Back in the 1800s the rush was on to discover precious metals. While most people think of Colorado or California as the place to hunt for gold or silver, silver ore could be found even in Missouri. In 1877, the Einstein Mining Company began operations along the scenic St. Francis River. Silver, Tungsten, and Lead were mined here until operations ceased in 1946. The mining operation was not widely successful, but a small company town sprung up for the miners.
The mining company also constructed an elaborate stone dam in 1879. Water flow was diverted to a turbine which powered machinery for hoisting and crushing ore.
Today, visitors to the Silver Mines Recreation Area can discover a beautiful area of Missouri perfect for hiking or camping. A 2 mile trail follows both sides of the rushing St. Francis River. When water levels are low enough, the trail can be hiked as a full loop.
Silver Mines Recreation Area Trail
- Length: 1.2 mile loop trail or 2.4 miles if you have to backtrack on each side. Can continue on north side to picnic area and Millstream Gardens Trail
- Difficulty: 3/5 on north side, 4/5 on south side which is rocky and muddy
- Scenic Value: 5/5 Beautiful year round
There are several parking areas available. While the hiking trails are open year round, the campgrounds are only open March-November. During the off season, only the take-out parking lot on the north side of the river is open.
Starting from the lot you can go either direction. The north side trail starts next to the vault toilet. The trail is rocky in some areas, but not too difficult.
The path passes several large boulders that make a nice vantage point of the river.
Ignore any side trails on the right, they lead to the campground. Just after you pass beyond the dam, look down to the left at a point where there are two flat rectangular rocks. This is the path that leads down to the dam itself.
Other flat rocks here provide a scenic view. When the water is high, you may see some kayakers floating between the break in the dam.
If you do visit when the water levels are very low, you can cross the river at the dam and climb up on to the dam itself to cross to the other side. Do not attempt to cross when the the water is flowing much at all through the dam as it runs very swift and strong. (I have visited 4 times and only been able to cross once.)
If it is not safe to cross, you have two options after climbing back up to the main trail. You can continue along the trail until you reach the Turkey Creek picnic area or all the way to Millstream Gardens. Or you can turn around here to explore the other side.
Returning back to the parking lot and walk across the old highway bridge.
Just past a picnic area, look for a trail sign on your right.
This trail is much more rugged. It can be wet and muddy and is full of rocks.
The trail eventually passes a small overlook of the river.
Soon after, you can start to see the ghost town remains of the former mining town. Building ruins are scattered throughout the woods and rocks.
You will also come across the entrance to the Einstein Mine. On a hot day you can even rest on one of the benches and enjoy the natural air-conditioning coming from the mine.
The trail passes more ruins as it nears the dam.
This section of trail is the trickiest. The rocks are small and loose so use caution. This is also a great spot for hunting if you are a rock hound. (See the forest service policy on rock collecting here.)
You can make your way all the way down to this side of the dam and climb on the dam if you wish. When you are finished exploring, retrace your steps back to the parking area.
Things to Know Before You Go
- A map of the area and trails can be found here.
- Hours for hiking and river access are 6:00 AM – 10:00 PM year round.
- The 66 site campground and picnic areas are open March-October.
- The Missouri Whitewater Championship is normally held the third weekend in March just upstream from here 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.
- Many other stunning hikes can be found a short drive away including Millstream Gardens, Castor River Shut-Ins, Taum Sauk Mountain, Elephant Rocks, and Johnson’s Shut-Ins.
- As always, tread lightly and leave no trace.