Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park has over 8,780 acres of wooded and wet natural space to explore and enjoy. In the southeastern part of Missouri, the park is just on the southeastern edge of Mark Twain National Forest, which means the park is full of wild critters as well as 36.8 miles of trails to hike. The story of Johnson’s Shut-Ins started over a billion years ago when igneous rocks, blue-gray rhyolites, and pink granites were formed by volcanic activity. These formations provide the “shut-ins” of the Black River as it flows over the rock and bedrock until it becomes narrow and steep. It was named after the family who settled in the area in the early 1800s.
It doesn’t matter whether you are into fishing, swimming, hiking, RV camping, or just relaxing, you can find it all at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. The park has 79 campsites with plenty of space for your trailer, RV, or campervan. With a variety of campsites from waterside to secluded, pull-through or back-in, full hookups or basic, you will find what you want here. In addition, if you are an equestrian, there are 10 sites for those with horses right by the Goggins Mountain Equestrian Trail, which is a 17-mile loop trail in the forest that meanders alongside the Black River. Whether you are camping or just staying for the day, you will find a bunch of activities to keep you busy.
Whatever direction you are coming from, Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is easy to reach right off highway 44 or 55. About two hours from St. Louis and five hours from Kansas City, the park is located in the southeastern part of Missouri. When you get off highway 21, you are going to encounter some curvy and winding roads that are sometimes steep and often tricky, so be extra careful if you are driving a big motorhome or pulling a trailer. The town just outside of the park, Lesterville, has a general store, gas station, and even a nature museum that you can check out before or after you hit the park.
Inside the park, you should have no trouble getting around in your RV unless you happen to want to go down by Campground Five, where it is a more rugged area. If you are driving a large rig or pulling a big trailer, it is best to park it at the campsite and either walk or bike around the park. The roads are well cared for and fairly new in many places since they were redone after the flood of 2005.
There are 10 campsites with accommodations ranging from 56 to 92 feet in length for even the largest motorhome or trailer. All the campsites have electric and water hookups, picnic tables, fire rings, and they are only about 25 to 200 yards from the shower house and restrooms. There is plenty of room for your horse trailer and your horses as well as some shade in most campsites. In addition, you can find two sheltered picnic areas to enjoy with family and friends as well as a small pond at the western end of the campground. There is an overflow parking area for when you have visitors over and an RV dump site for your convenience. These sites are open year-round, and pets are welcome as long as they are kept on a leash.
Loop 2 has 19 premium Sewer/Electric/Water sites with access for motorhomes and RVs from 50 to 90 feet in length. Most do not have shade but are within 150 feet of the shower. There is also access to another shower house, drinking water, a restroom, laundry facilities, sheltered picnic shelters, and a playground for the kids. Beaver Pond is also right next to the campsite, and there are two ADA-accessible campsites. The campground store is nearby so you can get anything you need from food to beach items. And if you need wood for your campfire, there is a woodlot right next to the campground store. For those who have visitors to their campsites, there are several overflow parking areas as well. These sites are open year-round, and pets are welcome as long as they are kept on a leash.
With 54 to 85-foot driveways, there is room for even the biggest RVs and campers at the Loop 3 Campground. These 21 campsites all have premium electric as well as picnic tables, fire rings, and tent pads. The shower house and restrooms are close by in the middle of the loop, and there are several spots to get drinking water. The amphitheater is within walking distance where they do daily and nightly programs during the summer months. In addition, the campground store is conveniently located nearby as well as laundry facilities, a playground, and picnic shelters. Extra parking is also available for guests. These sites are open year-round, and pets are welcome as long as they are kept on a leash.
Loop 5 campsites have a wooden platform with room for one tent. It is recommended that you use cords or straps to secure your tent to the platform. They each have a parking space big enough for two vehicles in the parking lot, but you have to walk in, and the terrain is rugged and hilly from the parking lot to the campground. These sites do have a picnic table, but it is a bit of a hike to get to the water, shower houses, and restrooms. These sites are open year-round, and pets are welcome as long as they are kept on a leash.
There are 14 basic campsites in Loop 4 Campsite with access for rigs from 53 to 70 feet long. They all have fire rings, picnic tables, and a tent pad and are conveniently located close to a shower house and restroom with running water. If you want to have a family picnic or get-together, there is a sheltered picnic area in the campground loop. These sites don't have electric, water, or sewer, but you have access to drinking water from April through October, and there is frost-free water available November through March by the Loop 3 shower house. These sites are open year-round, and pets are welcome as long as they are kept on a leash.
First come, first served sites are available at the discretion of the campground host or park ranger.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is one of the top five bird watching areas in the state with over 130 species of birds from waterfowl to songbirds to hummingbirds. The best places to spot many different species is on the Scour Trail or the Horseshoe Glade Trail. The off-season is the best time to see the most variety of birds as the park is less populated with people at that time. You can expect to see turkeys, woodpeckers, sparrows, and many more. Pack up the rig and head out to do some bird watching.
You can find the perfect spot to have a family get-together or picnic because Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park has 14 covered picnic shelters with five that you can reserve. These include electric and water access as well as several tables and a BBQ grill. They are close to the restrooms and playgrounds as well. If you don’t need such a big space, the park also has 15 single-table picnic pads in two different picnic areas. No matter what the weather, you can pack everyone up in the rig and head to the park for a picnic.
Don’t spend all your time in your motorhome just because it's cold. Take a hike. The Black River Trail is an easy two-mile hike with explanations of the features in the park and has pavilions to relax in. The easy one-and-a-half-mile Horseshoe Glade Trail meanders through the pines, hickory, and oaks with a great view of the St. Francois Mountains and Black River. The nearly two-mile Scour Trail is an easy walk through the scour channel with an overlook and pavilion. The two-mile Shut-Ins Trail is the main trail, which starts at the park office and takes you along the river to the shut-ins and loops back to the parking lot.
The Black River is a fantastic place to try your luck at catching something to eat for dinner. Whether you like catfish, panfish, or walleye, you can find just about everything in this part of the river. The bass can get up to 24 inches, and catfish are on average about 40 pounds. That is enough to feed several people for dinner. Toss the tackle in the camper before you head out to the park so you can enjoy fishing for whatever it is you are looking for.
The swimming experience at Johnston’s Shut-Ins State Park is unique in that there are hundreds of small swimming holes made by the Black River rushing through the volcanic rock. Some areas are full of rushing water like a waterfall and others are quiet and calm pools of deep, clear water. The rocks provide great jumping or diving opportunities, and they also make for some excellent natural water slides. Whether you want to sunbathe on a giant boulder or relax in your own private walled pool, the shut-ins have what you are looking for.
You can enjoy rock climbing at Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park from Labor Day until Memorial Day, and it is quite popular since the entire shut-ins section is giant rock formations. For the expert rappeler, there are some excellent crag areas where you can test your skills right next to a beginner since the area is so diverse. The rocks have nice, clean edges and smooth surfaces and the cliffs are typically about 40 feet high. You can park your rig right there by the paved path but make sure you register at the office first.