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Take a Hike at Hawn, One of Missouri’s Best State Parks

Missouri has a lot of beautiful state parks, but Hawn is towards the top in scenic value. When I am missing the rushing streams and rugged mountains of hiking destinations out west, this is the spot I like to visit. The towering pine and oak trees combined with the sandy creek bottoms and sandstone rocks make a serene spot to wander. While many parks in the area only have streams or waterfalls during wet weather, the stunning cascades of Pickle Creek flow year round. Overall, the effect will make you feel like you have stepped into a nature painting.

Spring brings higher creek levels, flowering dogwoods, and blossoming azaleas.

Visit the same spot in fall and you can see the colorful leaves in their glory against the rushing waters.

No matter the time of year, all of the trails at Hawn offer a variety of scenery. There are trails in length from 0.7 miles all the way up to the 10 mile backpacker loop. We like to do a loop by combining the 0.7 mile Pickle Creek Trail with a portion of the Whispering Pines trail. This makes for about a 2 mile hike.

Pickle Creek Trail with Whispering Pines

  • Length: About 2 miles, longer if you explore more upstream
  • Difficulty: 3 out of 5, trail is rocky and rugged. Pickle Creek portion is mostly flat. Whispering Pines segment has one moderate uphill climb. Creek crossings may be tricky.
  • Scenic Value: 5 out of 5. This is one of the best in the state.

While I normally try to do the uphill portion of a hike first, this trail is one where I break that rule. I like to start with the highlight of the hike by taking the Pickle Creek portion of the hike first. Since we always start our hikes early in the morning, this means I can view and photograph all the cascades before other people arrive. The kids also have plenty of time to splash and throw rocks in the creek without disturbing others.

The trail starts by passing through a grove of soaring pine trees. Almost immediately the trail draws near to the creek. There are several spots worth stopping to take in the view of the water rushing through the sandstone rocks.

The trail is mostly flat but it is rocky and rugged so step carefully.

The Pickle Creek trail sometimes moves slightly above the creek, but for the most part the creek remains within view.

There are several spots where the creek bank has flat and smooth rocks perfect for water play by both kids and adults alike. The creek bottom is often sandy or smooth rock making for a good wading spot during those hot midwestern summers.

At the 0.7 mile mark, the green marked Pickle Creek Trail ends and an arrow points left across the creek to join the Whispering Pines Trail. However, if you continue a little further along the creek upstream without crossing, there are several more small waterfalls worth viewing and another fun splash spot for kids.

After viewing these falls, you can retrace your steps to the green trail creek crossing spot. While this is the designated creek crossing, I’ve never found this spot to really be the best place to cross. If you back track even a little further, there is a spot where large flat rocks span most of the creek. You can do a little rock hopping or wading, but the water is shallow here and the creek width more narrow as shown in the photo below. Current water levels can determine the best place to cross. If the water is too high or swift, simply make this an out and back hike.

Once on the other side of the creek, climb up the hill along the creek until you join the Whispering Pines trail marked in red blazes. It can be a little confusing but just look up and you should see the path. This is where you will complete the loop by heading left and up away from the creek.

The trail here winds uphill through the forest. After leveling out at the top, there are a couple overlooks of the Pickle Creek valley below. From the last overlook, the trail switchbacks back down the hill towards the creek again.

A couple bridge crossings over the creek and you will be back at the parking area to finish the hike.

Overall Hawn is a park that should on your bucket list if you live in the St. Louis or southeastern Missouri areas. This park is one we enjoy visiting over and over and in all different seasons. Happy Hiking!

***Note: As of this post date, Hawn State Park remains open for day use. Restroom buildings are closed, but portable toilets are available. The campground and playgrounds are closed. Staff at the park will only allow the number of cars in that there are parking spots and the parking lots are not that large. It is best to go early or on a weekday to avoid crowds. We hiked on a Saturday morning and despite quite a few cars in the lots saw no one the first hour and half we were there and then less than a dozen after that. Cars were being turned away at the gate when we left around 10:30. Always check the park’s website before visiting for the latest status.

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