Visitors Guide to
Washington State Park

Entrance is 8 miles south of DeSoto on State Highway 21
DeSoto, Missouri

Accessible Parking Accessible Picnic Facilities Accessible Interpretive Exhibits Accessible Missouri Historical Site Hiking Trails Scenic Views Wildlife Viewing Fishing Canoeing Accessible Swimming Opportunities Accessible Camping Accessible Cabins Accessible Restrooms

Custom Search
Washington State Park is located in the eastern Ozarks region of Missouri along the Big River. The park is rich in both history and prehistory. Two-thirds of Missouri’s known petroglyphs, or rock carvings, can be found at Washington State Park. The park was the location of prehistoric ceremonies associated with the Native American culture that archaeologists call the Mississippian and the petroglyphs help in understanding the lives of these people who are believed to have inhabited the area around 1,000 A.D. A handicapped accessible platform with interpretive signage (photo left) allows visitors to see these remnants of a past civilization. Because of the number and extraordinary quality of the carvings, these sites were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

Washington State Park is also the site of many Depression era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) structures. Shortly after the land was donated to the state for a park in 1932, an African-American company of the Civilian Conservation Corps began to develop the area. Inspired by Indian petroglyphs in the park, the all-black company named their barracks "Camp Thunderbird," and continued that theme at the former dining lodge, which now serves as a camper store and snack bar. The lodge has an Indian thunderbird symbol carved in its stone chimney, and the theme is repeated in the handmade iron door hinges. The stonemasons also did extensive roadside work, laid stone for what is known as the 1,000 Steps Trail, and worked on 14 buildings, including an octagonal lookout shelter with an interesting rustic design. Because of the exceptional quality of their craftsmanship in stone these buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

The 1875-acre park is also noted for its natural beauty with both the characteristics and unique features of the eastern Ozarks. The Washington State Park Hardwoods Natural Area has a wide assortment of trees including Kentucky coffee, sugar maple, and slippery elm trees. On the hills and bluffs are limestone glades and savannas and the area looks the same as it did before the arrival of European settlers. These open forests and sparse grasslands contain trees that are often quite small, even though they may be more than 200 years old. Washington State Park is considered to be one of the best state parks in Missouri to visit to see wildflowers with the 1.5-mile long 1,000 Steps Trail leading to one of Missouri’s most spectacular spring wildflower displays. The Opossum Track Trail is a 3-mile loop trail that provides outstanding views of the Big River valley and the rugged 10-mile Rockywood Trail is designed for both hiking and backpacking use.

The Big River is a popular feature of the park. The river flows under towering dolomite bluffs and is used as a floating and canoeing waterway. Anglers can often be seen catching bass, catfish, bluegill and carp. Swimmers and sunbathers have a choice between a natural gravel bar in the river or an Olympic-size swimming pool. A picnic gazebo located at the scenic overlook provides a majestic view of the Big River and surrounding area. During the summer, naturalist-led programs explain the significance of the park features. The nature center building is located next to the park office near the north entrance of the park and is open from sunrise to sunset year-round. The park has basic and improved campsites at the campground as well as air-conditioned cabins with fully equipped kitchens available for rent.

Visiting Washington State Park
The park grounds are open from sunrise to sunset year-round.
There is no fee to visit the Washington State Park; rental fees apply for certain services.

Hiking at Washington State Park 
1000 Steps Trail
1.5 miles
This trail is rated Strenuous This trail was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936. After climbing the stone steps up through the oak/hickory hardwood forest, you will encounter more of the CCC’s handiwork:  an overlook shelter built into the hillside to resemble a natural outcropping. This stone shelter overlooks the Big River valley and makes a nice resting place after the long climb. Hiking along this trail, you may see wildflowers, native songbirds and abundant dolomite rock outcroppings. This trails also meanders through the 68-acre Washington State Park Hardwood Natural Area, an area of land set aside for protection because of its natural beauty.
Opossum Track Trail
2.5 miles
This trail is rated Strenuous The Opossum Track Trail goes through a section of the 68-acre Washington State Park Hardwood Natural Area, an area of land set aside for protection because of its natural beauty. Along sections of the trail, there will be depressions which are the remains of prospecting operations for a mineral called barite. Along the trail there are several breath-taking views of the Big River valley, particularly near the Civilian Conservation Corps overlook. The trail travels through a typical Missouri oak-hickory hardwood forest that features with wildflowers, songbirds, native wildlife, and trickling water winding its way along an ancient creek bed.
Rockywood Trail
6 miles
This trail is rated Strenuous Rockywood Trail winds through the park’s oak/hickory forested hills. The trail also traverses a section of the 68-acre Washington State Park Hardwood Natural Area. It joins the other two park trails at times. Hikers may notice the signs of fire as the park administers an on-going glade management program to help restore the area’s glades to their historic nature. A backpack camp with no amenities is located about a third of the way along the trail.

Editor's note: Washington State Park is technically located in Washington County, an area that does not cover. We have included it in our coverage as the park sits on the border of Washington and Jefferson counties, and the nearest town is the Jefferson County community of DeSoto.

Directions: The entrance to Washington State Park is located 8 miles southeast of DeSoto on State Highway 21.

Learn more about the DeSoto area.

Washington State Park - Official site maintained by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Custom Search

Liberty Bell of the West
Kaskaskia, IL
Mary's River
Covered Bridge
Felix Valle
State Historic Site
Route de Vin
Ste. Genevieve County
  Regional Guides
to the Middle Mississippi River Valley
  Meeting of the Great Rivers
National Scenic Byway
Ste. Genevieve &
French Colonial Country
Gateway to the West
St. Louis & St. Louis County
   Meeting the Missouri
Historic St. Charles County
The Lincoln Hills Region
Northeast Missouri
  The Tri-States Area
Iowa, Illinois & Missouri
The Mississippi River
Meets the Ohio River Home Page
Your index to over 800 informative pages covering the Middle Mississippi River Valley.
  At we strive for accuracy.
If you have any corrections, suggestions or information
you would like to see contact the webmaster.
For advertising information contact marketing.
Copyright 2001-2011 - Elsah, Illinois