This section of the OT crosses Missouri Department of Conservation’s Ketcherside Mountain and Proffit Mountain Conservation Areas as well as Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ Taum Sauk Mountain and Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Parks.

John and Chuck at Ketcherside

John and Chuck at Ketcherside

My friend John and I arrived around noon on Friday at the Ozark Trail Taum Sauk section’s current eastern terminus along Highway 21. There is a small parking lot on the west side of the highway announcing Ketcherside Mountain Conservation Area. The idea was to walk up Taum Sauk Mountain (as opposed to driving). Taum Sauk, the highest peak in Missouri, is fully handicap accessible and has primitive camping as well as restrooms and a picnic area. We would then hike down to Mina Sauk Falls, find a camping spot and hike out to Johnson Shut-Ins the next day.

Mossy rocks along the trail

Mossy rocks along the trail

The first mile of our hike was a nice woodlands walk. We enjoyed the cool afternoon and snugged our packs in preparation for the six mile hike up the mountain. John and I adjusted slowly to our hike and I snapped a few pictures of the flora along the trail.

This cliff is below the OT and along the Claybaugh Creek

This cliff is below the OT and along the Claybaugh Creek

After the first mile, the trail joins an old jeep trail. We hiked down the trail enjoying the tall cliffs and a clear creek with rapids. But as we followed the creek, the trail seemed to disappear. We hiked back to what clearly appeared to be the trail and then back into the woods along the creek. Did the trail cross the water? Was the trail further up the hillside? Were we going to have to turn around after being on the trail for only a little over a mile?

John amusingly pointing out where we are on the trail

John amusingly pointing out where we are on the trail

We consulted the map and it appeared the trail should be further away from the stream and consequently further up the hill than we were. What we did not realize was that above the cliffs we were walking below, it was still quite a ways to the top of the ridge. That also happened to be where we found the trail again. We evidently missed the turn off the old jeep trail.

"The hills are alive!" - John

"The hills are alive!" - John

We hiked further up the mountain, through some nice rock glades and past the turnoff for Russell Mountain. There are several switchbacks in this area and you have to watch closely as it is easy to miss the trail. At one point John makes up a story of Sir Winston Hillary, who has led multiple Mt. Everest ascents. A few years ago Sir Hillary attempted Mt. Taum Sauk only to be overwhelmingly turned away by the climb. John thinks he’s funny. Just wait until tomorrow John.

Chuck at the highest point in Missouri

Chuck at the highest point in Missouri

Finally, we make it to the top of Taum Sauk. For those who have never been there before, Taum Sauk is the tallest mountain (1772 ft) in Missouri, but the top is flat and is surrounded by trees. While it’s a nice photo opportunity and you can temporarily be the tallest person in the state, there isn’t much to do at Taum Sauk. I am told there is running water somewhere, but we never found it.

View from the top of Mina Sauk Falls

View from the top of Mina Sauk Falls

Following the Ozark Trail along Taum Sauk you can take the northern loop which takes you past Taum Sauk’s peek and then tumbles down to Mina Sauk Falls. While this is the most direct route, it drops roughly 500 feet within a mile.

The top of Mina Sauk Falls

The top of Mina Sauk Falls

The first people we saw on the trail were along Taum Sauk and Mina Sauk. I would guess most people only make it to the top of the falls. The climb down to the lower falls is extremely rocky and steep.

Lower Mina Sauk Falls

Lower Mina Sauk Falls

After a short break at the top of the falls we descended to the bottom. Mina Sauk is the tallest water fall in Missouri. This day however, there was only a small trickle coming down the falls. There was just enough water to get the rocks wet. The cool shady bottom felt good after a days hike.

An edible Coral Fungi mushroom growing close to camp.

An edible Coral Fungi mushroom growing close to camp.

Yesterday evening, it was quickly getting dark so John and I stopped just short of Devils Tollgate. We followed the Taum Sauk Creek from Mina Sauk. There is an old jeep trail off to the south right before the Ozark Trail makes a turn to the west. Past this intersection is a small rocky stream that the trail crosses. Close to here we found a previously used camp site. We fired up the stove, setup camp and ate like kings.

Paying my toll

Paying my toll

After a cool night of perfectly clear skies and coyotes howling, John and I were ready to get on our way. A couple of groups of people passed us while we were still in camp. However, we would soon catch up to them during the day. They all seemed to be day hikers. Shortly after leaving camp we walked through Devils Tollgate. Prior to getting there, John does a dead stop in the middle of trail and turns to me, “Oh no, neither one of us has our wallet and we have to go through the Devil’s Tollgate!”

This is a view directly to the west of Proffit Mt. Conservation Area. You could see for miles here. Notice Ameren UE's reservior scaring the landscape.

This is a view directly to the west of Proffit Mt. Conservation Area. You could see for miles here. Notice Ameren UE's reservior scaring the landscape.

From Devils Tollgate you make your way through a low flat area on a wide path along Taum Sauk Creek. The Ozark Trail heads to the north while the old wide Taum Sauk Trail continues to the west. An optional hike is available here. If you take the old Taum Sauk Trail, it is possible to hike through the valley and over to the pass between the Ameren UE Reservoir and Proffit Mountain. The Taum Sauk Trail is a shorter route, however, you would miss the many views along the Ozark Trail.

This view to the southwest shows Proffit Mountain and the reservoir to the south. The trail goes around this valley and over the peak.

This view to the southwest shows Proffit Mountain and the reservoir to the south. The trail goes around this valley and over the peak.

The hike along the ridges, glades and peaks of Proffit Mountain are very strenuous but the views are outstanding. Camping on one of the rock glades at night is probably an incredible view. We passed a few primitive camp sites in the woods after leaving Taum Sauk Creek and completed our first zig-zag. We then entered a few miles of an area that had burned a few years ago. Sometimes the trail at our feet was barely visible due to high weeds and underbrush. While the trail needed some maintenance, the ecosystem was growing strong. Wild turkeys, song birds, and lizards were a common site and young pine trees are sprouting everywhere.

At our final destination--Johnson Shut-ins. This is the sign marking the Ozark Trail leading back to Taum Sauk Mountain.

At our final destination--Johnson Shut-ins. This is the sign marking the Ozark Trail leading back to Taum Sauk Mountain.

After crossing the taller peak of Proffit Mountain, it is pretty much all down hill to Johnson Shut-Ins. Once you are off the mountain you follow a creek to the East Fork of the Black River. There are several creek crossings and currently the foot bridge is washed out over the river. John and I made our way over logs and hopping over rocks so we never got our boots wet. We made it to Johnson Shut-Ins and now it was time to clean up and rest. We think next time we’ll hike the northern section of Taum Sauk.

1 Comment on Ozark Trail – Taum Sauk (Highway 21 to Johnson Shut-Ins – 18 miles)

  1. Mike says:

    Great review of your trip. About how long does it take to hike from Taum Sauk peak to Johnson Shut-ins if you were not wanting to be in a hurry?

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