Missouri is known for having an abundance of beautiful natural springs. One of these springs can be viewed 90 minutes west of St. Louis at Maramec Spring Park. An area of stunning beauty, the park contains the fifth largest spring in the state. An average of 100 million gallons of water flows from the spring daily into a pool of deep blue water.
After being told of the spring and iron deposits in the area by local Native Americans, Thomas James first arrived to this area in the 1820s. He established the Maramec Iron Works at the site. Powered by the rushing spring water, the iron works mine and furnaces operated until 1876. After Thomas’s death, his granddaughter Lucy acquired the property. She established the James Foundation to maintain the property after her death. Her hope was that the land remain privately owned yet open to the enjoyment of the people.
The Maramec Spring name can be confusing as it is spelled with an “a” while the Meramec River as well as nearby Meramec State Park are both spelled with an “e”. The original U.S. Government land survey and Civil War maps spelled Maramec with an “a,” so Lucy James specified the spring and park were to keep the historical spelling. Meremac State Park is run by the state parks department while Maramec Spring Park remains privately owned by the James Foundation.
The park features both paved and unpaved trails, a historic drive, two museums, a cafe, a campground, and a trout hatchery. This park is very popular for fishing and photography.
The spring is the main attraction. Photos do not do the color of the water justice as it bubbles up from 350 feet below the ground. A paved, ADA accessible trail loops around the spring. A small kiosk at the start of the trail near the parking lot contains maps for a self guided tour.
Bring quarters for feeding the fish at one of the many fish food dispensers. They are eager to be fed and can be easily seen in the clear waters. The path passes the hatchery where you can see the trout in various stages of growth.
Other interesting structures can be found around the spring. A powerhouse built in the 1920s was used to power a dairy farm that once operated here before rural electricity arrived.
The remains of an old dam that once powered a grist mill are located at the edge of the spring pool.
A waterfall flows over another spillway. A bridge and path leads over the waterfall to a closer look at the dam remains.
You can cross the park road under a tunnel to see the remains of the iron works. Many artifacts remain here with information signs.
The furnace is the big attraction here. It is registered as a National Historic Landmark.
Just above the iron works site is a playground, picnic area, and restrooms.
If you want to continue your walk, a paved pathway leads down each side of the spring branch to a suspension bridge just before the branch enters the Meramac River. This stretch is often crowded with people fishing.
Two museums are located just up the road. One features displays on both nature and the history of the area. The other focuses on agricultural history. Despite having visited the park three different times, we always seem to be here when the museums are closed. Hopefully, next time we can see inside as they look large and interesting.
If you want to explore more history of the area, take the historic drive by following the signs. The Stringtown Road route follows one of the oldest roads in the area. The road is unpaved but well graded. It has some steep grades that could be slick when wet.
The road splits and a short spur leads to two scenic overlooks with a great view of the river and the valley below.
Continuing along the historic road, you will pass a cemetery for those that once lived and worked at the mine and iron works. The road goes down and up a steep hill before passing an overlook of the mine site. Just down the hill is a new 1.6 mile loop hiking trail that leads to a closer look of the mine. Further along the road are the remains and sites of several cabins. These cabins housed workers and their families.
In case you need a bite to eat, the cafe is located near the park entrance. This park is a perfect way to spend a day or a weekend. Enjoy exploring this scenic gem.
Things to know:
- The park is located at 21880 Maramec Spring Dr, St James, MO 65559
- The park is open year round. Hours vary by month, check the park’s website for more information and a map.
- Admission is $5 per vehicle
- Masks are required inside any buildings