Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park

When I was a kid, Dad took me to see Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park while he was building a road nearby. I thought it was one of the coolest places I had ever been in Missouri.

Shut-Ins circa 1978

He said he the sight of water hitting the rock formations and spraying dozens of feet into the air when the river was flooding was “awesome.” Son Matt looks like he was about three or four in one of the photos on this roll (not shown due to excessive cuteness), so they would have been taken before the 1980s, probably around 1978.

When I was there with Dad, we had the whole place to ourselves. Since then, it’s become a popular natural water park from folks as far away as St. Louis. The place was so packed, in fact, that it was hard to find a parking place when we were there last.

Even Mother got into the act

It was  a hot day, so Mother, who will try anything once, took advantage of the cool water.

AmerenUE’s Taum Sauk reservoir disaster

AmerenUE’s Taum Sauk reservoir breached in the early morning hours of Dec. 14, 2005, dumping 1.3 billion gallons of water into the park. This AP story tells how the 1950s-vintage park was redesigned “with 21st-Century sensibilities.”

21 Replies to “Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park”

  1. The Shut-Ins has long been a staple in the list of Robinson Family places to stay and enjoy. The surroundings were always tranquil, and the beauty remained year-round.

    During our last foray there, I experienced something that makes me offer a word of caution.
    It is fun to slip in and around the rocks and pools while swimming but make sure that at least one buddy (the old Boy Scout axiom) is within arms-length. As I slid from one pool into the next, I slid into one of the deep plunge pools and the force of the water drove me deep into the pool. I was struggling to get back to the surface but the water kept pushing me deeper. As I reached up with my arms to pull against the water, I felt a hand gab mine and pull me upward. Fortunately there were several young guys around the edge of the pool and one reached in and had pulled me free. They explained that the same thing had happened to nearly every one of them and they felt compelled to post someone around the edge of the particular pool for safety’s sake if they were there.

    I’m glad they were there.

    1. Sally,

      You and some other folks are in the subscriber database with duplicate entries. I’ll take some time over the next couple of days to clean those up.

      Sometimes the notifications hiccup. Some days it seems to send out multiples. A friend with a food blog is complaining of the opposite problem: some days her notifications don’t go out at all.

      Sorry for the inconvenience.

  2. A nit-picking friend asked if I had addressed how the park got its name in a previous post.

    The answer is no.

    A shut-in is a place where the river’s breadth is limited by hard rock that is resistant to erosion. In these shut-ins the river cascades in many rivulets over and around igneous rocks worn smooth over many eons.

    The area was originally populated by people seeking to escape the ravages of the Civil War – including a family named Johnston, whose name is believed to have lost its “t” due to a recording error. (The Johnson family cemetery is in the park.)

    Too rocky to farm, area residents turned to timbering. Finally, recognizing it was too pretty to mine, Joseph Desloge, scion of a prominent Missouri mining family, donated the land for the park to the state in 1955.

  3. The Taum Sauk Hydroelectric Power Station is the only pure pump-back operation in the nation. In other words, every day, it drains the feeder lake, then, at night when energy is cheap, it pumps water back up the highest mountain in Missouri. It isn’t so much as a hydroelectric plant as it is a giant kinetic battery.

    The Sauk plant is also the largest roller-compacted concrete dam in North America.

    You may also want to check out the before and after photos of the dam failure.



  4. Wow, this is very special place…when I was mere lad the swim team kidnapped me( I was the coach probably in 1970) I was thrown in the trunk of Mark Beaudean’s car with the song “Born to be Wild” playing the whole trip. (8 TRACK tape?) Bruce Nunnely, Brian Weber and David Hollowy were in the front and they drove me to the large cliff upriver from the Shut Ins. I was blindfolded an carried to the top and then unblindfolded at the top of the cliff and then pushed off…about 45 to sixty feet fall or dive and boom I was in the water. We all had great time the whole day! The pool was 30 deep and I remember diving down to the bottom it was dark and cold. We must have dove off the cliff’s for hours!
    Nice day…who said all kidnappings are bad…

  5. Your brother (Skip for others info)was one the “OLDER” boys and good swimmer too. I don’t remember why he did not go that day.

  6. i am a decendant of the johnston family as my maiden name is chapman and if you want to learn more of the shutins read a book called beyond the limelight. it’s a book all about the johnstons and the shutins. i still have a aunt and uncle who live just up the road from the shutins and my grandparents house and cemetary are just up from them. clifford c. chapman was my grandpa.

      1. i found mine at a book store in ok. you might look on the internet it was pretty hard to find but the shut in’s last time i was there had a copy in the office.

  7. These are all great stories, so why don’t you return instead of just reminiscing? Stay a few days and sleep in the most comfortable beds around. 32 years ago we came as young kids to play in the Shut-ins. Paradise. So we moved here from Illinois to be by the crystal clear streams in Missouri and we never went back. We opened a bed and breakfast so people could spend a few days near some of Missouri’s most beautiful places.

    1. I’m heading back to Cape in a couple of weeks. If I can carve out the time, I might come see you. The Johnson Shut-ins story is the site’s 13th most-viewed story.

  8. Summer of Jr. High I almost drowned and lost 2 of my friends who were found few days later under same boulder. I’ve yet to come back and visit . It’s really an amazing tragedy . Boy Scout campout sometime in the 1980s . I believe I should come visit . I don’t know what the shut ins look like when it’s not flooded .

  9. My first visit to Johnson’s Shut-ins occurred in 1963 when I went there with Explorer Post 244. I dove off the highest cliff at age 13 and continued to dive until about age 27, then went back for my swan song at age 51. The cliff is about 63 feet high. What a blast! In the early sixties, no one had sued the park so diving was permitted. like one of the readers above, I, too was sucked under in one of the deepest chutes in the shut-ins and had to fight to regain the surface. Some of the fondest memories of my entire 65 years occurred at Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park

  10. Went here as a child just a couple years after it opened, took my kids here 2 decades aga and now I get to take my grandkids!

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