While you may not be able to enjoy the Rocky Mountains and the Niagara Falls in the same day, you could experience both mountains and waterfalls at one of Missouri’s state parks.
At Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world after hiking to the top of the park’s namesake mountain. In fact, you will be on top of Missouri. With an elevation of 1,772 feet, this park is the official highest point in the state.
Located in the Ozarks’ St. Francois Mountains, the park’s scenery provides a one-of-a-kind experience for hikers in Missouri. A series of trails, including part of the Ozark Trail, wind through the park and provide amazing views of the surrounding area, including the state’s tallest waterfall and deepest valley.
Visitors are encouraged to park and take the paved path about 1,000 feet to an overlook offering a breathtaking view from Taum Sauk Mountain’s summit. If visitors are up for it, they’re encouraged to hike to Mina Sauk Falls. The 3-mile loop features Missouri’s tallest waterfall. In wet weather, water cascades over the falls into several volcanic rock ledges before flowing into the clear water pool 132 feet below. During dryer times, the falls are reduced to a trickle or less.
Inside the park’s almost 7,500 acres, you’ll find hickory forests as well as rocky glades. A mile down the Ozark Trail, you’ll come across what is known as the Devil’s Tollgate. This is an 8-foot wide passage of volcanic rhyolite rock stretching more than 50 feet, with 30-foot walls on both sides. The park also features primitive camping and picnic areas.
Taum Sauk Mountain is steeped with Indian folklore, rivalling the story of Romeo and Juliet. Long before white settlers were in the area, the Arcadia Valley was the main hunting ground of the Piankashaw Indians. Their chieftain’s name was Sauk-Ton-Qua, but that was hard for settlers to pronounce and was later changed to Taum Sauk, for whom the mountain is named.
Taum Sauk had a daughter, Mina Sauk, the waterfall’s namesake, who all the young Piankashaw warriors desired. However, she met a young Osage warrior and fell in love. When their love was discovered, the warrior was captured, tried and condemned to death.
As the story goes, the Osage warrior was executed on the slopes of Taum Sauk Mountain. He was tossed down the mountain where Piankashaw warriors struck him with spears until he died in the valley below. Grief-stricken Mina Sauk, who had been restrained by the tribal women to prevent her from interfering with the execution, broke loose from her captors and threw herself down the mountain to her own death. Legend has it that this displeased the great spirit, causing the earth to tremble, shake and crack the mountain. A stream of water poured from the crack and flowed down the mountain, washing away the lovers’ blood.
Along the edges of Mina Sauk Falls, today visitors can see little flowers with crimson blossoms, which the Indians believed got their color from this ancient tragedy.
Taum Sauk Mountain State Park is located nine miles southwest of Ironton on Highway CC. For more information, contact 573-546-2450.
For more information on state parks and historic sites, visit mostateparks.com. Missouri State Parks is a division of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
Remember, you are always welcome in Missouri state parks.