You might not expect to find rapids and whitewater conditions in Missouri, but the stretch of St. Francis River through Millstream Gardens Conservation Area features just that. In fact, this section of the river is the home to the Missouri Whitewater Championship each spring. During the third weekend in March, racers and fans alike line the shut-ins’ rocky outcroppings to watch kayakers compete in a number of races.
This rugged area gives visitors a feel of Colorado and rugged parks out west. A variety of hiking trails can be found here including one that is stroller and wheelchair accessible. The trails give outstanding views of the Tiemann shut-ins along this section of the river.
Millstream Gardens Trails
- Length: About 2 miles roundtrip for shorter trails, 4.2 miles roundtrip if hiking all the way to Silver Mines Conservation Area.
- Difficulty: 1 out of 5 on paved trail, 2.5 out of 5 on unpaved trail.
- Scenic Value: 5 out of 5. Beautiful year round
While driving along the access road, you will first come to the first of two forks. If you follow the road to the left with the hiking trail sign, you will come to one of the parking areas. This parking area has a vault toilet (open seasonally) and the trailhead for the paved and accessible trail.
The paved trail is one mile long. There are benches along the way and a couple of boardwalks. The path makes several switchbacks and ends at a beautiful overlook of the scenic shut-ins.
If you want a trail with a closer view of the shut-ins, continue past the turn to the paved hiking trail and take the second fork to the left. (Continuing straight leads to the boat ramp.) Another parking area and seasonal vault toilets are located here along with a picnic pavilion. Don’t miss the very unique twisted tree near the pavilion.
An unofficial trail leads past the tree to the shore of the river. There some nice climbing rocks to explore and enjoy the view.
The official hiking trail starts to the left of the tree. The path is a mix of old asphalt, rock, and dirt. It is fairly wide and easy to follow as it parallels the river. There are several nice spots to watch the water.
The trail continues for about a half mile to where it intersects the end of the paved trail at the Cat’s Paw rapid overlook.
From here, you can can continue on the unpaved trail for more overlooks. The path will eventually pass the Turkey Creek Picnic Area and reach Silver Mines Conservation Area after about 2.5 miles.
If you want a closer view of the shut-ins, you can climb down from the Cat’s Paw platform and do a little rock scrambling. The view from here offers a close up of deep pools and swirling water. The water level can vary dramatically depending on recent rainfall. Swimming is not allowed here.
Millstream Gardens is just one more stunning area in this area of Missouri known for dramatic views, towering bluffs, and rushing rivers. Enjoy exploring but remember to always take out what you bring in and leave no trace.
Things to Know Before You Go
- A map of the area and trails can be found HERE.
- Site hours are 4:00 AM – 10:00 PM year round.
- The Whitewater Championship is normally held the third weekend in March so expect large crowds. You can visit the week or two prior and watch the competitors practice. Kayakers also flock to this area year round if the water is high enough.
- The vault toilet at the boat launch appears to remain open year round while others close seasonally.
- Cell service can be spotty, bring a map.
- Many other stunning hikes can be found a short drive away including Castor River Shut-Ins, Taum Sauk Mountain, Elephant Rocks, and Johnson’s Shut-Ins.