Are you ready to explore the natural wonders of Missouri? Look no further than Missouri state parks! You may be surprised to know that Missouri has some of the most epic state parks in the U.S. From beautiful waterfall playgrounds to castles to majestic caverns, Missouri state parks offer visitors a chance to connect with nature and experience outdoor activities and stunning scenery. With so many Missouri state parks to choose from, narrowing down the options can be overwhelming! That’s why I’ve put together this guide to the most epic state parks in Missouri!
Explore a landscape of giant boulders: Elephant Rocks State Park
Elephant Rocks State Park is one of our family’s favorite Missouri State Parks. We go at least once every year, and have explored it in every season!
Elephant Rocks State Park is located in the St. Francois Mountains of Iron County, Missouri. It features an epic landscape of giant granite boulders.
Our favorite way to spend the day at Elephant Rocks State Park is to bring a picnic lunch and eat it at the picnic tables near the parking area. Then we pack it away in the car and go climbing all over and around the rocks!
There are some dangerous areas and drop-offs in this park, so keep the little ones within arms reach always!
Climb and explore around boulders, squeeze through tight passageways, and try not to get lost in the maze of rocks! If that’s too much for you, there is a paved (and wheelchair-accessible) trail weaving through the boulders as well. Make sure you visit the awesome ruins of the old engine house as well!
Elephant Rocks State Park has restrooms and vending machines, as well as several picnic tables all near the parking lot. For the little kids, there’s a playground near the main trailhead as well!
Discover a castle at Ha Ha Tonka State Park
Ha Ha Tonka is on our list of the best Missouri state parks because there are not many places where you can explore around a castle in the U.S. for free!
Ha Ha Tonka State Park encompasses 3700 acres along the Lake of the Ozarks near Camdenton, Missouri.
The castle is awesome, but there is so much more to see and do here as well! The park also features a natural bridge, caves, sinkholes, and a spring!
The park has many trails and boardwalks, making it easy to explore everything it has to offer. There are also overlooks with beautiful views of the Lake of the Ozarks. It’s a beautiful way to spend a nice day!
Watch the wild horses at Echo Bluff State Park
Echo Bluff State Park is a gorgeous state park in the Missouri Ozarks. They have a beautiful lodge sitting alongside Sinking Creek. Aside from guest rooms and suites, the lodge features a restaurant and mercantile with supplies and gifts.
Echo Bluff State Park also has cabins for rent as well as a campground with 60 full hook-up sites.
One of the coolest things about Echo Bluff State Park is the chance to see the wild horses. They are the descendants of abandoned farm horses and they roam freely around the park.
This awesome Missouri State Park also offers swimming, floating, fishing, hiking, biking, and a playground!
The fall season is our favorite time in this Missouri state park. It’s absolutely beautiful!
Journey underground at Onondaga Cave State Park
Experience a world of underground wonder at Onondaga Cave State Park in Leasburg, Missouri.
You can take a guided tour of this amazing cave on lighted, paved pathways. In my opinion, what makes this cave so stunning (aside from the huge cave formations) is the river running through it. Aside from the regular tour of Onondaga Cave, they also offer a lantern tour of Cathedral Cave (which also involves a small amount of hiking.) More info on both tours can be found here.
Although admission to the park itself as well as the visitor center are free, the cave tours do have a fee. The tours run April through October and the caves are 57 degrees year-round – so bring a jacket!
Things to do above ground at Onondaga Cave State Park include camping, hiking, fishing, boating, and biking. Swimming is allowed (at your own risk) in the Meramec River but beware of the currents.
Onondaga Cave is designated as a National Natural Landmark and is included in the best Missouri state parks because it’s one of the most spectacular caves, not only in Missouri (the “cave state”) but in the entire United States!
Play in a natural waterpark at Johnson Shut-Ins State Park
Hands down, one of the best state parks in Missouri is Johnson Shut-Ins State Park. The park encompasses over 8700 acres in Reynolds County, Missouri. At the shut-ins, the East Fork Black River flows through smooth rocks creating waterfalls, gorges, and potholes.
It’s one of the coolest places in all of Missouri. The main activity to do at this park is to enjoy the water. In our opinion, summer is the best time to visit this park. There are also hiking trails, picnic areas, and a campground.
I will note that this is a tough place to be with young kids if you are planning on climbing around. However, there is a shallow swimming area at the top of the shut-ins and a deeper swimming hole at the bottom of the shut-ins.
A few tips for visiting:
- Bring a picnic lunch and eat it at the picnic tables near the parking area. No food or disposable drink containers are allowed near the water.
- Wear water shoes!
- Make sure the kids have life jackets.
Camp in the St. Francois mountains & float down the river: Sam A Baker State Park
Sam A Baker State Park is located in the St. Francois Mountains of the Missouri Ozarks in Patterson, Missouri.
This Missouri state park is one of our family’s favorite places to camp. We love that the campground has so many tall trees, easy water access, and that the campground loops are great for bike riding!
There are actually 3 campgrounds at Sam A Baker State Park. Two regular campgrounds with RV and tent sites, and an equestrian campground. Our favorite is Campground 1 because the spots are a lot more spacious. There are also cabins available for rent, but book them early because they fill up fast!
Other things to do include hiking, swimming, fishing, kayaking, or visiting the park’s nature center. The nature center is open April through October and has many hands-on exhibits as well as wildlife.
Table Rock State Park: Go boating on this beautiful Branson lake
The last park on our list of the best Missouri state parks is Table Rock State Park. Table Rock Lake is a beautiful place to spend the day boating!
It’s located near Branson, Missouri, which is a huge tourist destination, so it’s a perfect base camp for a Branson family vacation!
You can rent boats, kayaks, jet skis, and paddle boards at State Park Marina.
If boating isn’t your thing, there are paved biking trails as well as mountain bike trails. There are a few hiking trails as well.
There isn’t a designated swimming area in the park, but swimming is allowed in certain areas (at your own risk.)
As for camping, there is a campground with basic and full hook-up sites, as well as a yurt you can reserve if you’re more of a glamper!
With 93 parks in the Missouri state park system, it can be difficult to narrow it down to what really is a can’t-miss destination! I hope you found a Missouri state park to add to your own bucket list!
Get out there and create some new adventures!
Other related articles:
- Elephant Rocks State Park in Missouri
- Things to do in Southeast Missouri for Families
- 9 Motivating Reasons to Take Your Kids Hiking
- Essential Road Trip Tips for Families to Stay Entertained and Sane
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