Elephant State Park was pretty amazing. We stayed on the main Braille Trail, which seems to mostly go around the perimeter of the main rock dome. Though we did see what seemed to maybe be another trail marked by blue cards on the trees, there didn't seem to be any signs or information nearby about what the other trails were. The trail itself was uneventful, all paved and even, but really interesting in the fact that the trail accomodates for any visitors with visual or physical impairments. The trail would sometimes take a short break for sightseeing like an old railroad engine house with a bit of track still left in it. The best part is definitely the trail when it leads up onto the rock domes of Elephant Rocks, overlooking piles of stones leftover from when the area was a quarry, or over the giant rocks that give the park it's name. Climbing over the giant rocks, squeezing through the narrow passageways, and overlooking into the Ozark hills was a brilliant experience, certainly worth it!
Johnson's Shut Ins, however, was the clear star of this trip for me. There aren't even words to really quite explain how overwhelming this place was. I've never seen an area quite like it. Usually during the summer, this area is full to the brim with the people who have come to swim and immerse themselves in the surging waters of the Shut Ins, but on this warm October day in the middle of the workweek, the park was mostly empty and the water was at a fairly low level. We first did the Shut-Ins trail. At first I was worried, because the trail is mostly just a boardwalk following the shut-in waters and rocks. We walked down the steps "at our own risk" and climbed over the rocks and water, exploring the shapes the rocks have slowly been worn into, how deep some of the pools were, how the water gushed out between the rocks below our feet in others. Then we continued to follow the trail to the overlook, where the boardwalk ended and the trail turned a sharp right. From this point on, the trail was all soil, rocks, and climbing. I have to say that the Shut Ins Trail was one of the more challenging trails I've done in a long, long time despite only being a few miles long!!! There was a lot of uphill climbing and carefully slippery downhill descents. While the trail was for the most part well marked, at one point it joins with the Ozark Trail leaving you wondering if you've accidentally strayed from your path. Parts of the trail actually demand that you climb up hillsides of rock into the glades, leaving your out of breath. There are parts of the trail, especially when you follow in the sand right next to the pools of the river, where the trail is somewhat overgrown, but worth it. We stopped to picnic for a snack at one of the pooling points of the river. The trail was completely empty (any other visitors had not gone down the rest of the trail) and sitting there on the rocks with the ozark hills all around you is the most peaceful and amazing feeling. Between the overlooks of the shut ins and the river, the glades in the hillsides, the deep woods and the rocky dirt trail, this trail was exciting and quite a work out!!!
After we made the whole loop, my Dad and I went back down in the shut ins to climb around the rocks, where we took off our shoes and relaxed by dipping our feet in the very cold rushing water! It was exhilerating and the perfect way to end a long hike. I can see how this area, when the water is higher and the sun is hot, can be crowded (people are actually turned AWAY from this park during the summer after it hits maximum content). We finished the day off the the shorter Glades trail, which was not nearly as exciting as the first trail, but a nice quiet way to end the day after our lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This hike also did have a really nice overlook when it came up into the glades, especially with all the trees turning colors in the distance. Lots of gnats on this trail though, but that could have been the time of day/temperature/etc. By the time we were done, we were too tired out from all the sun to do the last trail, the Scour trail, which actually looked a bit challenging, but have no doubt that I will return to do this sometime, as well as check out all the other hiking in the area, like Taum Sauk Mountain! Dad and I also saw the old mine off of US 67, but it was closed.