Sam A. Baker is a gem of a state park in Missouri. This state park is one of the oldest in Missouri and offers a great mix of lodging, hiking, and water recreation. The Civilian Conservation Corps left its mark on the park in the 1930s and it is evident in the beautiful stone structures found throughout the park.
Things to Do at Sam A. Baker State Park
The Visitors Center is a great spot to start when exploring the park. The center is housed in a unique CCC building that was originally constructed as a stable. It’s really cool to see!
You can enjoy a variety of “hands-on” exhibits that feature park wildlife, history, and geography. There are live snakes and an aquarium that kids will love. The hours vary by season, but during summer the center is open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Camping and Cabins
The park features two campgrounds and an equestrian campground with basic, electric, and family sites. There are also nineteen rustic stone and wooden cabins available for rentals. I’m really hoping we can rent one someday to explore even more!
The park features several miles of hiking trails. We hiked one trail loop with further details of the hike discussed further down this post.
There is a 1.5 mile paved bicycle trail that connects from campground #1 to the park store. This offers a safe passage to avoid the traffic of the highway.
Whether you are into fishing, floating, or swimming, there are spots for all of these activities at Sam A. Baker in the St. Francis River and Big Creek. Swimming and boating are at your own risk with the day use area open 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. The Mudlick store rents out canoes, kayaks, and rafts.
Eat at the Restaurant or Shop at the Store
The Mudlick Mountain Grill offers a casual menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We enjoyed lunch here after hiking. They even had toys for kids to play with while waiting for your food!
Next door to the grill is the Mudlick Store. The store sells souvenirs, grocery items, and all kinds of gear for camping or having fun outdoors.
There is a nice playground next to the grill and store. Our kids always love a post hike playground visit.
Sam A. Baker State Park Hiking Trails
We only had time to hike one trail at Sam A. Baker. We chose to make a loop by taking a portion of the Mudlick Trail up and the Shut-ins Trail down. If you want to make a loop, I recommend this route of taking Mudlick up and the Shut-ins trail down. This avoids a steep and rough climb up the shut-ins trail as the Mudlick path is a more gradual climb. You can also just do an out and back on the shut-ins trail to the creek if you want an easier hike.
Mudlick and Shut-Ins Trail Loop
- Distance: 2.5 mile loop
- Difficulty: 4/5. Involves a hill climb up Mudlick Mountain and rugged trail back down
- Scenic Value: 4/5. Nice overlook view from shelter and seasonal waterfalls on the shut-ins section
Reaching the Trailhead
You can start at either the Mudlick or the Shut-ins Trailhead. Both start in the parking area near the lodge and store and join up with each other after a short distance. We started at the Shut-ins Trailhead.
The trail starts be heading downhill and a set of steps toward the river and under the highway bridge. You may see people on the other side of the river enjoying the water.
The shut-ins and Mudlick Trail stay together a short distance before the Mudlick trail splits left, following the orange trail markers.
The trail travels with the woods and gradually climbs uphill. In some areas the trail can be fairly narrow.
The orange Mudlick trail will have another junction. Keep right to keep heading north. This is the shorter route. Left makes a long and difficult loop around and up Mudlick Mountain.
Eventually the trail reaches a CCC era stone shelter. There is a bit of an overlook view of river at this point. The view is probably much better in fall or winter as trees obscure part of the view.
Hiking Down the Shut-ins Trail
Just past the shelter look for a trail marker with a blue arrow. This is the shut-ins trail to take downhill to complete the loop. (Make sure to take the blue arrow trail and not the orange one!)
This trail is rugged and can be overgrown. Keep an eye out for the blue markers as you make your way down the switchbacks. There is a pretty view of a boulder filled ravine, but be sure to keep your eyes on the trail to avoid tripping over rocks and roots.
During wet weather times, these boulders contain little cascades and waterfalls.
At the bottom of the ravine, follow a well worth path to the left a short distance and you will see a great and shallow swimming area. This is a great reward and perfect spot to cool off after the tough hill descent.
After enjoying the clear creek, continue to follow the flat and wide path back towards the parking area. This trail is usually fairly busy with people making the trek to the creek. Many even have chairs and coolers they are dragging along.
While hiking back, keep an eye out for a side trail to your right. This leads to some scenic and giant rocks and wet-weather waterfalls. It was too dry for any falls when we visited, but it is still a beautiful spot.
The trail then approaches the creek, climbs up the steps, and passes under the bridge to return to the parking area.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The park grounds are open daily 7 a.m.- 10 p.m., year round.
- Cell service can be limited in the park. Print or save digital maps before arriving.
- Use caution when swimming or wading in water. Supervise kids at all times.
- Always remember to pack out what you bring in.
More to See
Lon Sanders Canyon Recreation Area is a beautiful and short hike nearby that features the ruins of a planned resort and scenic shut-ins. Another interesting spot nearby is Old Greenville Recreation Area. This site is the ghost town remains of a town that was moved during construction of nearby Lake Wappapello.