Among Missouri’s 57 state parks, there are so many natural wonders, you can’t go wrong when selecting parks at which to snap photos of landscapes, wildlife or people enjoying outside discoveries. The following list of select Missouri parks outlines a variety of photography adventures designed to yield an overall maze of fun-filled outdoor shots for photo amateurs and professionals, alike.
Bennett Spring State Park
Located in Dallas and Laclede Counties, Bennett Spring State Park was established in 1923 to focus on the spring that flows into the Niangua River and gives the park its name. Visitors can fly fish, camp, canoe or hike around the spring, which averages 100 million gallons of daily flow. This is a good spot to catch people fishing for rainbow or brown trout during the season. There also are photo-ripe items for photographers who like history. In the 1930s, Civilian Conservation Corps workers improved the park by building a dining lodge, cabins, trails, roads, shelters, gauge station and an arched stone bridge across the spring branch. CCC workers also channelized the spring and constructed a dam upstream of the stone bridge to make the channel more habitable to non-native trout. The dam diverts water through a fish hatchery and maintains a constant water level there. The park consists of 3,216 acres, and includes a nature center.
Unique Photo Ops: Powerful waterway, fish, historical stone bridge, dam
Castlewood State Park in western St. Louis County dates back to the early 1900s, when the spot promoted its dance clubs and lively partying atmosphere. Castlewood became a state park in 1974, and currently is best known for its awesome mountain biking trails. Visitors also like to hike or fish there. During warmer months, photographers are attracted to the park’s open meadows filled with wildlife, which includes cricket frogs, wild turkey, white-tailed deer and river birds, such as kingfisher and great blue heron. The last mile of Kiefer Creek meanders toward the Meramec River in the middle of this park, which also provides broad floodplains averaging more than a half-mile wide. Majestic, white limestone bluffs tower above the river, while 250 feet below is River Scene Trail. Inside the park, nature lovers can find a small stand of native bottomland forest, which is becoming more rare to locate to photograph, as well as an upland forest of white oak, northern red oak and shagbark hickory trees.
Unique Photo Ops: Mountain bikers, meadows, wildlife, river, bluffs, bottomland forest
From prairies and forests to sinkhole ponds and woodlands, Cuivre River State Park in Lincoln County often is referred to as “a bit of the Ozarks outside of the Ozarks.” Because this park sports vibrant colors three seasons out of the year and has renowned trails, it’s considered a nature lover’s paradise. The park’s innate ruggedness includes both hiking and equestrian trails, modern campsites, group camps, picnic areas and a lake.
Unique Photo Ops: Sinkhole ponds, lake, equestrians and horses, seasonal comparisons
Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park in Reynolds County contains wondrous works of nature in the form of huge boulders. This park remains a popular spot for all who enjoy various swimming areas and mountain trails. In fact, one of the trails allows access to 1.4 billion years of geologic history! Becoming a park in 1955, it is named after where rushing waters of the East Fork of the Black River are “shut-in” by hard, volcanic rocks. You can play in the river there or shoot through Mother Nature’s hydraulics in the shut-ins. The park has 17 different natural communities, and supports more than 850 plant species, spanning 40 percent of Missouri’s total plant types.
Unique Photo Ops: Swimming, ancient Missouri geology, boulders, plants, water chutes, waterfalls
Lake of the Ozarks
Covering more than 17,000 square acres, Lake of the Ozarks State Park in Camden and Miller Counties gives photographers the chance to capture everything about the Ozarks, all in one spot! As the largest in the state park system, it reflects rugged areas, cave formations and more than 80 miles of lake frontage. It was turned over to Missouri in 1946. Visitors can take in a lantern-lit tour of Ozark Caverns, water adventure, boating, hiking on 12 trails, biking and abundant wooded acres to leave behind hectic daily life.
Unique Photo Ops: Ozark topography, lantern-lit cavern, hiking trails, yurts, lake frontage, boats
Sam A. Baker
Located in the St. Francois Mountains, Sam A. Baker State Park in Wayne County is named after a former Missouri Governor. It’s known as an ideal spot for camping, canoeing and hiking. The cool waters of the St. Francis River and Big Creek edge the many woods and variety of trails there, which range from easy to challenging. Ancient mountains, towering trees and fresh air are this park’s hallmarks. A separate campground is available for equestrians, and a lodge with authentic “country cookin’” is on-site. As one of the earliest Missouri state parks, it’s existed since 1926 to protect its natural beauty.
Unique Photo Ops: Canoes, camping, trails, creeks, rustic cabins
Taum Sauk Mountain
Shoot photos from the highest point in Missouri at Taum Sauk Mountain State Park in Iron and Reynolds Counties! You’ll literally be 1,772 feet above sea level. Scenery from the 7,500-acre park includes hickory forests, rocky glades and the Ozark Trail. Many hikers say they enjoy the solitary experience found among the park’s series of trails. You also can see the state’s tallest waterfall, Mina Sauk Falls, off of one of the park’s moderately rugged paths. The park is a major part of the 7,028-acre St. Francois Mountains Natural Area.
Unique Photo Ops: Treetops, Ozark Trail, wilderness, volcanic rocks, Missouri’s tallest waterfall, Missouri’s highest point
Roaring River State Park in Barry County contains one of the premier U.S. trout fisheries, set among natural beauty and scenic backdrops. Over thousands of years, the White River cut into the park’s flat plateau, creating steep-walled valleys and exposing an extraordinary variety of rock formations. More than 600 plant species flourish in the area’s geology and rugged landscape, yielding many plants that cannot be found or photographed in any other Missouri region. The 2,400-acre parkland was donated to the state in 1928. After navigating seven, rugged trails, you can understand why this park represents the essence of Ozark folklore, and how this region’s gorges near the river provided excellent hideouts for Civil War bushwhackers.
Unique Photo Ops: Trophy trout/fishing, hills, blue spring water, unusual plants, rocks
A jewel of Onondaga Cave State Park in Crawford County is Onondaga Cave, as one of the U.S. National Natural Landmarks, complete with guided tours, stalagmites, stalactites, “soda straws,” cave coral and still-active flowstones. This cave became a popular tourist attraction during the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The park’s visitor center exhibits showcase Missouri as the Cave State. During summers, nature programs are presented for park visitors, including tours of the other spectacular site there, Cathedral Cave. The park also features the 317-acre Vilander Bluff Natural Area, which provides a panoramic photographic view of the Meramec River. Visitors also like to canoe, fish and swim in this park’s peaceful surroundings.
Unique Photo Ops: Caverns, bluffs, speleothems, stalagmites, stalactites
Waters at Montauk State Park in Dent County are stocked each night from an on-site trout and fish hatchery. You also can hike trails there, or enjoy a tour of Montauk Mill, which was built in 1896. Since its acquisition by state officials in 1926, Montauk State Park has been one of the most popular Missouri vacation spots. Several species of native Missouri wildflowers can be photographed around the springs that converge at this park. Interpretive programs presented by the park naturalists explain this area’s unique appeal.
Unique Photo Ops: Gristmill, fish, trout, hiking, scenery, wildflowers, clear water