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Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit Missouri

Updated on November 23, 2015

Incredibly Tall and Beautiful Trees

One of the pretty spots near one of the creeks at Shaw Nature Reserve in Missouri, USA.
One of the pretty spots near one of the creeks at Shaw Nature Reserve in Missouri, USA. | Source

What is Shaw Nature Reserve?

Shaw Nature Reserve is in Gray Summit Missouri, and part of Missouri Botanical Garden. I heard about it years ago and thought it always sounded interesting. I never really heard many people talk about it that had been there, so wasn't sure what it consisted of. It turns out there are at least a couple historical buildings there, numerous trails and several things to see. Walking and hiking trails abound and depending on the time of year there is so much to discover.

One year for my birthday this was the thing I wanted to do with my family. We all truly enjoyed it more than I imagined we would. There is a lot of land there to cover, and it backs up to the Meramec River. It is located six miles south of the Missouri River. A very pretty area!

Beautiful View of the Trees against the Sky

I loved all the trees at Shaw Nature Reserve.  These were so beautiful, when looking up into them, set against the blue sky.
I loved all the trees at Shaw Nature Reserve. These were so beautiful, when looking up into them, set against the blue sky. | Source

What to Expect at Shaw Nature Reserve

Once you pull into Shaw Nature reserve there is a little building there which serves as a visitors center. You will want to go in there and get a map of the grounds. It is a fairly large place with some good walking trails. Some parts could be considered hiking and some trails got rather narrow at times.

There are places to park that go in a bit further than the visitors center. On the farthest end of the property is the Meramec River. The Meramec river is one of the longest free flowing rivers in Missouri and it is beautiful.

Don't be afraid to ask questions of the staff at Shaw Nature reserve, as you can be best directed. I knew I wanted to see the flowers in bloom for instance, and we were shown several options on the map. We were told just enough information and not too much, but with it could make a well informed decision.

You will want walking shoes at least, or whatever your favorite pair of shoes are that you wear for walking, and some water. Depending on the time of year, you will want to have some bug repellent and for sure bring some sun screen. A hat and sunglasses are things you may be glad you brought along.

There are limited places to fill up a water bottle but they do exist. There are bathrooms but not many of them. If you hope to stop here and there, there are a few benches to stop and rest or just to sit on to take in the amazing views.

If you are looking for a place to have a photo shoot, this is a winner for sure. In fact, I hadn't even really thought about using it as a place for a professional photo shoot, except that there were some people there doing just that, with a baby. It was a great idea.

If you are looking for a great outdoor site for some family event or get together, this is a great place as they have a couple of different locations on site that you could gather people together with tables and restrooms under a sheltered location. I have been to a couple of family reunion events, and this would make a perfect spot for such a thing. There are places for the kids to get out and run around, places to sit and visit, eat, etc.

Along the different paths, are large wooden signs that stand out, giving some interesting education on one thing or another. So if you are going to learn, this can very easily happen in more ways than one in this reserve.

Prairie Area, with Paths

One of the more open areas, resembling the many prairies that were in such a large part of Missouri .  Many are working to restore a lot to Missouri's native landscape, etc.
One of the more open areas, resembling the many prairies that were in such a large part of Missouri . Many are working to restore a lot to Missouri's native landscape, etc. | Source

Some of My Favorite Things about Shaw Nature Reserve

My family and I were pleasantly surprised at just how neat the Shaw Nature reserve really was. Here are some of the highlights.

There was what I will call a fern garden. For lack of better words, there was this lush and beautiful bunch of ferns growing in part of the woodland area. In fact, it was as if there was fern after fern until it resembled waves of ferns. They were absolutely gorgeous and as much as I love gardens, I had never really seen anything like this! I took some pictures, but I doubt they do them justice.

Creeks are a natural part of the landscape at Shaw Nature Reserve. Little creeks and rivers make their ways down to the Meramac river. To me, to come upon a creek in a wooded area is a true joy! I just love it. There were little stepping stone pillars to go across, or a bridge that took you high over the one creek we crossed. It was so neat. I know it may sound odd, but the sound, the coolness, the rocks, the little critters like frogs and crawdads, and all the rest, are just really neat to me. If we didn't have more ground to cover, we could have stayed in this part a long time, especially my younger son. He isn't so young anymore, but it took me back to his cub scout camp days when we would search for "crystals", which were rocks that had a lot of quartz in them, and really were crystals, and crawfish, etc. It is like there is something magical about such places that is hard to put into words for me.

