Arcadia Valley – a region in the St. Francois Mountains that includes the towns of Ironton, Arcadia and Pilot Knob—contains three memorable state parks as well as historic Civil War sites and solid choices for dining, lodging and shopping. Here are some of our favorite activities for a weekend getaway:
1. Elephant Rocks State Park The most distinctive feature of this seven-acre park is the massive pink granite boulders that were formed 1.5 billion years ago. They stand end to end like a line of elephants. A self-guiding trail winds among the rocks and also leads to an old quarry, where Missouri red granite was quarried from the 1860s to the early 1900s, and the ruins of a railroad engine house.
Elephant Rocks State Park; photo courtesy of Missouri Division of Tourism
2. Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park Rocks more than a billion years old form a natural water park of pools, waterfalls and chutes in the East Fork of the Black River. The visitors center explains the shut-ins’ formation. The surrounding St. Francois Mountains provide a colorful backdrop for hiking, swimming, picnicking and camping.
Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park; photo by Frank Oberle
3. Taum Sauk Mountain State Park Trails lead to the highest point in Missouri—1,772 feet above sea level at the top of Taum Sauk Mountain—and into the neighboring Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. Taum Sauk’s 7,500 acres also include a 12-site campground and picnic areas.
Taum Sauk Mountain State Park; photo courtesy of Missouri Division of Tourism
4. Battle of Pilot Knob State Historic Site The ruins of Fort Davidson, a hexagonal fortress constructed by the Union Army, recall the 1864 Battle of Pilot Knob, when 8,000 Confederate soldiers fought to take the fort. Displays, exhibits and a film at the visitor’s center detail the battle as well as the development of the Arcadia Valley. A self-guided driving tour goes to specific points from the battle marked with red granite monuments. A Battle of Pilot Knob re-enactment takes place every three years, with the next set for 2020.
Battle of Pilot Knob State Historic Site; photo by Pam Clifton
5. Old Village Mercantile Visiting the historic town of Caledonia (founded in 1819) feels like traveling back to simpler times. At Old Village Mercantile, vintage signs, classic toys, antiques and gifts such as hand-made soaps and candles fill the two stories of the 1909 building. Indulge your sweet tooth with treats such as old-fashioned sour drops and malt balls, salt-water taffy, fudge and ice cream.
Old Village Mercantile; photo by Pam Clifton
6. Baylee Jo’s Baylee Jo’s BBQ and Seafood Grill in Ironton serves a hearty lunch or dinner of dishes such as cherry-wood-smoked barbecue topped with homemade sauces, fresh Gulf shrimp and thin-crust pizza. Homemade sides and desserts complete the meal.
Baylee Jo's; photo by Pam Clifton
7. Thee Abbey Kitchen-Arcadia Academy Since the property was first developed in the mid-1800s, it has been a high school, a college, a Civil War hospital, and an all-girls Catholic school. Today the Arcadia campus includes a bed and breakfast; theater with original seating where local plays and events are held; gymnasium; the 1908 St. Joseph’s Chapel with original stained-glass windows; an ice cream parlor; and main building with Thee Abbey Kitchen restaurant. Visitors can take a tour to learn about the campus’ rich history as well as sit down for comfort foods served with freshly-baked bread or cinnamon rolls.
Arcadia Academy; photo by Pam Clifton
Places to Stay
Several locally-owned businesses make convenient and affordable options.
Fort Davidson Hotel in Pilot Knob has an outdoor pool and on-site restaurant just steps from the Fort Davidson historic site and museum.
Shepherd Mountain Inn and Suites, next to Baylee Jo’s, provides recently-remodeled rooms with kitchenettes.
Arcadia Academy Bed & Breakfast includes suites, nine newly remodeled cottages and hostel-style accommodations.
Guests at Old Caledonian Bed & Breakfast, in Caledonia, stay in one of four bedrooms in a Greek Revival-style 1849 building. Breakfast might feature fried chicken and waffles or Scotch eggs with house-made sausage (one of the owners is a professional chef).
Crowne Point Lodge, in Farmington, borders a golf course. Amenities include a swimming pool, hot tub, and hot breakfast.