Have you ever seen a petroglyph? At Washington State Park in central Missouri, you can see some that were created by the Mississippian Indian Tribe in 1,000 A.D. The large petroglyph site is at the north entrance to the park and the smaller site is next to the interpretive center. You can also find an information kiosk where you can learn more about the tribe and the area. But the 1,413-acre park has more to offer than just petroglyphs. There are also quite a few stonework masterpieces throughout the park from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Company 1743, including their own version of an American Indian Thunderbird carved into the stone chimney at the camp store.
You will also find 50 RV and tent campsites, 10 miles of trails, the Big River, and even a swimming pool. This park attracts approximately 228,000 visitors per year for its spacious natural areas where you can swim, fish, hike, go boating, or enjoy a picnic with your friends and family. Take a float trip down the Big River and then head back to your RV and camp for a nice BBQ and campfire stories. Whether you are here for the night or for the week, you can find plenty for everyone to do at Washington State Park.
About an hour from St. Louis and four hours from Kansas City in Kingston Township, Missouri, you can find the serene beauty of Washington State Park. Whether you are travelling from out of state or down the street, you will have no trouble finding this park with all of the signage leading you there. Who needs GPS when you have huge signs leading you to the park? On the last leg of the journey to the park, it gets a bit tricky for those with big RVs or campers, so take it slow and easy. You should also keep an eye out for any wild critters that sometimes wander out onto the road.
Once you are inside the park, the roads are a bit narrow and the trees a bit low so you will need to be careful here as well. Some of the campsites are tricky for those with large rigs so make sure you read the description on the campground rental page online before reserving it. If you do not have a reservation, check that the site is maneuverable for your vehicle before choosing. Although many of the sites have pads longer than 40 feet, most are back-in sites and some can be tough to park in with a big campervan or RV.
The Washington State Park Campground, which is open all year, has 18 electric and 20 basic campsites. There is also one family campsite that has an additional 82 x 12 pad with an extra electrical hookup and one electric campsite that is ADA-accessible. The pads range from 23 to 102 feet so you can find the perfect size for your rig or trailer no matter how large or small it is. You will also find water access near the host campsite and certain other campsites. The showers, restrooms, and laundry facilities can be found by the entrance, which also has an RV dump site nearby and a wood lot where you can chop your own wood.
Water and showers are not available from November until April but there is a frost-free hydrant by Highway 104 west of the park office. The playground is also near the entrance where there are two parking lots for your convenience. Another parking lot and restroom facility is located by campsite five. The amphitheater is at the end of a trail that begins between campsites 26 and 27. The park holds special programs there during the summer months for kids and adults. You can bring your pets but make sure they are restrained or on a leash at all times.
If you do not have a reservation, there are some sites that are first-come, first-served but you need to check with the campground host or a park ranger. If you cannot find a park employee or host, follow the instructions on the vacancy card on the post by the campsite.
There is no reason not to get out of the rig and into the woods while you are at the park with the awesome trails they have. The 1000 Steps Trail by the Thunderbird Lodge is a rugged loop trail of just over a mile that dates back to the 1930s. This trek has 1000 stone steps, which is where it got its name. At the top of the trail you will find an overlook shelter where you can see an amazing view of the river and surrounding land. The 2.4-mile Opossum Track Trail takes you through the Washington State Park Hardwood Natural Area to the gazebo overlook with benches where you can take a break and enjoy the view. The longest hike is the Rockywood Trail, which is almost six miles. This is a rugged loop trail that has a camp about a third of the way in so you can stay the night if you like.
The Big River is a great place to fish no matter what time of the year it is because there is always something biting. Be sure to pack the fishing gear in the camper or trailer before you head to the park and bring a net because some of the fish are huge. For example, catfish are typically around 15 to 40 pounds and some of the bass have been up to 20 inches long. Some of the best bait to use include worms or cut bait for catfish and lures or jigs for bass, crappie, bluegill, and sunfish.
Gather your family and friends in the campervan and head to Washington State Park for a picnic. It does not have to be summertime to enjoy this fantastic park because they have two shelters you can use that are covered and protected from the elements. The larger one can hold up to 96 people while the smaller one holds about 84 people. Restrooms and water are available from April until November and there are BBQ grills and tables, but no electricity. If you just have a small group, you can enjoy any of the picnic areas around the park, which all have picnic tables and grills.
You can swim in the Big River or the pool, so you have no excuse to sit by the RV and do nothing during your stay. Although that is fine too. The pool is open from Memorial Day until Labor Day, and available to the public for a small fee. They have a concession stand that serves catfish sandwiches, cheeseburgers, fries, and more. The Big River is also a fantastic place to cool off in the summer and it is free of charge all season long. The pool has a lifeguard, but at the river you will be swimming at your own risk.
From Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day, the park hosts programs on a variety of topics and interests for kids as well as adults. Get out of the camper and learn something new about archaeology, camping, hiking, and the nature and wildlife of Missouri. Join the celebration of the CCC Company 1743, explore the glades where you can find petroglyphs, and enjoy live animal shows where you can see some of the critters that live in the park. Most of these programs are at the amphitheater or interpretive center but some are held at various places in the park. Check with the park office for details.
The Big River is a favorite floating spot for residents as well as out-of-town visitors. There is a concrete ramp where you can launch your canoe, raft, or kayak or you can go upriver and put in anywhere you like and float down to where your RV is parked at the campsite. If you didn’t bring your floating device, you can rent one at the Thunderbird Lodge or buy one from the camp store. There is a watercraft shuttle service offered through the park for a small fee, so you don’t have to walk up or down the river. Just have them drop you off upriver and float down or start at the camp and they can pick you up downriver.