The scenic and popular Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is well known as a great spot to cool off on sticky summer day. This park in southeast Missouri features a section of dramatic rock gorges and chutes carved out by the Black River. Visitors climb over and along the rocks looking for the perfect natural water slides and swimming holes.
While the day use area of the shut-ins can be bustling with summer swimmers, few people take the time to explore the several hiking trails that can be found here. The Johnson’s Shut-ins Hiking Trail is perhaps the most scenic as it travels by the shut-ins themselves as well as passing scenic overlooks and trickling waterfalls. This trail is worth a visit any time of year.
Johnson’s Shut-ins Trail
- Length: 2.4 miles. There is a white connector trail to shorten the hike.
- Difficulty: 4/5. Moderate inclines up and down. Very rocky and rugged in some area. Can be muddy and wet.
- Scenic Value: 5/5. Beautiful year round.
Reaching the Trailhead
The Johnson’s Shut-ins trail head is located next to the store at the very end of the park road in the day use area. The path is marked with blue markers. The trail starts as a paved path that leads to the shut-ins overlook. This 0.3 mile paved path and boardwalk allows ADA accessibility or those with strollers to get a look at the geological wonder and beauty of the shut-ins.
Hiking the Shut-ins Trail Loop
The trail can be hiked either direction as it makes a loop. If you are hiking when it’s warm out, you may want to hike counter-clockwise and head right uphill off the paved path where it crosses a little stream to start. This will allow you to end at the shut-ins to cool off. We like to see the shut-ins first so we follow the boardwalk to the end to start the trail from there.
The boardwalk is also the access point for those who want to climb down for a closer look or to splash in the crystal clear and cool water.
On our latest visit, the access gate was closed due to high water levels. There are flags for three water levels: green, yellow, or red. The gates close off access at a red level.
Starting to Climb Above the Shut-ins
After passing the shut-ins the trail climbs up and then down a set of stairs before leading to an overlook of a turquoise blue pool below.
From here the trail becomes much more rugged. The path follows a rocky trail along the top of the bluffs. Use caution with children here.
It may be hard to see the right trail at times. Just keep an eye out for blue arrows and blazes on the trees.
The trail then begins to switchback down the hill towards the river level. The path is less rugged, but narrow. At some point there is a white connector trail to shorten the hike if desired, but we never actually saw it.
Once you reach river level, there are plenty of spots to take a nice break and enjoy the view.
The trail can have some encroaching plants and brush near the river, but widens once it veers away into the trees.
River Overlook and Access
Another overlook and river access point come into view further along the trail. This is a beautiful spot for a snack or water break.
The trail becomes more rocky and rough again past this point. It joins up briefly with the Ozark Trail.
The path parallels a pretty little creek before crossing the creek at a cascading wet-weather waterfall.
After crossing the rocky and somewhat slick creek bed, the trail turns left and climbs alongside this scenic cascade to reach a taller and more beautiful waterfall.
Highest Point of the Hike
Just past the waterfall, the trail offers some nice views of the river below. The view reminds you of how far up you have climbed and how far down you will need to go again.
The path continues on through the woods and along what appear to be an old and rocky road. This stretch can be very muddy and is less scenic as it winds back downhill to the paved path.
The shut-ins day use area is open:
March 1 through the Wed. before Memorial Day: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., daily
Thursday before Memorial Day through Labor Day 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., daily
Day after Labor Day through Oct. 31 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., daily
November through February 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., daily
Additional Things to Know:
- A trail map can be found HERE
- Pets are not allowed on the shut-ins trail.
- No coolers or disposable drinking containers allowed at the shut-ins area.
- Parking at the shut-ins trail is limited to 100 cars and often fills up early on summer weekends. Arrive early or a weekday. There is a gate and they will give you a free parking tag during peak hours.
- Restrooms are located at the visitor’s center and both restrooms and changing rooms are located next to the store at the shut-ins trailhead.
- The Visitor’s Center is open daily 10-5 during summer and weekends in spring and fall. The Center contains interactive exhibits.
- A small nature themed playground is located at the north picnic area.