State Park is touted as the “prettiest” and one of the “most beautiful of all the beautiful Missouri State Parks.” With this as a recommendation from both the centennial passport, and a few friends as well, I decided to make this my first park, in my quest to document trails of the Missouri State Parks system. Although I was photographing with my Bronica GS-1 for this hike, and will continue to document them on black and white film, I did some color photos using my phone camera, and will place some images here and there on each blog post, to help cover some helpful trail info. (I know I’m cheating with my featured image being digital, but I couldn’t find a good landscape orientation!)
From Saint Louis, Hawn takes about an hour and so, but don’t worry when you get off the highway. It’s a bit more of a drive, and signs for the park will be scattered throughout the road, steering you in the right direction. When I first turned into the park, I knew immediately I had made the right decision to hike it. My first stop was the park office, where I was able to get my Missouri State Park centennial passport stamped, and additionally talk to a park ranger about how much time I would need to hike the big trail in the park. I recommend you always check with park rangers if you have questions about big hikes! They know the parks like the back of their hand, and will be more than happy to help you out.
I’ll start off by saying that all the trails range in difficulty from easy-hard sections. If you don’t want to climb over water areas, or work your legs going up steep grades this isn’t the park for you, or you might just want to stick with the Pickle Creek Trail. If you don’t mind sweating profusely, and getting to see awesome vistas as a payoff though, this is the park for you. There were sections of both the North and South loop that I thought were super easy, but Whispering Pines North Loop in particular has some pretty crazy inclines.
If you are interested in camping, there are a few options. There are several camp zones on the trails themselves, but there is also a wonderful campground for RVS and tents, which has showers, and modern bathrooms. I HIGHLY recommend popping in and checking for ticks before you take off for the day. I found two ticks on myself, despite being careful, and it will most likely only get worse as the summer season kicks into play. There are signs all over the park on how to remove ticks, but always make sure you know how to do this before you head out! How to Remove Ticks can be found via this LINK also. I also just picked up a tick remover key from REI the other day. One of those might work for you, if you aren’t interested in using the tweezer method.
So, without further ado..
Before hiking, make sure you sign in. There is a box for rangers to check, and on the trail there are zones will you will get no cell phone reception, so this is a very good precautionary measure. If you are hiking alone, like I did, make sure you tell someone where you are going (I made sure to tell a park ranger too), and they will check to make sure you aren’t stuck if you don’t arrive back on time.
It’s going to be hard not to fall on love after you cross that water section.
There are a lot of nice flat spots to stop throughout the trail, but Whispering Pines will do a good job keeping you on your toes, and will throw in some rocky terrain here and there.
Ok…so this is where I got lost on the South Loop. There was a storm recently, and this tree got knocked down, blocking the blue marker for the South Loop. If you look closely, you can see the blue, but I totally missed it, and saw a path that hikers had made before, so I hiked 10 minutes in the wrong direction. If this happens to you, on this, or any other trail, please turn around. Go back to where you saw a marker last, and then start again. It will prevent you getting stuck!
This final image is from a slight detour I took, after seeing the camping area. I knew I was firstly out of water, and second, I knew I wanted to take an image in this area. It’s cheesy, but it felt like a small little gift from Hawn.
I definitely learned a lot this first hike trip, and have already improved on the next hikes that I took, but the bottom line is that I really cannot recommend this park enough. It’s really beautiful beyond belief!