Rural Missouri Magazine

Nature's water park
Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park

by Jim McCarty

You wouldn’t have wanted to be around when the forces of nature formed what is now Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. But today this remnant of volcanic activity is Missouri’s favorite swimming hole, at least according to Rural Missouri’s readers. The state park, located near Lesterville, won Best Swimming Hole in Rural Missouri’s 2002 Readers Choice Awards.

Over the centuries, water from this fork of the Black River wore down the limestone and other sedimentary rock to carve out the streambed. But it met its match in the tough igneous rocks that today form a rambunctious series of cascades and pools. Visitors can choose a waterfall to massage their shoulders or scramble over the slick rocks in search of a cool pool in which to relax.

So popular is Johnson’s Shut-Ins during the summer months that latecomers are forced to wait at the entrance until someone leaves the park. This time of year, the water slows down and warms up, and crowds diminish as kids return to school.

The shut-ins can be a dangerous place when water combines with algae to make the rocks slick. More than one visitor has been taken to area hospitals after slipping on the rocks. Also, be advised that state law prohibits jumping or diving from any rocks in the park. One section is off limits completely.

A well-equipped campground and access to the Taum Sauk Trail are part of this park. For more information, call (573) 546-2450 or visit


Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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