Hikes,  Kids,  Missouri

Exploring Missouri’s Roaring River State Park

While Roaring River State Park may be most well known as a great place for fishing, we discovered that it contains many opportunities for recreation for all. While on the way to visit family, we made an overnight stop to check out the beauty and attractions of this rugged park in far southern Missouri.

History of the Park

The reliable gushing water of Roaring Spring lead to the building of several mills at this site over the years. The name of the spring came from the roar the 20 million daily gallons of water once made when bubbling up from below the rock shelter where the spring surfaces. After a dam was built in 1865, the mill pond covered the spring so that it no longer “roars.”

The early 1900s saw Roaring River as a popular resort area with travelers drawn to its beauty. A St. Louis doctor and soap manufacturer purchased the property around the spring and donated it to the state for a park in 1928. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) arrived at the park in the 1930s and did major work. They built the fish hatchery, picnic shelters, trails, and cabins. Many of these are still in use today.

Activities and Attractions

Roaring River is one of the most well appointed state parks. There are numerous opportunities for recreation from trout fishing to hiking to even swimming in the park’s pool. Kids will enjoy the nature center or feeding the fish at the historic hatchery. Fish feeders are available and there are change machines if you forget your quarters.

We don’t fish, but our kids did love feeding the fish. The hatchery just reopened late last year after a long renovation.

Taking a walk to see the spring is a must do. This easy walk follows a concrete path to the cave opening where Roaring Spring emerges. A waterfall can also be found flowing from the top of the bluff above the cave. This is a beautiful and peaceful spot.

Roaring River has some great opportunities for photography. The river cascades down several small rapids throughout the park.

Two playgrounds are located at the park. Both appear in good condition. A promise of play time at a playground is always a good motivator to get kids hiking! Kids may also love climbing on the giant tree below the dam.

Hiking

The park has seven different hiking trails from a short but steep 0.2 mile climb to a longer 3.75 rugged hike to an old fire tower. We managed to squeeze in three trails in our short visit: Deer Leap, River Trail, and Devil’s Kitchen Trail.

Deer Leap Trail

  • Distance: 0.20 mile each way
  • Difficulty: 3/5. Short but steep
  • Scenic Value: 4/5. Great view from the overlook

The Deer Leap Trail can be accessed from either the parking area by the old CCC lodge or from the walkway near the spring. If starting from the spring, follow the trail up the steps. It is steep and rugged, but it is a short climb.

The trail follows along a wooden boardwalk before emerging to an overlook platform with a great view of the spring pool and hatchery.

The trail then heads back downhill and passes over the top of the dam on the way to the lodge.

River Trail

  • Distance: 0.70 miles each way
  • Difficulty: 2/5. Some mild ascents and rugged surface but fairly flat
  • Scenic Value: 3/5. Nice views of the river and spring wildflowers

The River Trail starts near the CCC lodge and runs along the river to the campground. The trail was built by the CCC in the 1930s. The trail starts out mostly level before beginning to ascend higher up the hillside with views of Roaring River below.

Beautiful wildflowers can be found along this trail in spring.

The path levels out again and passes near some interesting bluffs. The sun was setting so we only went a little further past the bluffs before turning around.

Devil’s Kitchen Trail

  • Distance: 1.5 mile loop
  • Difficulty: 3/5. Moderate climbs, rugged path in areas
  • Scenic Value: 4/5. Several small caves and creeks, interesting rock formations

Devil’s Kitchen is a great trail. It’s not to long but explores some rugged features of the park. The trailhead is located in the picnic area across from the CCC Lodge. An interpretive brochure can be picked up from the park office to correspond with numbered features along the trail.

The path quickly starts to switchback up the hill above the valley. The trail is a loop, we chose to turn right and hike counter-clockiwse. Along the way, the trail passes some interesting rocks and small caves.

Some of the hill climbs will get your heart rate up as you follow the trail up to the ridge.

The path turns and heads downhill before leveling out and passing a small spring.

Soon the best part of the trail comes into view. Huge rocks known as the devil’s kitchen area are located just off the trail. At one time the rocks formed a stone shelter used by Civil War guerrillas and outlaws. Now the shelter is partially collapsed but it still a really neat area to explore.

The trail continues past the rocks towards the road. The path runs parallel to the road and the river as it winds back to the trailhead. Some spring wildflowers can be found along this final stretch.

Lodging and Camping

Roaring River has a range of options for overnight stays. There is a campground with both basic and electric/sewer/water site as well as a showerhouse. A park store is available for any camping needs. The park has several cabin options including some with a river view. There is also the stone and timber Emory Melton Inn and Conference Center which offers motel style rooms plus a full service restaurant.

Our choice for our stay was the the historic CCC Lodge. The lodge was completely renovated a few years ago to add several units on the upper two levels.

We chose the two bedroom unit on the third floor. The unit was spacious and clean. It boasts a wonderful river view from the windows. Other units on the second floor have a shared balcony.

Additional Things to Know

  • The park grounds are open sunrise to 10 p.m.
  • A park map may be printed here.
  • The Nature Center is open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday during spring and fall and open 7 days a week Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
  • Trout fishing is open March 1-October 31. Fishing licenses and tags are available in the park store.
  • The park can be very busy in summer as it is a popular fishing spot. Visit during a weekday or off season if you want a quieter visit. We stayed on a Wednesday and it was very quiet.
  • The lodging website has not been updated, but the cabins, the inn, restaurant, and store are open. Reservations can be made here.

Have you visited this scenic park? If not, plan a visit to see the scenic beauty and rugged trails at this historic park.

Happy Hiking!

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