Hikes,  History,  Kids,  Missouri

Discover Shut-ins and History at Lon Sanders Canyon Conservation Area

Lon Sanders Canyon is a scenic and short hike located off the beaten path near Piedmont, Missouri. If you are looking for a quiet place to explore or a shallow place for kids to splash, the area contains rocky shut-ins along McKenzie Creek. Despite its rugged beauty, this place is relatively unknown compared to more popular parks such as Johnson’s Shut-Ins.


The canyon holds some interesting history. It is rumored that the Jesse James gang hid out in this canyon after the Gads Hill Train Robbery. A section of the canyon was also the site of a quarry which was used to make cobblestones for the streets of St. Louis.

A man named Lon Sanders came to St. Louis in the 1880s where he started a successful engraving business. At some point he decided to built a resort in the canyon. The resort idea failed, but the remains of that interesting venture can still be seen.

Lon Sanders Canyon Trail

  • Length: About a mile out and back total or there is an additional 0.5 mile loop along the hillside.
  • Difficulty: 3/5. Short but rocky and rugged.
  • Scenic Value: 5/5. Beautiful year round.

The trails here form a “Y” with one branch of the Y joining the loop trail. We explored each leg that parallels the creek.

From the parking area, take the trail past the stone pillars and sign. You will soon come to a wooden bridge on the left. Head over the bridge to get to the most dramatic area of the canyon.

The trail passes through the woods before coming to a stone staircase, the remainder of the failed resort project.

After carefully climbing the stairs, the trail passes above the canyon with great views of the shut-ins below. Use caution with kids in this section. There is a cable along the edge, but it’s a long drop down.

Past the overlook, the path heads back down to the water level. Tread carefully on the rocks. Always expect wet rocks to be slick as ice.

This is a beautiful spot. The water level can vary, but generally it is not too deep here and the shut-ins are much more gentle than some other parks.

Looking back upstream you can see the remains of two dams. These were also part of the resort project. Now they create several pretty little waterfalls.

You can explore up and down the creek and shut-ins. When you are finished, head back up the trail and down the stairs to cross the wooden bridge.

Now you will can take the trail off to the left, just past the wooden bridge. This path appears to follow an old road and run parallel to the creek. It can be rough in some spots.

The path is very short and soon leads to the most dramatic dam and waterfall.

I would love to come back again when the flow is higher and spread across more of the dam.

From here you can continue on if you want to take the loop trail. The trail passes the dam and then makes a turn to the right to head up the hill and back to the parking area. I have heard it can be tricky to make the correct turn. You should see another set of stone steps. We did not do this hike due to time and just retraced our steps the short distance back to the parking area.

Additional Things to Know

  • There are no restrooms here but the town of Piedmont has several gas stations and restaurants just a few minutes away.
  • Hours are 4:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. daily
  • Tread carefully and leave no trace!

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