Braille Trail Loop

Elephant Rocks State Park, Missouri

Trip Date: Friday, April 26th, 2019
Last Updated: Wednesday, May 15th, 2019
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 0.9 miles roundtrip
Time 30 hours
Terrain A few hills
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible Yes

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

While not a destination in itself, Elephant Rocks State Park is an excellent stop on a trip to other nearby parks like Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park. The Braille Trail truly has something for everyone: interesting geology, fun places for kids to explore, and history about the quarry. This is also the first trail I've ever seen specifically designed for the visually impaired -- green squares of carpet indicate places where an interpretive sign with braille is nearby. Wherever you may be heading after, this is certainly a worthy hike.

From the parking lot, follow the paved path towards the loop trail, then turn right when you reach the start of the loop (it was designed for you to travel counter-clockwise). The first part of the trail isn't anything special, but the interpretive signs along the side will teach you a little about the area, its geologic significance, and its quarrying past. To your left, in the center of the loop, you'll see a large mass of granite, the origin of all of the boulders in the park. Once you reach the "back" side of this granitic mass, a paved side trail will take you to the engine house ruins pictured below.

The ruins of the engine house, a remnant of the historic quarry

The ruins of the engine house, a remnant of the historic quarry

Return to the Braille Trail, and in a short distance another side trail will lead to an overlook on top of the huge rock in the center of the loop. From here, you'll enjoy views of the surrounding St. Francois Mountains, the range within the Ozarks home to the highest point in Missouri, as pictured below. You can either return to the Braille Trail or explore this elevated area by heading directly to the right of the overlook.

A view of the surrounding forested hills from an overlook

A view of the surrounding forested hills from an overlook

If you chose to continue on the Braille Trail, a few steps away from the spur trail to the overlook you'll reach another spur trail leading to the top of the granite mass. Along the way, you'll see graffiti over 100 years old! Quarry workers liked to make their mark, carving their name and the date into the rock, as pictured below. You'll find even more graffiti at your feet once you're standing on top of the rock.

Historic graffiti from 1893 carved by a quarry worker

Historic graffiti from 1893 carved by a quarry worker

As you climb the steps onto the solid rock surface, you'll immediately notice the series of boulders -- imagine a train of circus elephants, and you'll understand how the park got its name. Over the course of millions of years, cracks formed in this giant mass of granite you will be standing on, separating it into large blocks. Water seeped into these cracks, rounding the edges and creating the boulders found everywhere in the park. Interestingly, all of this activity happened while the boulders were underground, and the boulders were not exposed to the surface until much later when erosion removed the surrounding earth.

The park is named for these giant boulders that look like elephants standing in a line

The park is named for these giant boulders that look like elephants standing in a line


The elephant rocks and the green forest beyond

The elephant rocks and the green forest beyond

Shortly after returning to the trail, you'll pass through the Fat Man's Squeeze (note that there is an alternative route for those in wheelchairs). The rocks on either side are taller than an average person, giving this passageway an adventurous feel.

The narrow passage called Fat Man's Squeeze

The narrow passage called Fat Man's Squeeze

Upon emerging from the Fat Man's Squeeze, you will see the old granite quarry, now completely flooded as pictured below. Scars and lines will be evident on the rocks on the opposite side. You'll walk over a short bridge, and signs on the right will describe the quarrying process that created those marks, illustrated by two rocks with metal rods workers used to pound with heavy hammers to shape the stone.

Part of the old quarry is now flooded

Part of the old quarry is now flooded

Beyond the quarry area, the hike nears its end as you approach a place called the Maze, where the pavement ends at a field of small boulders (there is an alternative, accessible path to the right). For an adult, it's easy to find the well-worn path back to the pavement, but I imagine this place is fun for small children unable to see above all of the boulders. The loop ends a short walk from the Maze, and you'll turn right to return to the parking lot.

From the quarry's history to the oddity of the stacks of boulders, the Braille Trail is surely an interesting hike. Don't miss it on your next trip to southeastern Missouri! Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Important Information

Dogs are allowed on leash. This entire loop is wheelchair accessible, and the interpretive signs were strategically placed along the trail for easy discovery by blind people and have braille below the text. This is an excellent trail for kids thanks to the easiness of the hike, freedom to explore near the giant boulders, and a playground to enjoy before or after the hike. You can hike here in any season. Given its proximity to Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park, this park sees many visitors.

Directions

From St. Louis, take Interstate 55 south. Take the exit for U.S. Highway 67 south toward Bonne Terre/Farmington. In Leadington, take the exit for Missouri Highway 32 and turn right. Turn left on Cedar Street (Highway N) in Bismarck and take a slight right ahead to stay on Highway N. Turn right onto Missouri Highway 21, then soon ahead, turn right into the park.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Parking is free! There are both flush toilets and vault toilets (depending on the season) as well as a playground and picnic area near the parking lot. At the time of writing, the water in the park was undrinkable, but vending machines were available to purchase bottled water.

External Links

Nearby Hikes

Taum Sauk Mountain (Missouri State Highpoint) and Mina Sauk Falls Loop

Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, Missouri
★★★★☆(4/5)

Shut-Ins Trail Loop

Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park, Missouri
★★★★★(5/5)

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