You Won’t Believe The Trees At Elephant Rocks State Park

This photo by Aaron Fuhrman (Aaron Fuhrman Photography) was taken at the top looking towards the biggest elephant rocks. Click on the photo to visit Aaron's website and view his beautiful landscape photography.

This photo by Aaron Fuhrman (Aaron Fuhrman Photography) was taken at the top looking towards the biggest elephant rocks. Click on the photo to visit Aaron’s website and view his beautiful landscape photography.

We recently went to Elephant Rocks State Park, the home of largest round granite boulders and awe-inspiring landscape in the great state of Missouri, for a second time. On our first visit we almost missed the main attraction because we were a little too adventurous. We took a side trail, missed the easy entry to the top, and only found the path up the center as we were leaving. Looking back, it seems almost impossible to do, but we did it. The trees were thick, and we just couldn’t tell where to go. In that case, we should have followed all of the wacky kids that ran up through the trees and disappeared (I guess they had been there before).

On this trip we knew how to get to the big rocks, but started by cruising the perimeter a bit before lunch, and we found even more cool stuff that we missed on the first trip. To the right of the parking lot, the rocks make a nice surrounding for the picnic tables, and are where we started to explore. Once we got up past the picnic tables and started climbing, we quickly went into slow-down-Mira mode, so that she could live to see the rest of the park.

We got Mira to focus, get away from the edge, and stop running and quickly found a quarry pond with steep ledges and more big round rocks, that we hadn’t seen on the first trip. After we were done checking out the new-found area, we headed down for lunch. On the way back down, I noticed for the first time (really noticed) the trees growing on the top of the rocks. I found a dead log and brought it back with me so I could slice it and take a photo. For those of you wondering, all of the signs said don’t take the rocks, they didn’t say a thing about dead logs. Anyway, here is a picture of the unbelievable 28-year-old post oak log. Click on the photo to see what makes it so unbelievable.

This post oak log from Elephant Rocks is about 28 years old. Click on it to see what makes it special.

This post oak log from Elephant Rocks is about 28 years old. Click on it to see what makes it special.

I knew that it would be a slow grower since it was growing on top of a rock, but it was really slow. The log is a tiny, itty-bitty 1-1/4″ in diameter. At that rate, to grow to a reasonable-sized log for milling of about 18″, it would take 409 years or maybe never even make it. To put that more into perspective, a normal slow-growing tree would have about eight rings per inch. This one had about 40, and so close together that they are hard to see.

The tree it came from was small and stunted, trying to grow out of a crack in the granite. It looked like many of the trees directly on the rocks. One of them can be seen in the first photo and another is pictured below.

With a trunk diameter of 6", this 8' tall post oak is over 100 years old.

With a trunk diameter of 6″, this 8′ tall post oak is over 100 years old.

A few trees were much larger. Perhaps they were very old or just had more soil to work with, even though they were in a tough spot. I was surprised to see a tree this size in this spot.

This black oak managed to get much larger. Maybe it is 300 years old.

This black oak managed to get much larger. Maybe it is 300 years old.

We also found many trees with odd shapes, trying to work their way through the rocks. After this next post oak, I was told to stop taking tree photos and move on by both of my boss’.

This post oak is good for climbing too.

This post oak is good for climbing too.

From then on we enjoyed the rest of the park and spent our time climbing on the rocks. We followed the very nice asphalt trail that makes a loop around the rocks and takes you to the top. The following photo shows you the other reason (besides the trees) for going to the top of the mountain. The rocks are unbelievably giant. It is amazing how big the rocks are and that they don’t just roll down the hill. By the way, that is not my family.

This is the biggest rock at Elephant Rocks. Courtesy Aaron Fuhrman Photography.

This is the biggest rock at Elephant Rocks. Courtesy Aaron Fuhrman Photography.

