Hiking Overnight St Francois State Park July 24-25 2021

Sometimes you just have to get out on the trail. But Craig, I hear you say,  you have said yourself that there is no hiking between Memorial Day and Labor Day because it is too hot, too buggy and most importantly too much poison ivy in Missouri in the Summer. Well you would be right and you would also be right in knowing I never listen to my own advice. If I had, I certainly would not have planned to go out on what was the hottest weekend of the year so far. We all know I am not that bright! 

I was guaranteed to have no one on the trail but me and that was true. The forecast was for mid 90's with the same humidity for the weekend and good chance of thunderstorms as this is usually the case, the air can only hold so much moisture and when it gets this hot and humid the big thunderstorms usually come eventually. There was a window of low possibility of storms on Saturday and I took that chance.

If I had ever hiked in St Francois State Park, it would have been so long ago I don't remember it, so I decided to do all the trail miles in the park on an overnight. There are three trails totaling 22 miles. Typical to Missouri the trails go up and onto a ridge and then back down into a creek bed, over and over again. I was pleasantly surprised these trails did stay up on the ridge lines much longer and a good portion that were along the creek beds were very nice and the water was still flowing well (We have had a lot of rain this year) 

The park is only about 85 miles from my house so it doesn't take long to get there. As I thought, I would be the only one at the trail head. It was about 9:30 on Saturday and it was already about 85 degrees

The main trail in the park is the Pike Run trail. It is about 12 miles with two loops a south loop (6.4) and a north loop (4.2 miles), plus connectors 

Right away some unusual and really nice flowers. I would see quite a bit of flowers this weekend.

This trail is open to Hike, Bike and Equestrian. 0.2 miles in you can see the damage caused by horses using the trail when it is very wet. The damage that can be done can be so severe, as it is here that it will never recover without assistance. 

It is hard not to want to ride your horse on nice trails, but there is a time not too and part of being a responsible trail user is knowing when. As hikers we have different responsibilities but the same when it comes to making sure the trail stays in good shape 

Lots of fungus along the trail of all different colors and shapes

Always a great bonus, wild blackberries. Not many bushes but these were ripe and ready to eat so I enjoyed what few were there, leaving just a few and the sour red ones that were not quite ready just yet.

The park has really clever way of helping anyone needing assistance on the trail, about every half mile there is an Emergency locator post with a letter of the alphabet. There is cell signal around almost the entire trail and this would be a good way to identify where you are for authorities if you needed assistance. 

Quiz question: what sound does an annoyed turkey make when you happen to walk right under her roost and not see her until she starts?

Answer: They hiss at you, just like a cat only a more guttural hiss.

I had to zoom in from a good distance as she was really annoyed, so I was walking past as fast as I could.  As soon as I passed she actually went down into the hollow dead tree she was perched on. 

More yummy blackberries 

All the creeks on the western side of the south loop were flowing really well and every time you dipped into a hollow, it had a creek.

This side of the south loop goes up and down and up and down about 3 times till you reach the connector to the north loop

I chose the western side of the North Loop as well so I could cut over to the Mooner's Hollow Trail. About a mile and a half you drop down into a hollow and you can see a faint connector leading down to a really nice creek bed

It had a really nice flow over moss covered rocks

I got some water here and cooled off a bit in the water as the temps were reaching the 90's by 11 am.

From here I could see on my map that the Mooner's trail was just a short cut away through the trees. It was nothing to find it in just a 100 yards or so. 

As a bonus I did come out just beyond the official turn around point at the end of the official Mooner's trail loop. It was still a good trail so I followed it just a bit looking for a place to cross to connect with the trail on the other side and I found this waterfall cascade. I was really tempted to strip down and just sit in the water for awhile. 

Mooner's trail heads up to a ridge with a few glens where you can see through the trees 

Every place the sun could get too had wild flowers

2 miles and I made it to the parking area for the trail. There was a lot of activity as families were picnicking and playing in the creek with small children. It was hot and just past lunch at around 12:45. A good place for food and a rest 

I found a picnic table and had a bit of food and a lie down with shoes off 

I stayed for about an hour and then got everything packed up and off again on the other side of the creek loop back to where I would pick up the Pike Run trail again at the same creek.

This side of the trail stays closer to the creek bed 

Trail right next to the creek 

Lot of nice rock features just above the creek 

Look closely, can you see Mr. Green Snake. I startled him on the trail and I had real trouble finding him in the grass when he was still.