There was a blocked off area, where they had these fences to keep the deer out. This was to enable the fields of flowers to grow, in part, or I believe that was the case. So you had to go through this large fence, but you didn't even see it until you came upon it. The long paths through the wooded areas were simply wonderful. I just had a big smile on my face, I couldn't help it, as it was the most beautiful day we were there! The temperature and breeze made it extra special.

Before you knew it, we would come upon a wide open area, one of many. There was a prairie type area, where the grasses grow real tall. Much of Missouri was grassland, prairie type land. There is a big movement to get back to some of that for different parts of the state where people are dedicated to it. So you can see what it looks like while at the reserve. So the paths or trails were weaving through these prairie grasses that blew gently when the wind did. Open and full of sunshine, we went through this part quickly, but enjoyed it and the lone trees in the distance that were spread out.

To be clear, there is a lot of walking. We walked maybe five miles or so, which was more than I thought we had time for. This much walking isn't necessary, but we pretty much didn't stop so it was good exercise for me compared to normal!

We came upon the wildflower trail next. This was really neat! I could tell though that were not at all at the height of the bloom season. That said, what was blooming was absolutely beautiful! I took as many pictures of the flowers I could find, and will be sharing some here that weren't too blurry. Being in a hurry meant I had to take fast photos, or else really get left behind! So as anyone that knows me can imagine, I absolutely loved the wildflower garden path. At this point however, I saw only a portion of it, as we quickly took a different route and were going to instead come back that way to see the full wildflower trail.

The next thing I knew, we were to what they called the cliffs. This wasn't much of a cliff with not too much to see. You did see a sign that said cliffs ahead, but the view was somewhat blocked so we immediately kept walking. At this point though, we did see some neat overhangs, where the rock comes way out, and it would make a great little shelter in a downpour or something like that, for a short time anyway. In this one overhang, my son made sure I saw how this tree had grown around the rock in a most unusual way. It was wrapped around it, like hugging it, and I am not sure my picture grabbed it the best. It is interesting how well a tree can do considering a seeming impediment! This massive rock did nothing to stop its growth, and that it was part of the overhang was really cool to see.

The next thing we knew, we were on a much more narrow path, and while I was getting tired, we seemed not too far from the gravel bar area. I wasn't entirely sure at that point what it was, but I had an idea. So we kept going along, and it was shaded and woody and cool. New plant life was growing in this area, and the flowers were few, but very very interesting compared to the ones in the bright light. We kept walking and walking, and these are my favorite kinds of trails where you wind in and around the trees and step on or over rocks. It took me back to my childhood days, where I loved nothing more than exploring like that! Anyway, it was so pleasant.

Before long, we made it down that set of trails down to a more flat and open area again, on the way to the gravel bar. It was in this area where the growth was low except for where the trees were so tall and looming overhead. Again, it was like a wonderland in nature, so amazing to me. I kept saying, "isn't it beautiful?" I couldn't help it, and I know people probably think me odd, but I wish I could convey just how lovely it was this particular afternoon. Again, Missouri can get so hot and humid, and so I think the fact that this day was especially gorgeous allowed for the full enjoyment of the surroundings. It was still spring, and the breeze was nice, as was the fact there were no bugs or mosquitoes yet. So we just got lucky I think!

But back to the surroundings, the woodland with the later afternoon sun which created a greater effect of dappled shade as the shadows grew longer..... well the effect was incredible to me. I absolutely loved the moment I was in, right there enjoying the beauty surrounding me. We were all loving it, taking it in. I was always at the end of the pack with my camera trying to get it all and take it all in at the same time. My husband and boys know me well though, and since this was for my birthday, I got no complaints and we always just end up catching up with each other anyway. That said, my husband does say this is why I am not allowed to go with him if he ever gets to go on his Blue Ridge Mountain hike he wants to take one day. The kind of hiking that covers a serious amount of distance. I can be doing my own version of it however and pick him or them up later on. That works for me, though I can see really loving it.

