore and see and do that I haven’t even mentioned. And there is personally too much for me there to recount, externally and internally, so I will just say that I love this mountain and I love this park. It is one of my favorite places to spend time, and you should check it out. I hope that you do, and that you get to see why it’s such a great place.

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14 Comments
  1. A very nice post! There are a couple of parks here in Michigan that I feel the same about as you do about this one. I hope to get the chance to visit someday.

    • Thank you! The challenge from here on out is being just as excited and connected to every other place I visit. This is an important one for me, and a place I am more familiar with than most others, obviously.

      Thank you for checking it out!

      • I have found that it pays to be honest about the places I visit. If you love the state and the park system in your state as you do, there will still be some parks that you just don’t like. Tell people that, and the reasons you don’t like one particular park. Try to see the park from some one else’s shoes to point out things that they may like, even though you don’t. For example, I detest the most popular state park in Michigan, because it is always crowded.People respect an honest opinion.

  2. That sounds like great advice. Thank you.

  3. Hi, Gabriel! I’m a scoutmaster from Arnold. Several of our boys really enjoy backpacking, and while we aren’t terribly experienced at it, we have had a few excursions… Thus far, our favorite has been Washington State Park. Some fantastic vistas, great CCC architecture… Sam Baker looks like a great place to take our next backpacking trip. Any words of advice for backpacking there?

    • It has been years since I have backpacked the whole Mudlick trail, but the only thing I would mention is that a year ago when we stayed at the shelters, there were quite a few trees down due to storms across the trail that made it an annoying obstacle course at times. Other than that, it is a great area. Have fun!

  4. Tom B permalink

    3 of house will be backing packing to the first shelter in May for an overnight up there.

  5. Hey! I got a question about this park and figured I would see if you knew 🙂 I am thinking about checking out this park this weekend and was thinking about making the trek passed the shelters to the loop around Mudlick Creek. From the trail description on the website it sounds beautiful. Just wondering if you had been up that way on the trail and if it is worth it 🙂 any other tips? thanks!!

    • Well that sounds like a fun adventure! To be honest, I haven’t hiked that entire trail in almost 20 years…so it has probably changed a bit. Most of my trips to that park since have been spent on short hikes and playing in the waterways. It is one that is on my list to eventually get to again though…so if you go, I look forward to hearing about it! It has been too long! Sorry to not really be any help. I’m sure the people at Visitors Center there would be able to give you some info. Have fun!

      • Thanks!! I appreciate it! I think I am going to do that extra little loop.
        I found a couple pictures and it looks like it might be kinda neat. Thanks again!

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