I’m all too aware of the fact that it’s been too long since I’ve hiked. Surprisingly enough, senior years of college are full of weddings and obnoxious amounts of homework. I’ve also had a little bit of a set-back with an old ankle injury making an appearance during the last couple of hikes I’ve been on. But I have a new ankle brace and the only thing stopping me from hiking from now until winter is myself! It’s time to buckle down and enjoy the crap out of nature!
Taum Sauk Mountain has been on my list for a while now, as it’s home to the highest point in Missouri as well as the tallest waterfall in Missouri. This hike was also a bit of a “test run” for my new ankle brace. It’s a difficult trail, but it’s only three miles long. I’m happy to say that the brace worked out quite nicely! I even rolled my ankle on a rock and was okay for the remaining two miles or so. We had planned to go to Hughes Mountain afterwards to do a 1.7 mile hike and see Devil’s Honeycomb (which has been on my list for a long time now, polygonal columns or bust!), but we wound up having a rather nice time eating sushi with friends instead. Next time!
Overall? This was a wonderful hike. I didn’t think that Hawn State could be topped, but Missouri continues to surprise me every time I go hiking. My boyfriend, a native of Illinois, has termed Missouri a “little Colorado.” I can’t say I’ve been to Colorado, but I can definitely argue that Missouri does not suck as much as people claim it does. It’s a beautiful state full of a wide variety of terrain. On this trip alone, we saw a waterfall, beautiful rocky glades bursting in color from the turning leaves and wildflowers, trees of all shapes and sizes, and rhyolite.
Oh, the rhyolite. Nothing brings out the sliver of science in me like igneous rocks.
For those of you wondering why I’m nerding out over some rocks, you’re just going to have to trust me that it’s really cool. It’s exposed, it was all over the place, some of it was pink, some of it was purple, and I wanted ALL of it. I thought this was going to be a lovely stroll halfway down and back up a mountain, but it was so much better.
I digress, I completely skipped the highest point in Missouri.
It was pretty neat. It’s not crazy high (1,772 feet above see level) but there was a nice paved pathway to this point to make it accessible for everyone and a neat rock to stand on top of to really be able to say you’re at the top. I’m ready to go stand on some more states’ highest points now!
After taking pictures on the tallest point, we headed to the Mina Sauk Falls Trail head, which is where the trail becomes unpaved. Mina Sauk Falls Trail is a loop, and we chose to the take the right side of the loop first. I’m very glad we made this decision, because this side of the loop was a bit brutal. It was very steep and rocky, but the glades and views were so pretty that you’ll stop caring. There are no bluffs to look over, as I’m accustomed to, but this hike is so high up and has so many clearings that you can see out into the distance for miles. This gave view to the beautiful hills characteristic of the Ozarks.
It won’t come as a surprise to many people that I know that I was more interested in the glades than I was with the views. They were gorgeous! Filled with rhyolite and other rocks poking out the ground and carpeted by long green, yellow, and brown grasses, they were a sight to behold. Wildflowers of all kinds lined the trail through glades, despite the cold snap Missouri had gone through recently. In my opinion, we couldn’t have picked a better day to hike. Everything was changing colors, the sun was bright, and the sky was blue as could be.
After hiking through glades, winding our way down steep hills, and rolling my ankle on a loose rock once, we started to hear Mina Sauk Falls. At first, all we heard were dogs barking happily and people talking, but when we listened closely, we could hear the water.
Mina Sauk Falls is not monstrously impressive in the way of water flow–at least, not on this day. There was a bit of flow, since most of Missouri had experienced about a week straight of rain just a few days previously, but it was not hoppin’. If you look up pictures of Mina Sauk Falls on Google, you will find something much more impressive than what I am showing you. However! I thought the rock formations alone were enough to make Mina Sauk Falls pretty darn cool.
Before taking a break for a snack, we decided to explore the top of the Falls. We found ancient rocks, pools of water, and this crazy big spider that didn’t care even a little bit that we were up in its business taking pictures.
After we were happy with our spider-gawking and rock-hopping, we worked our way halfway down the falls to claim a spot while we had a snack and drank more water. Looking down from this point, you can see where the Taum Sauk Section of the Ozark Trail continues onward toward Johnson Shut-Ins State Park (14.5 miles away). We breathed in some fresh air, enjoyed the moment, and people watched.
Boy, did we people watch. I thought we were going to have to rescue some teenage girls from the bottom of the rocks. Guys, I’m super serious, don’t climb on these rocks without wearing the proper shoes. Cowboy boots are not proper shoes for climbing around on large rocks. Thankfully, the girls made to the bottom without getting hurt and, as far as I know, made it back to the top without getting hurt. We just stayed on our rock and offered advice when we thought it was needed!
After our break, we made our way back up. This was the closest I’ve ever come to rock climbing (the boyfriend thinks that he’s going to get me into climbing–I just say, “I’m afraid of heights…we’ll see”), which went a bit clumsily in my chunky hiking boots. But we made it back up without any incident! From here, it was an uphill hike back to the highest point. For a mountain, this uphill hike wasn’t too bad (I’ve definitely taken on worse hills)! The people who were walking up the side that we came down seemed to have a much harder time of it. I would have loved for this hike to have been longer. My hope is that, next time, we’ll be doing some or all of the section of the Ozark Trail (Taum Sauk Section) that continues on to the Shut-Ins.
What have I learned on this hike? Never assume that a trail will be totally covered. This hike was a lot more exposed to the sun than I’m used to, and I was sure that I was going to get sunburned. I’ve also been thinking to myself that I should pack some trail marking tape. This way, we’d be able to explore a little bit more off the trail and if we ran into the same scenario that we did at Hawn State Park (walking down an apparently fake trail and getting totally lost when it ends), I could tie off the fake trail so that no one after us makes the same mistake. My new brace worked out well, so our next hike will be longer.
Summary and Tips for Potential Hikers
Mina Sauk Falls Trail
Blazed in red, 3 miles
Tips: I cannot emphasize the importance of proper shoes enough for this hike. This is an extremely easy trail to slip and injure yourself on. It’s very rocky and has many steep inclines. Bring plenty of water for this trail–it may only be three miles, but it is a mountain (albeit, a Missourian one) and you will definitely want to do some exploring. Parts of this trail can entail water crossings if it has been raining a lot, so take caution. Parts of this trail can be hard to follow when the leaves start falling, so keep your eyes peeled–but remember that help probably isn’t far away if you get lost, it’s a popular trail!
Taum Sauk Section of the Ozark Trail
Blazed in green and white “OT” signs, 35 miles (14.5 between Taum Sauk Mountain State Park and Johnson Shut-Ins State Park)
Tips: I have great hopes that I will one day be able to provide tips for this hike! I would love to do some backpacking on this trail.
Miles hiked this day: 3
Miles hiked of goal: 18.5/60