So we would occasionally come across a few others on the trails and they all seemed happy and enjoying themselves too on a late Sunday afternoon. We got closer and closer and finally found the gravel bar. The area opened up wide again, the sun shone all around. There were tons of rocks, and further down the way was the beautiful Meramac River. What a gorgeous site with the gravel bar on one side, and some typical Missouri bluffs on the other. My husband commented on how it was so amazing we never came across one piece of trash or litter anywhere of any kind. This is a testament I think to the people that do frequent this place and that go there. To not find one can or bottle cap or water bottle or gum wrapper was remarkable. It was neat to see people caring for the land like that, in so many ways.

Path Leading to the Wooded, or Woodland Hiking Areas

One of the many paths and trails at Shaw Nature Reserve.  I liked the little bench in the distance under the tree, where people could stop and take a rest if they want to.
One of the many paths and trails at Shaw Nature Reserve. I liked the little bench in the distance under the tree, where people could stop and take a rest if they want to. | Source

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The River and Heading Back Along the Paths

The Meramac River was a sight to see. It was just beautiful. Upon coming out into the open after being in the wooded area, we saw a little pile of rocks stacked just so. This turned out to be very helpful when you saw fit to head back to where you had just come from. A neat marker.

As you can imagine, someone got the idea to skip a rock and then that was all that mattered for a little bit, which I just loved. We found more rocks suitable for skipping, further away from the water. Others had been there clearly, to do the very same thing. Again, no trash was to be found anywhere. I was truly impressed, for all the other places I have seen where people seem to just not care.

The river looked like it clearly got very heavy at times of the year, but this was not one of those times. In fact, when we were going back up the narrow wooded trails, we saw a special marker indicating the level of the water some years back. It literally seemed too high a point to have had the water actually get that high. Yet it did. Just another reason to not build your house too near the water, even if you think you are far, it doesn't take much, and only one time for a house to then be just gone.

My boys found a couple of different things to show me, like rocks and what looked like a really cool leaf fossil or indentation in a rock. We had seen a sign about not taking anything, so we didn't. Yet it warms my heart to see these cool things, and that my boys know I like it and want to show me, is really sweet. I took a picture of one of them at least, and I hope it turns out.

Heading back, as the reserve was closing. You could only be there through the sun set time. This seemed so far away yet here we were. So we kept at a steady pace, stopping here and there for some especially cool things or creatures. Like a neat spiny caterpillar, a swallowtail butterfly, and even a neat bobcat we think, it looked just like one! It was very shy of course and didn't like dealing with humans probably. Nature wise, this area has its fair share of nature. What a treat to see it running by.

We saw more rock overhangs, more flowers and all kinds of trees. I was in heaven it seemed! Going back, even on the parts where it was the same, it was different. I think the reason was because of the lowering sun and how the light came into the wooded area at such a sideways fashion, the effect was all the more magical. Dark in parts, but very light in others, highlighting things in ways you wouldn't notice any other time of day really. If there was more time, this would have been the photographers dream.

If you can't tell by now, let me just say that I so thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Shaw Nature Reserve. We took our time heading back enjoying all the little spots along the way.

Lots of Neat Flowers and Plants - Pretty Purple Flowers

Little Purple flowers growing in the wooded areas at Shaw Nature Reserve.
Little Purple flowers growing in the wooded areas at Shaw Nature Reserve. | Source

Towards the end of the trails that took us back to the original parking areas, I continued to enjoy the setting sun on this beautiful, breezy day. It had a been a great time out in nature, before the mosquitoes get too bad or the humidity and heat get too much.

If you are ever in the area or have family or friends coming to visit that would enjoy this kind of thing, I can highly recommend this as a place to visit. It is well taken care of, and a lot to learn and enjoy. You are sure to see your own set of cool things like animals, fossils, all kinds of trees and mosses, etc.

On our way out, I saw a photographer catching what looked to be an end of the day photo of a big pond with gorgeous trees lining it. They were reflected beautifully in the water, truly beautiful. I will have to catch that the next time I go if I get to go again! I am so glad we went, it was a wonderful, memorable birthday I will always remember.

Shaw Nature Reserve - Interesting and Informative

Map of Shaw Nature Reserve

Shaw Nature Reserve:
Missouri Botanical Garden: Shaw Nature Reserve, 307 Pinetum Loop Road, Gray Summit, MO 63069, USA

get directions

Shaw Nature Reserve is a place for nature lovers. There is a lot to offer at this beautiful site. I would highly recommend checking it out!

Gray Summit, Missouri:
Gray Summit, MO, USA

get directions

© 2014 Paula


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