Visitors Guide to the
Big Oak Tree State Park
13640 MO-102
East Prairie, Missouri

Accessible Parking Accessible Picnic Facilities Interpretive Exhibits Accessible Hiking Trails Accessible Wildlife Viewing Fishing Opportunities Boat Ramp Accessible Restrooms


The 1,029-acre Big Oak Tree State Park is an oasis of forests located in the abundance of farmland of the "Bootheel" region of southeast Missouri. Early explorers to the region discovered a unique landscape where the Ozark hills dropped off abruptly into flat flood plains covered with giant trees. Beginning in the late 1800s, the giant timber and fertile soil of the lowlands began to attract timbermen and farmers. Timbermen cleared the trees leaving bare land and landowners supported the creation of drainage districts that enabled them to plant crops, such as wheat, soybeans and corn. Over two million acres were converted from forest to cropland. In the 1930s, citizens of southeast Missouri began to realize that their magnificent lowland forests were about to disappear forever. A campaign to save a large oak tree and 80 acres surrounding it attracted statewide attention. In response, Gov. Lloyd Stark asked the Mississippi Valley Hardwood Co. to spare the tree and surrounding land. Due to the Great Depression, the state, however, could not afford to purchase the land. Despite the depression, businessmen and local citizens began donating money while area school children gave their nickels and dimes. In 1938 over 1,000 acres were purchased and dedicated as Big Oak Tree State Park.

The big oak tree that the citizens fought to save was located in an 80-acre tract of virgin bottomland hardwood forest, which is now designated as a National Natural Landmark. It stood there for nearly 400 years before dying in 1952. Today, trees in the park are unsurpassed in the state for their size, with a canopy averaging 120 feet and with several trees more than 130 feet tall. Four trees qualify as state champions in their species; with one ranking as a national champion. Ninety percent of the park is designated as a Missouri natural area because of its rarity and value in preserving this significant representation of Missouri's natural heritage. The park was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1986 because it was a rare untouched wet-mesic bottomland hardwood forest in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, which is part of the Gulf Coastal Plain and it contains the state park system's only cypress swamp.

The park features a boardwalk that winds its way through the park past some of the park's largest trees. A walk on the boardwalk also gives visitors a chance to view many common mammals, such as deer, raccoons, squirrels and opossums, along with the rare swamp rabbit. Amid the lofty trees live more than 150 species of birds, giving the park a national reputation among bird watchers. An interpretive center along the boardwalk explains the forest and swamp ecosystem in the park. Big Oak Lake provides 22 acres of fishing. Picnic sites, a picnic shelter, and a playground are all nestled under towering trees, which makes the park a great place for a family to spend the day.

  Bird Watching
Big Oak Tree State Park is listed on the National Audubon Society's Great River Birding Trail. Over 150 species of birds have been observed at this site including bald eagles, Mississippi kites, waterfowl and other water birds, and forest dwelling songbirds. This location is an excellent place for observing migrant species during both the spring and fall migration periods. The Missouri Audubon Society maintains a checklist for birds that can be seen at the park.
  Visiting Big Oak Tree State Park
     Park hours:
          Park grounds are open from 6 am - 10 pm year-round.
     Park Office hours:
          April - September: 10 am - 4 pm, Tuesday through Saturday
     Nature Center hours:

          April - September: 10 am - 4 pm, Tuesday through Saturday
          October - March - The nature center is accessible by prior appointment.
          Please note you may need to contact staff at the park office before going to the nature center.

There is no charge to visit the Big Oak Tree State Park.
Directions: Big Oak Tree State Park is approximately 13.5 miles south of East Prairie on MO-102.
  GPS Coordinates
36° 38.641'
W 89° 17.126'
  Learn more about the East Prairie area.  
  Big Oak Tree State Park
The official website of
Big Oak Tree State Park.
Hiking at Big Oak Tree State Park 
Bottomland Trail
1.5 miles
This trail is rated Easy This loop trail lies within Big Oak Tree Natural Area, a portion of the park recognized as a National Natural Landmark. The trail gives you a glimpse of the old-growth, bottomland hardwood forests that once occurred along portions of the Mississippi River. The trail loops through an oak-hickory forest and gradually meanders into a forest community of more wetland and swamp species. The trail passes beneath some of Missouri’s tallest trees and past a few former state champion trees. A short spur crosses connects the trail to the picnic area by Big Oak Lake.
The Boardwalk
0.7 miles
This trail is rated Easy This trail is on an elevated boardwalk that showcases many of the park’s natural communities and champion trees. The trail begins within a fire-maintained, wet mesic woodland community of oak, hickory, sugarberry and giant cane, then passes through a bottomland forest of bald cypress and pumpkin ash. The trail ends at an observation deck overlooking a marsh/shrub swamp community. The observation deck and elevated boardwalk afford the opportunity to be in the middle of a swamp without getting your feet wet.
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