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SAM A. BAKER STATE PARK
 

Copyright 1991, by Bob Soetebier



     One of our favorite Missouri State Parks (my wife, Dawn, and I

have been to all of them; including all of the MO DNR State Historic

Sites, too!) is Sam A. Baker State Park.  Back in the 1970's, my wife

and I hiked a 5-mile portion of the Mudlick Mtn. trail at Sam A. Baker

S.P.

 

     Mudlick Mtn. is part of Missouri's St. Francis Mountains chain,

one of the oldest mountain regions of North America.  The St. Francis

Mountains are of volcanic origin and contain some of the oldest and

hardest rock on the North American continent.

 

     We climbed the registered National Historic Site/C.C.C. [Civilian

Conservation Corp: 1930's]-built fire tower atop the 1300-foot Mudlick

Mountain for a fabulous view from near the top of the 85-foot tall

tower.  Since that time (and many other fire tower forays on our own

elsewhere in Missouri), the State has closed down public access

(threat of liability lawsuits!) to almost all fire towers.

 

     There is still an option open though.  I called the MO DNR

toll-free 1-800-334-6946 number and asked them to connect me to the

state park naturalist at Sam A. Baker.  I spoke to the head naturalist

there, Wanda Doolen, and asked her if they were planning any Mudlick

Mtn. fire tower hikes.  She said that they hadn't done one in a long

while, but that I gave her the idea/inspiration to do one again.  She

made arrangements to do one in September on Labor Day weekend, and we

got to go!

 

     We walked straight up the two-mile fire tower road, stopping to

look at all sorts of flora and fauna (saw lizards, frogs, snakes,

deer, and buzzards and hawks flying all around the fire tower "up

close and personal," since the buzzards use the fire tower for an

occasional roost!) --- We were able to see for many miles in a

360-degree view:  As far south as well into Arkansas, and all the way

to the Taum Sauk/Proffit Mtn. U.E. "cutoff"-top mtn. reservoir above

Johnson's Shut-Ins!

 

     Normally, they only schedule such Mudlick Mtn. fire tower hikes

(infrequently; maybe once a season) from Memorial Day to Labor Day,

but if you can get together a guaranteed group of at least 10-12

people (15-plus) would be better, Wanda said she would be willing to

do a special fall-color fire tower hike for such a group.

 

     If you can, be sure to allow extra time for camping (or

pre-reserved air-conditioned efficiency cabins), swimming, canoeing

and/or hiking at Sam A. Baker S.P.  Also, definitely plan on a visit

to the park's Nature Center Museum.

 

     The Nature Center is open daily 8am-5pm, 7 days/week and is

attached to the park ranger's office at the entrance to Campground #2.

It provides some very interesting displays, including a 3-D

topographic layout map of the entire park region, historic homestead

and regional history, and flora and fauna and geologic information.

There usually is a park naturalist or assistant on duty to answer

questions and/or give (scheduled and unscheduled/impromtu)

demonstrations.

 

     Immediately to the left and just behind the ranger's

office/Nature Center you can follow the paved road for another 50 yds

right to the gravel beach for some great swimming in the clear waters

of Big Creek.  Access to Big Creek for swimming is also possible from

many areas in both of the park's campgrounds, too.  (Be sure to bring

along your air mattresses for some leisurely floating, too!)

 

     About 100 yds. north of the ranger's office/Nature Center and

Campground #2 along Hwy. 143 in the park, just before the Big Creek

bridge, you'll find both the park General Store and the park Dining

Lodge.  Both are open 8am-8pm, 7 days/week Memorial Day to Labor Day;

Fri.-Sun. in April and October.  You can arrange for canoe trips on

Big Creek/St. Francis River at the General Store.

 

     I highly recommend that you eat at least one "home-style-cooking"

meal at the park's Dining Lodge while at Sam A. Baker S.P.  Especially

recommended are the "all-you-can-eat" very inexpensive

breakfast/lunch/dinner buffet meals on Fri./Sat./Sun.  The

"NO-Smoking" glassed-in terrace atop the bluff overlooking the gravel

bars on Big Creek provide the occasional glimpse of deer browsing

streamside.  You're also just about guaranteed to see more than one

iridescent hummingbird either hovering, feeding or perching just a few

feet from your window-side seat.

 

     Last but not least, don't miss the 3/4-mile, one-way [1-1/2 mile

'round trip] Big Creek Shut-Ins Trail.  It begins from the back

left/north corner of the Dining Lodge.  The trail travels north

alongside Big Creek through some beautiful lowland woods over mostly

level terrain to a gravel beach and a great swimming hole at the base

of a huge bluff.

 

     Atop this bluff is an excellent lookout that provides a panoramic

view of the Big Creek mountain valley.  It is reachable via a short,

but steep, marked side-trip trail, which is just a 100 yds or so

before you reach the bluff shut-ins.

 

     To get to Sam A. Baker S.P. from I-270 in St. Louis County:  Go

south on I-55 for 21 miles to Festus, MO.  Then go south on Hwy. 67

for 82 miles (past Bonne Terre, Flat River, Farmington and

Fredericktown and Cherokee Pass.)

 

     Turn right/west on Hwy. 34 and go 3.8 miles (crossing the St.

Francis River, into which Big Creek flows.)  Turn right/north on Hwy.

143 and go 5 miles to the Dining Lodge, etc. --- (The last two miles

you'll actually be in the park:  In the area of the park entrance on

Hwy. 143, watch for a small pullout on your right.  This is a

trailhead parking area for a portion of the Eastern Loop of the Ozark

Trail which follows the west bank of the St. Francis River.  Just a

little farther along Hwy. 143 you'll see the entrance for Campground

#2, which is about 1-1/2 miles s. of Campground #1, the ranger's

office/Nature Center and the General Store/Dining Lodge and the Big

Creek Hwy. 143 bridge in the park.)

 
[NOTE:  Underlined items in trip account link to additional related info about the points of interest.]