I made it back my connector and it was a steep uphill after joining the Pike Run Trail again. I only had about 1 mile until reaching the place I wanted to stop for the day, however it was now around 3 pm and it was 95 degrees on my watch and humidity to match. I needed to have a sit and rest even if it was right on the trail 

Made it to the point of the north loop and the high point on this side, found two nice trees for the hammock and proceeded to rest in shade for a few hours until making some dinner.

I rested in the hammock and shade until around 6:30 before having some dinner. I hung with no bug net and no shirt all afternoon. Not one mosquito and maybe I heard 3 flies, but none ever bugged me. It is purely unscientific but I would say something over the year of lockdown has done something to flying insects in Missouri. Usually at this time in mid to late July if you were outside and sweaty in the woods you would be swarmed with insects! 

This turned out to not be such a great spot for camping after all, because when the sun went down every cicada within miles suddenly started to sing. The sound was deafening. On top of that I could hear the highway over the valley and every motorcycle and 18 wheeler was heard clearly until about 1 am. 

I was up at my usual time around 6 am and out of camp by 6:30. There was a very steep downhill and then an equally steep uphill to get up to around 1050 feet but then it was smooth ridge walking for most of the rest of this northern loop. 

What does the early bird get? Answer: the spider webs. There were so many this early in the morning and they were all at mouth height (why is that?) I had to put on my mosquito netting. 

North loop done and now just two miles back to the parking lot.

On the south loop this is where I was going to branch off to do the 4 mile Swimming Deer Trail, but the storm clouds that where suppose to hold off until tonight here, were moving in, so I decided to save that small trail for when we bring the RV here sometime. 

Another little savannah opening on the trail and it was full of wildflowers as well 

Made it back to the parking lot and decided to make a trail coffee before heading home.

And it did pour on the way home!

Here is what the loops look like. yellow was Saturday and blue was Sunday morning with distances and times.

Lost 5 pounds on a overnight... no more hiking until after Labor Day! That is why we have an RV for goodness sakes! 

4th of July Weekend 2021- RV camping at Hawn State Park

 I have always found Hawn State Park to be the jewel in Missouri's State Parks. It has the most diverse terrain and offers a good section of different eco systems to walk through. It has some Peaks, Pine Woodlands, Wetlands, Savanah and a great flowing creek, Pickle Springs Creek. I have hiked these trails for decades. Since starting RV "glamping" many years ago, we have only stayed in Hawn once before, the demand for the very few RV sites with water is intense and the Park is booked 6-12 months in advance. When we were at Echo Bluff RV campsite in March and were talking with the campground hosts there, they actually looked up Hawn and found a weekend (4th of July) so we booked it.

As usually happens when you make plans some 4 months in advance, things change and more activities get added to our calendars. In this case Vicky had to work late on the Friday and had to spend some time with her mom. My mom got sick and of course there is our dog Sam, who is afraid of both storms and fireworks, so someone needed be able to be home with him! 

Not wanting to miss a great 3 nights in the RV we decided I would take it, set it up on Friday and Vicky would join for a much time as she could over the weekend. Hawn is only 90 minutes from our house so it is easier to get too. 

Day 1- Friday

I checked my sites availability the night before and saw that no one was on it, so I went down early on Friday and arrived around 12 noon. Once I had set up I hit the trails. I had brought Vicky's big Nikon SLR Digital camera to see if I could play with the settings and if it took substantially better pictures than my iPhone for the weight. I used it on the trail Friday.

Pickle Springs Creek is feed by Pickle Springs just down the road about 4 miles and usually always has nice water that is fun to play in once it gets really hot. There are many granite cascades and plenty of places for kids to play in the water. 

Several larger pools make for a great place to soak your feet or just sit down in the water to cool off 

The creek is alive with lots of wildlife. Small fish, tad poles, frogs, and of course snakes. I spotted this water snake (not a venomous cotton mouth, notice the round eyes and head that is not a triangular shape) just hugging the shore. I got pretty close and when he moved I was taken aback as he was about 4.5 feet long! 

The granite outcroppings around the park are another reason this park is so interesting 

I covered the Pickle Creek Trail and then headed up connector #1 to the White Oak Trail and then down connector #2 back to the Whispering Pines trail and the crossed the creek to the other side and continued on up the bluff to stay on Whispering Pines back to the campground. About 6.5 miles for the afternoon walk 

The connector trails could have used a bit of lopping and pruning

Once across the creek you head uphill to gain the ridge over the creek and have a few nice places to look down!

I tried to use the camera in more manual ways to get some "artsy" shots. Not all that successful 

Just a touch over 6 miles at a leisurely pace, Pickle Spring Creek is very rocky so you have to watch your footing. 

Back to the RV for dinner and a beer or two and to sit outside and listen to the cicadas, music and relax. Not many RV's have showed up yet, being Friday, but I image it will be full by tomorrow. 

