Sam A. Baker is a popular Missouri State Park, let me stress popular... and why the heck not?! This park really seems to have it all, from zipping along on bicycle trails, grilling hotdogs over a campfire, popping a tent at one of two huge camping areas, taking a cooling dip in the clear St. Francis River, to hiking on one of four trails, there is a little something for everyone. There is an added bonus to Sam A. Baker too, if you happen to forget something back at home, the area boasts a Park Store that has just about anything you may need. But keep in mind, with so much to offer at Sam A. Baker, there are many who seek to really take advantage of it, and by that I mean, it may be a bit... crowded.
First Impressions of the ParkCampground 1. The campground was very nice, and despite the recent rains, our campsite (number 5) was relatively dry with only a few low spots gathering puddles. After pitching the tent we decided to take a nice, leisurely stroll through the campground. Making our way just a bit to the South we found the cool St. Francis River, nearly a clear as a window, carving out its gravel banks and creating perfect places to wade and swim in its refreshing waters. As we explored the campground further we found a very well traversed and well maintained Paved Bike Trail to the North, which is quite a perk for the visiting camping jogger. This trail stretches 1.5 miles and travels from campground 1 all the way to the park store, it travels along State Highway 143 and allows for some picturesque views of Big Creek as well.
It's All About the Amenities!After exploring the campground we journeyed over to the park store (which is VERY handy if you have found yourself forgetting something at home) and the park lodge. As Sam A. Baker does not allow you to transport your own firewood into the park, due to the emerald ash borer, so if you plan to have a campfire, be sure to pick up some wood at the store. Then while you're out you may like to take a quick stop at the Park Office and Visitor Center. There they will provide recreational equipment, free of charge, that you may use by simply checking the items out. After taking quick tours of the amenities we returned back to our campsite, flush with wood for a cozy campfire, ice cold sodas and some delicious chips from the store.
"Nocturnal Calls" and CampingOnce back at our campsite we started up our fire (due to the damp wood this was quite the undertaking, thank the heavens for lighter fluid) and roasted up some hotdogs, marveled as the fireflies faint green glow lit the night, told a few stories and then decided to get a good rest so we could explore the park even more the next day. After zipping up the tent, lying atop my sleeping bag I soon found myself being "gently" lulled to sleep with the echoing "Whoo HOOO" and "I'm SOOOOO Drunk" mating calls of the Migrating Midwestern Hooter, which were interrupted only by the heavy and constant "Ker-Thunk!" of the all to closely located latrine door. We did have a laugh out loud moment as our border collie, Hyatt, spotted a huge raccoon that had made its way onto our picnic table and attempted to leap through the mesh window of our tent in order to chase the raccoon away.
Upon awaking the next morning and with the migratory mating calls of the night now behind us, we decided to escape some of the more popular areas, in a desperate bid to get at least a small taste of the park's beauty without the crowds or noise. So we checked our area map and chose to set foot upon the Shut Ins Trail, a quick mile and a quarter hike out from just behind the Park Lodge, to see if we could find a slightly more secluded swimming hole.
The Shut Ins Trail
Swazye'esque mullets to boot. We swam for a bit more then decided to make our way back to camp for a spot of lunch. As we headed back down the trail, making our way toward the Park Lodge, we passed a steady stream of like minded visitors who may have been just like us, looking for that little hide-a-way in the middle of a very, very popular Missouri State Park.
Final ThoughtsWith so much to offer its no surprise that Sam A. Baker is so appealing to so many and there is no doubt that we'll return sometime and the 5.5 mile Mudlick Trail certainly looks very, very appealing, especially the Backpacker Camp located on a small spur of the Hike Only Section.. But the overall experience, for me, was it seemed simply too crowded. Sam A. Baker seemed (to me) more like a nature theme park than actual State Park and the campground, while very well maintained, was just a bit too... popular.
More Information:Sam A. Baker State Park Homepage
Sam A. Baker Hiking Trails
- Shut In Trail Map
Fishing Report and Prospects: St. Francis River (above Wappappello Lake)
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