Sam A. Baker State Park – Mudlick Trail

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My son and I decided to do a quick overnight backpacking trip. We looked at a few options but one that I have been wanting to do with him was Sam A Baker State Park near Poplar Bluff MO. As a kid in scouts, we hiked and backpacked up Mudlick Mountain trail several times and I really enjoyed those trips.

Sam A. Baker Mudlick Trail - Creek
Sam A. Baker Mudlick Trail – Creek

I started doing some research and found this trail checked a lot of boxes for what we look for when we backpack.

  • Good views
  • Water access and fishing
  • Established campsite

There are many different routes you can take when hiking in Sam A Baker. You can make the hike a multi day or you can shorten it up to your liking. My son and I decided we didn’t necessarily want to hike a long distance so we decided to hike up to the shelters and down to the backpacking site. 

Once we got to the backpacking site we would decide if we wanted to camp there or go back and camp at a shelter.

We did this trip in mid-March. Luckily the weather was fantastic for backpacking. It was a high of 65 and lows in the 40s at night.

Arriving at the park we didn’t see a lot of action. The campground doesn’t really open up until April 1st so there were a few sparse campers in the campground that was open. Most of the facilities were also closed because it wasn’t quite camping season.

We parked in a small parking lot designated in front of the Mudlick Mountain Trailhead. There was a system to register so you could drop off your info and leave information for park rangers in the event of an emergency.

Sam A. Baker State Park Mudlick Trailhead
Sam A. Baker State Park Mudlick Trailhead

We headed straight up the trail and found it to be well marked and well traversed. Because you are hiking up the mountain it starts to gain elevation fairly quickly. The trail was a variation of dirt and a lot of hard rock.

Because it was late winter the trees had not started coming in yet. A few rosebuds and dogwood were starting to bloom but everything else had not started to bloom. We encountered some deer about halfway up the mountain and they bolted off quickly to avoid us.

Fortunately because of the cool weather bugs were not an issue. We did find a few ticks on us but that was about the extent of any bug activity on the trail.

Before you get to the first shelter you will come across a few runoff streams coming down the mountain. These are very beautiful and one of the highlights of this trail. The trail was a little muddy when you crossed these but nothing to worry about. It had rained the day before so I assumed they would be worse.

We finally made it to the first shelter and I was quite surprised to see the condition. It looks like someone had done some restoration to this shelter as it had a newer-looking roof. The inside was cleaned out and someone had left a plastic drop cloth for anyone that wanted to use it.

Sam A. Baker State Park Shelter 1 (back view)
Sam A. Baker State Park Shelter 1 (back view)
 Sam A. Baker State Park Shelter 1 (front view)
Sam A. Baker State Park Shelter 1 (front view)

This shelter also has a fantastic view and is the end point of the Shut-In trail.

 Sam A. Baker State Park Shelter 1 View
Sam A. Baker State Park Shelter 1 View

We pressed on to the second shelter and decided to stop there and eat some lunch. The second shelter was in need of repair. There were some holes in the roof and it looked like it hadn’t been touched in many years.

After a quick lunch, we headed up the third shelter and essentially found the same thing. This shelter was in need of some repairs. Both the second and third shelters even with their holes would provide a nice place to stay the night but I would recommend a tarp even a tent if rain was expected.

As we made our way to the backpacking campground you could tell it was going to be a steep decline down. The views were great but only because the trees didn’t have any leaves but I imagine that during the summer or fall the trees would block most of the views. Also, the trail was less traveled. Luckily the trial was marked good but trying to follow an established path was troublesome at times.

The switchbacks were well-placed but very rocky. And most of the time it felt there was nothing to stop you if you fell to one side.

We finally made it down to the bottom and my son said we are definitely camping down here because he didn’t want to have to backtrack up the hill back to the shelters.

The backpack campground is fairly undeveloped. There is a sign to indicate the site and there was a fire pit built out of rocks with a few semi-flat rocks around it to sit on. It was also right next to the creek which was good to get fresh water.

Sam A. Baker Mudlick Trail Backpacking Campground
Sam A. Baker Mudlick Trail Backpacking Campground

After resting for a while we decided to hike back up the trail and investigate the area a little more. We found another offshoot of the trail that follows the creek bed and hiked up it for about a 1/4 of a mile. I’m glad we did that because there are some beautiful pools and waterfalls along that part of the trail coming down the mountain.

 Sam A. Baker Mudlick Trail Waterfall and Pools
Sam A. Baker Mudlick Trail Waterfall and Pools

My son wanted to fish even though it was still early in the year and cooler temperatures. He waded out into the creek onto a gravel bar and cast his line for a while. I walked around and tried to find some different access points to the creek beds and found some beautiful rocks. 

Sam A. Baker Mudlick Trail - Fishing Big Creek
Sam A. Baker Mudlick Trail – Fishing Big Creek

Overall this was my favorite part of the area. In the summer time this would be an awesome area to just hang out and fish and swim in. Even though my son didn’t catch any fish it was nice to just sit out and relax on the rocks.

  Sam A. Baker Mudlick Trail - Big Creek
Sam A. Baker Mudlick Trail – Big Creek

After we got back my son and I started a small fire in the fire ring. I didn’t read anything that prohibited fires in established campsites unless there was a fire ban so not 100% sure if it was allowed. We wanted to cook some things on a real fire even though we brought our backpacking stoves to cook things.

Shortly after we started 2 more backpackers showed up looking to camp there. We talked about what gear everyone had and quickly realized we had enough room to accommodate. We had a tent and a hammock and they had a tent and a hammock. There was more than enough room for us all to set up and be clear of the fire.

In the morning we got up and started our trip back. Going back up the hill from the backpacking campground to the shelter is a steep climb. It took us longer than expected but we made our way back to the shelters.

When you get back to the 1st shelter you can take two paths. Back down the way we went up which is mudlick trail. Or take the Shut-In trail as they both lead to the same trailhead.  We decided to try the Shut-In trail as it provided us some different views and perspectives.

The Shut-In trail starts off with a quick descent from the 1st shelter. Essentially switchback after switchback down the hill right next to the shut-ins. As you make your way down the hill you can hear the water rushing through the shut-ins getting louder until you make it to the bottom.

Then after you make it to the bottom the terrain is very flat and the area looks 100% different. Along the way back you encounter a few more beautiful features of water coming off the mountain and we also ran into some more deer.

Takeaways from this trip

I really liked the trails around Sam A Baker. You can really make your own trip by following one or many available trails to make it as short as you want or as long as you want.

The waters around the park are absolutely gorgeous. From Big Creek to Saint Francis River, the water is so clear and refreshing. I really want to do a trip in some warmer weather next time so we can enjoy some swimming.

Sam A. Baker Mudlick Trail View

According to the Sam A Baker website the shelters can only be used during the winter season Oct 1st to May 15th. This makes no sense to me. They are such a wonderful resource I don’t know why someone backpacking during the summer couldn’t stay in one of those shelters. If anyone knows the reason for this I would love to find out.  Maybe next time I will stop and ask a ranger what the thought process behind that is.

I am probably going to look for a lighter backpacking tent. The one I have is a two man tent and while it is fairly light I want to go even lighter so I can bring fishing gear or maybe a backpacking chair to sit in next time.

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