Day 2- Saturday

Vicky is coming today, after she gets her chores done, but that won't be till around noon. I have the morning to walk the trails again. 
I was going to walk both loops of Whispering Pines (North and South) so I headed off just after breakfast.
Breakfast in the RV is usually a time to breakout all the treats, so today was no expection. I was up early to grind and make pour over coffee and then eggs, bacon and biscuits.

The before (above) and the after of breakfast this morning! LOL
I am ready

It was a start at the main entrance to the trails today, across the two bridges and into the woods. 

I had come back yesterday on the W.P. trail along the bluff overlooking the creek, so I didn't want to do that again, so I headed up connector #3, which I think is probably the prettiest stretch of trail (1.3 miles) currently in the Park.

This morning is about the views from the ridges. Once you climb up
to the top of the connector you stay up high for most of this loop. You climb up to about 950 feet a couple of times. The canopy is full, but you can get views at various spots. It was a really nice morning, temps around 68-70 degrees with no one out on the trail this early yet. Later in the day the Rangers would actually close the park due to too many people and the parking lots full. 

My plan was to break off and do the south loop of the Whispering Pines trail but when reached the split and started down the trail, I couldn't really penetrate the foliage to go much beyond about 500 yards. There have been confirmed a case of the Lyme disease that inhibits the metabolizing of red meat from this park last year, so I decided that it wasn't worth bashing around in the weeds even though I was wearing pants and long sleeves that had been soaked in permethrin!

I backtracked and continued on just the North Loop

The best view was just under 1000 feet

It also had a very nice clearing I didn't remember but it would be a nice place to hang the hammock if I wanted to carry some extra water to the top for night and stealth camp

The last part of the loop drops down to a smaller creek that has some great runoffs and waterfall locations, but this creek doesn't run all the time, but in the spring it looks very nice cascading down the hill. 

The trail has been rerouted at the end to climb back up on the bluff above the RV park to allow the older trail to recover. There are several large rock outcroppings that make a great view down, down!

My morning route is below. the added yellow circle is the South Loop that was too overgrown 

This loop took me till about 10 am, Vicky wasn't due till around noon, so I decided to hit the full White Oak trail loop which is another 4.4 miles 

The loop was not in great shape either and this one is very popular so lots of people on the trail with almost all of them not dressed to go wading through the high grass and overgrowth. 

I did manage to spot some gems in the growth. Blackberries coming into season. Most were still red and very sour,

but just a few were perfect! 

Violets or Periwinkle, I can never remember but they were all over the section with the blackberry bushes 

White Oak Trail Loop

Back to the RV and a shower, just before Vicky arrived 

RV time is about relaxing We watched a movie, sat outside, watched the RV's come in and talked to people as they walked or biked by, especially if they had dogs. We enjoyed the company that came around to say hello

A Barleywine from a close by brewery Ebb and Flow to enjoy the afternoon. 

Later we got the grille out and I began to prepare our favorite "camping" meal 

Filets with baked potatoes 


It was actually cool enough for a bit of a fire and more time just to relax and watch the evening turn into the night 

very relaxing.

Day 3- Sunday

Sunday sleep in and and another big breakfast. After breakfast we went for a short walk on the Pickle Creek trail again. 

The Pickle Creek trail is a rocky one.

After the walk and another shower. We watched more movies and then around 1 pm, Vicky had to go back home to finish with some other errands that needed to be done this weekend. Plus our dog Sam couldn't be left alone with the fireworks coming up tonight.
Being alone again meant going for another walk. I wanted to do the connector 3 again and then double back along the creek and and up the ridge again.
more overgrowth through the pine forest section.

A well known landmark on this section is "picnic table" rock.

Crossing Pickle Creek the first time going counter clockwise.

Crossing the second time


Getting back to the RV and one more shower (I wanted to know how long my water tank would last, since Hawn does not have water hookups at each site, I know the answer, just about 3 full days.) We had 5 showers and washed dishes each night. The RV holds about 50 gallons of fresh water. 
Tonight's menu was for bratwursts from the meat market and I also made some home made onion rings... they were delicious. 

More local beer and some home made blackberry pie from the same meat market and I was one satisfied camper. 
One more fire 

and I watched the campground settle down for the night. No fireworks just peace and quiet. 

good night.

Day 4- Monday
No hiking today!  LOL. Slept in, coffee and started cleaning up the RV to head home. I got everything done around 11 am and I was off to home. I watched most of other RV go before me. This RV campground doesn't have sites with water or sewer connections, but does have a nice bathhouse with all that. I recommend this park highly. It was a really great weekend. 

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