Hawn State Park has the reputation as being Missouri’s prettiest, especially in fall. Ed Schott can look out the window of his office and see why.
“There are lots of vibrant reds and yellows in the oaks and hickories, and we have one of the largest stands of shortleaf pines in the park system,” said Schott, who is the superintendent of the park in southeast Missouri.
The pines mix with the hardwoods to create a mosaic of color that spreads across the rolling forested hills. Pickle Creek and River Aux Vases have carved through the sandstone bluffs, cutting down to the harder igneous bedrock to form shut-ins.
“With all the pines, a lot of people compare it to being in Colorado,” Schott said.
Hawn leads the way in proposing a six-pack of parks worthy of an autumn visit.
A fall drive to each of the parks ends at a destination that is perfect for a picnic. The attractions include an historic mill, a natural bridge hidden in the forest, and a picturesque covered bridge popular for wedding photos.
At Hawn, nearly two dozen picnic tables with grills are scattered beneath the tall pines. Sparkling Pickle Creek borders the area and a two-mile looping trail heads cross a foot bridge, up along the bluffs and back across the creek to the picnic area.
Hawn is off Highway 32 in Ste. Genevieve County. If heading south on Interstate 55, Route O is a scenic shortcut to 32. A visit to the park can be combined with a stop at the wineries on the Route Du Vin, which is south of the park on Route B off Highway 32.
Here are five other parks or historic sites, located throughout the state, which can be a midway picnic stop in a colorful fall drive:
• Sandy Creek Covered Bridge State Historic Site north of Hillsboro in Jefferson County — Located off Highway 21 south of the Goldman exit, the barn-red bridge was built in 1884 and restored 100 years later.
Sandy Creek flows leisurely beneath the bridge, and picnic tables with grills are nearby in a grove that includes giant sycamores.
“It’s just a pretty, quiet little spot that gets a lot of wedding use,” said assistant administrator Kevin Johnson. “It’s close to St. Louis, but not too close. You’re out in the country.”
• Bollinger Mill State Historic Site near Jackson in Cape Girardeau County — The site is named for the stately four-story brick mill on a stone foundation next to the Whitewater River.
Adjacent to the mill is the Burfordville Covered Bridge, which was built in 1858 and is the oldest of Missouri’s four remaining covered bridges. The bucolic 43-acre setting has picnic tables in a shaded grove along the river.
• The Natural Bridge at Ha Ha Tonka State Park at the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri — The bridge is a massive arch that remained when the roof of a cave collapsed. Four picnic tables with grills are scattered nearby in the woods.
Visitors can take the boardwalk down to the spring, or up to the ruins of a stone castle. Highways 42 and 7 roll through the countryside, approaching the park from the east.
• Buzzard’s Roost at Mark Twain State Park in Monroe County — Highway 19 heads from Interstate 70 to the park in northeast Missouri. The park is in the wooded hills above the Salt River, which was dammed to form Mark Twain Lake. Buzzard’s Roost is a picnic area with an overlook of the lake from a tall bluff, and a historic stone shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
• Wallace State Park near Cameron in northwest Missouri — Interstate 35 north from Kansas City leads to the park. The interstate currently is blocked by construction, but a detour presents a more colorful route along the back roads. The park is a forested oasis amid the farm fields, with numerous picnic sites in the lovely Deer Creek Valley.