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Visit Missouri's tallest waterfallPosted Friday, September 17, 2010, at 9:59 AM
Mina Sauk Falls, in Iron County near Arcadia, is a wee bit easier to visit than it was 75 years ago. The trip no longer involves parking next to a goat herder's cabin and hiking 25 miles through the wilderness, as described in a 1935 Southeast Missourian story.
It's still a challenging hike, though, along a rocky three-mile loop trail. The route starts at the summit of Taum Sauk Mountain, drops down to the falls, and then climbs to the top again.
A sign at the beginning of the trail warns about the difficulty and notes that the waterfall only runs in wet weather. That's the dilemma: in rainy weather, portions of the trail turn into muddy quagmires. So you want to visit a couple days after a big rain when the falls is still flowing nicely but the trail isn't a sloshy mess. Good luck!
The trail begins as a paved sidewalk leading to the monument marking the summit of Taum Sauk Mountain, Missouri's highest point. Naturally, it's all downhill from here as the trail turns to gravel and then dirt.
During the descent, the trail passes through three rocky glades where the exposed bedrock has prevented trees from growing. The first glade offers a piece of unnatural art in the form of a precariously balanced cairn.
In between the glades, the trail passes through woods where several thousand boulders and tree roots are waiting for you to trip over. At the third, and largest, of the glades, the mountainside opens up to offer a panoramic view toward the west.
If you squint your eyes, you can see the very top of the new and hopefully improved Taum Sauk Reservoir.
Approaching the falls, the trail squeezes through the mountainside along a narrow lock ledge.
Cascading through a total of 132 feet, the falls is virtually impossible to see all at once. The best view is from the very bottom, which requires following a side trail marked "Devil's Tollgate - 1 mi." It's a steep drop to the bottom along a switchback, but the view is well worth the extra effort.
When I visited recently, Mina Sauk Falls had a decent flow, but not as spectacular as shown in the tourism brochures.
I did have the good fortune of visiting when the sun was at an angle that allowed seeing a rainbow in the falls.
Beyond the falls, the water flows through a massive field of boulders.
I decided not to tackle the extra two mile hike to the Devil's Tollgate, a place where the trail slides through a narrow crack between two towering rock monoliths. I was already apprehensive about the climb back to the top of Taum Sauk.
Returning to the main trail, it's possible to walk along the top ledge of the falls. The ledge offers a clear view of Wildcat Mountain, but the falls itself is difficult to see.
Continuing uphill, the trail passes a series of mini-falls and pools along the creek.
From here, the trail veers away from the stream and begins a steep ascent through another glade.
The trail runs parallel to the stream for a distance before turning at an intersection back toward the summit and trailhead. Of course, a visit to Taum Sauk Mountain wouldn't be complete without climbing the nearby fire tower.
From Cape Girardeau, take Highway 72 west through Jackson, Patton, and Fredericktown to Arcadia. At Arcadia, follow the signs for Highway 72 West and Highway 21 South. This road climbs into the hills and reaches Tip Top Roadside Park. Just after the park, turn right on Route CC and follow it until the pavement ends. Continue straight into the state park and follow the road until its ends at a parking lot for the trailhead.
Note: If you haven't been to Fredericktown lately, the route of Highway 72 is completely different thanks to a new bypass. Keep your eyes peeled for the signs and don't panic at the new roundabout. The bypass is quite a time saver.
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The webmaster of seMissourian.com and its sister newspapers, James Baughn has lost track of the number of websites he manages. On the side, he maintains even more sites, including Bridgehunter.com, LandmarkHunter.com, TheCapeRock.com, and Humorix.
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