St. Francois Mountains
Points of Interest:
• Visit the highest point in Missouri, Taum Sauk Mountain!
• Explore one of Missouri’s most rugged and scenic landscapes.
• View the rushing water of Missouri’s tallest wet-weather waterfalls after a rain.
• Look for forest-interior birds such as the brilliant scarlet tanager.
Natural History: A large, rugged landscape with the tallest wet-weather waterfall in Missouri (Mina Sauk Falls), the tallest point in Missouri (Taum Sauk Mountain at 1,772 feet), and the state’s deepest valley through which flows Taum Sauk Creek, an Outstanding State Resource Water. In 2009 this was the state’s largest designated natural area and probably it’s most rugged. This natural area had its origins 1.5 billion years ago as a landscape of volcanoes surrounded by a shallow sea. The dominant rocks strewn across this area are rhyolite, formed from magma that extruded onto the surface as a lava flow a long time ago.
Nearly 400 native plant species have been documented from the natural area. Significant tracts of igneous glades provide habitat for some of the largest and most genetically diverse populations of Mead’s milkweed, listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the collared lizard, a Missouri species of conservation concern. Many of the area’s igneous glades have not suffered the overgrazing that many others. Prescribed fires have been utilized on the area resulting in an open understory and rich ground layer of wildflowers, ferns, grasses and sedges.
Clothing the slopes and knobs are dry and dry-mesic woodlands of white and black oak with scattered shortleaf pines and a ground cover rich in native legumes and goldenrods. The presence of low bush blueberry and farkleberry allude to the acidic nature of the woodland soils. Along the toe slopes and terraces along Taum Sauk Creek occur mesic forest stands with sugar maple and pawpaw. Small acidic seeps occur and support sedges and mosses – good habitat for the four-toed salamander, a species of conservation concern. Taum Sauk Creek supports eight native fish species such as the southern redbelly dace and creek chub and is highly scenic
This natural area lies in the upper part of the Black River watershed which is at the heart of the largest contiguous block of forest and woodland in Missouri and the lower Midwest. This site is a part of an Audubon Important Bird Area (see: http://mo.audubon.org/) designated as such because of the region’s importance to songbirds dependent upon large blocks of wooded lands, including the Acadian flycatcher, ovenbird, and worm-eating warbler. Glades provide habitat for blue-winged and prairie warblers, another set of conservation priority bird species. Look for the Louisiana waterthrush along the creek while the Kentucky warbler inhabits the mesic forests of the valley. Up on the slopes summer and scarlet tanagers, black-and-white warblers, and whip-poor-wills can be found. Feeding on native grasses and wildflowers over 65 species of native leaf beetles have been documented. Think of how many other insect species might be out there!
From Ironton, go 6.5 miles south on Highway 21 and then head right (north and west) on Highway CC. Follow Highway CC west for 4 miles which dead-ends at Taum Sauk Mountain State Park. From the parking lot the Mina Sauk Falls Trail is a moderately rugged three mile loop trail providing a view of the wet-weather falls and access to the natural area. One mile south and west of the bottom of the falls is the Devil’s Tollgate, an eight-foot-wide passage that takes visitors through 50 feet of volcanic rhyolite standing 30 feet high. This geologic feature can be accessed by hiking the Taum Sauk Section of the Ozark Trail (see http://www.ozarktrail.com or call 573-436-0540) which shares the Mina Sauk Falls Trail and then heads west from the base of the falls.
The Ozark Trail connects Taum Sauk Mountain State Park to Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park and provides access across this large natural area. The trail allows visitors to hike over 12 miles between the two state parks and through the St. Francois Mountains Natural Area.
A 1600 acre portion of the natural area centered on a south trending ridge of Proffit Mountain is owned and managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation and is open to hunting. Hunting is not permitted on that portion of the natural area owned and managed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (State Parks). Fishing is permitted on the entire natural area. Bring a map and compass for exploration.