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
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
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)
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.)