This is how the rest of the park looked when we visited on November 10th:

If you have never been to Elephant Rocks, I highly recommend that you go. If you have been there before, I highly recommend that you go again. It is truly amazing, and at about 1-1/2 hours south of St. Louis, worth the drive.

Below are a few notes that I put together after just two trips to Elephant Rocks. If you have been there before, feel free to add your own in the reply section.

Notes for visiting Elephant Rocks:

  1. Granite gets warm. The park has lots of shade from the trees, but the open spans of granite get toasty in the sun.
  2. Plan to stay awhile. The path around the park is only a mile, but there are lots of things to see and explore.
  3. Bring a lunch. There are many nice picnic tables around the parking lot, all situated among trees and rocks.
  4. Be ready to climb. The entire park is open to be explored. Older kids (and some adults) will be jumping from rock to rock, rock climbers will be honing their skills, and parents of little ones will be very nervous. Even so, there are plenty of places to safely explore close to the ground.
  5. Granite is slippery. Some spots are well worn, polished and smooth. Don’t be afraid to get down on your butt. You will end up there anyway.
  6. Bring your camera. You will definitely need a photo of yourself holding up a giant rock.
  7. From this point head straight up through the trees to the big rocks.

    From this point head straight up through the trees to the big rocks.

    Don’t miss the biggest rocks. At the bottom of the hill and the entrance to the loop Braille Trail, is what I will call the “foyer” of the park. At this spot, which has a single rock with a ring of asphalt around it, you can head directly into the trees and up the mountain. It is not marked as a trail or a path, but others will most likely be headed through this passage. This is the spot we missed the first time because it is not identified at all, especially compared to the very nice trail that heads away to either side. When there are no leaves on the trees the path will be obvious. Otherwise, just trust me and head up the gut to the top. Do note that heading up the center is on the granite rock and not on an asphalt path. It isn’t too hard to climb, but it isn’t for everyone. If you think you might have trouble climbing the rock, just follow the main trail around the back and to the top. You will end up in the same spot.

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About wunderwoods

Hi! My name is Scott Wunder and I am the owner of WunderWoods Custom Woodworking. We build wine cellars, built-ins and furniture from local woods, here in St. Louis, MO. Recently, I finished a three-year term as the President of the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild, which had me writing a monthly article for our newsletter. I love to write, especially about wood, and found that I still had more to say. Every day I run into something wood related that I realize some of my customers don't know and this seems like a great forum for sharing what I have learned (instead of telling the same story to each person). The main thing to remember is that I try to keep it light and as my wife always reminds people that have just met me, "He is joking."

4 responses to “You Won’t Believe The Trees At Elephant Rocks State Park”

  1. swfordyce@aol.com says :

    If you go on a hot day, find the water-filled quarry about 100 yards beyond the picnic tables. There’s a ledge for jumping in, and the finest swimming pool in Missouri: huge, smooth-sided and carved in living rock. The Other quarry is straight beyond the Elephant Rocks from the parking lot. Johnson’s Shut-Ins is a great side trip nearby.

  2. Lisa G. says :

    Scott – we just did this in July – amazing! I cannot believe I’ve lived here my whole life and never checked this out before. Another recommendation – if you don’t pack a lunch – check out the nearby town of Caledonia. Two good lunch restaurants and the a historically-accurate dry goods store – it is like stepping back in time (cool for grown ups who like old stuff) and they have old-school penny candy and kooky toys that the kids went nuts over (cool for the tinys who like new stuff). Johnson Shut Ins is next on our list – can’t wait!

  3. bubbasuess says :

    This is pretty cool. I did not know formations like this occured in the Ozarks. If you ever want to see something really cool, just shoot down I-44 to Lawton Oklahoma and go to the Wichita Mountains. They are easily the most impressive things in that part of the country:
    http://www.trailgroove.com/issue9.html?autoflip=57

  4. Doug Houser says :

    Great post. I’ve been to Elephant Rocks many times in my life and I’m ashamed to say never paid much attention to the trees. I will the next time. Thanks.

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