Wonders of Nature
Western Ste. Genevieve County contains some of the loveliest vistas in the state, and Hawn State Park offers visitors one of the best places to experience this diverse natural landscape. When schoolteacher Helen Coffer Hawn willed the state 1,459 acres of majestic hills and crystal streams in 1952, her gift became the centerpiece of one of the most outstanding recreational jewels of the state park system.
The park features an unusual landscape with canyon-rimmed valleys, clear sand-bottom streams and a mixed oak-pine forest. In places, the oak-pine forest gives way to pure stands of mature shortleaf pine - Missouri's only native pine species. In addition, Hawn State Park preserves one of Missouri's best examples of the distinctive Lamotte Sandstone - a very old, coarse-grained sandstone overlying ancient igneous bedrock. The sandstone's unique ability to hold groundwater produces a variety of distinctive flowers and plants.
Much of the park is in the Whispering Pines Wild Area, which offers excellent opportunities for hiking, backpacking, bird watching and nature study. The majority of the wild area is covered with shortleaf pine, white oak, black oak and flowering dogwood. Wildlife abounds with turkey, white-tailed deer, raccoon, eastern gray squirrel and the broad-headed skink. Visitors can hear the chirping and courtship of such birds as pine warblers, chickadees, owls and scarlet tanagers.
The park's principal streams, Pickle Creek and River Aux Vases, meander across the landscape carving steep-sided valleys. In some places, the water cuts deep enough to reach the igneous rock, forming magnificent shut-ins. Several sandstone overhangs along the streams create an environment that is cooler, damper and shadier than the surrounding hills. This provides a refuge for plants and animals normally found in more northern states.
More than 20 species of fish, including rainbow darter, striped shiner and silverjaw minnow, swim in the cool waters of the Pickle Creek Natural Area. The stream rushes over granite outcrops and shut-ins as well as Lamotte Sandstone and a banded crystalline rock that some geologists believe is a metamorphic gneiss rock. It is one of the few places in the state where such a diversity of rocks is exposed at the surface. Because of Pickle Creek's high quality and pristine nature, it has been designated an outstanding state water resource.
The park contains some of the finest hiking trails in the state. Hikers on Whispering Pine Trail can explore many of the park's features as they wander through forests and along streams. The trail, built in cooperation with the Ozark Chapter of the Sierra Club, consists of two loops leading toward the River Aux Vases. A shorter trail starts at the picnic grounds and leads to the scenic shut-ins at Pickle Creek. There are three primitive backpacking camps along the trail. White Oak trail offers a medium length hike that travels through mixed hardwood and pine forest, across creeks and over sandstone outcrops. Several connector trails join the White Oaks and Whispering Pine trails enabling visitors to extend or shorten their hiking trip.
The park features a campground with electric and basic sites, as well as modern restrooms, hot showers, laundry facilities, a dumping station and playground equipment. Pickle Creek flows along the edge of the campground offering colorful displays of flowering dogwood in the spring. To relax with an afternoon picnic, visitors can choose from many picnic sites nestled under the pine trees, and the open picnic shelter can be reserved at the park office.
During the summer months, a seasonal naturalist provides nature walks and evening programs, but the park has a great deal to offer in any season. In winter, the pines provide a splash of color against the freshly fallen snow; in autumn, the forest is ablaze with gold and red leaves; and in spring, flowering dogwood and redbud mingle with the delicate pink and white flowers of the wild azaleas.