St. Joe State Park is located in the old "Lead Belt" region of southeast Missouri. The area's first successful mining venture began in the early 1700s when miners extracted lead by hand from shallow pits and operations were conducted only three to four months a year. Thanks to the introduction of the diamond-tipped drill by the St. Joe Lead Co. in 1869, the lead mining industry took off and the recovery of the world's richest known deposit of lead began in earnest. The company consolidated a number of small, independent diggings and emerged as the largest of four principal mining companies in southeast Missouri by 1900. For more than 100 years, this area produced nearly 80% of the nation's mined lead. The discovery of rich new deposits in other areas led to the demise of mining at the site.
In 1972, St. Joe Minerals Corp. ceased operations in the area and subsequently donated the land to the state in 1976. Mined areas underlay approximately 25% of the parkland, and remnants of the mining era remain visible throughout the park. The milling complex used by the St. Joe Minerals Corp. still stands and has been designated as Missouri Mines State Historic Site. The site houses an excellent rock and mineral museum and a gallery of mining equipment.
The most distinctive feature of St. Joe State Park is the riding area for off-road vehicle (ORV) use. Trails wind through the wooded portions of the park, as well as through the sand flats, an area created by the sandlike residue - or tailings - from the lead mining process. Signs clearly mark the boundaries of the ORV area, and all off-road vehicles must stay within these boundaries at all times. A staging area is available for parking and unloading vehicles. Snowmobiles are permitted during the winter months. For the convenience of ORV users, Campground 1 is located near the riding area with electric and basic sites, which are all reservable. Laundry facilities, modern restrooms, hot showers, a playground and a dumping station are located in the camping area. Trails from the campground to the ORV area provide access for unlicensed ORVs that are not permitted on park roads.
The ORV area can also be accessed from the Donnelly-LaMear Trailhead, conveniently located right off Highway 67 at the Fairgrounds Drive exit. It is open Thursday through Sunday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. April through October and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. November through March. The area has ample parking and restrooms. Online permits are required to use this entrance into the ORV area, but there is also access to the paved bicycle trail.
In addition to the ORV area, St. Joe State Park offers a diverse mix of outdoor activities for the whole family. Hikers, equestrians and mountain bicyclists will enjoy the trails winding through the hills and across serene creeks. In addition, a paved bicycle trail is popular, with cross-country skiing allowed when the weather permits. For visitors who want to spend the night on the trail, five basic trailside sites are available. Equestrian campers and campers without ORVs can take advantage of the electric and basic sites in Campground 2. All campsites are reservable.
St. Joe State Park boasts four clear lakes, two of which are easily accessible and have excellent swimming beaches with changehouses and restrooms. Anglers in search of bass, catfish and crappie can cast their lines into any of the four stocked lakes. Man-powered boats and boats with electric trolling motors are allowed on the lakes; the use of gas-powered motors is not permitted.
Maturing second-growth forests of oak and hickory that are natural to the area cover most of the park. The forests are interspersed with native grasslands and a number of intermittent streams and wetlands. The Blankshire Savanna and Pimville Prairie can be seen from the bicycle trail and Pimville Road, respectively. Excellent picnic sites are available at the Pim Day-Use Area and at the trailheads. Picnic shelters are located at various places around the park. For a nominal fee, the shelters at the Pim and Monsanto Lake day-use areas can be reserved for large group gatherings.
The historic mill buildings, where St. Joe Minerals once processed lead ore, still stand nearby and have been designated as Missouri Mines State Historic Site. A path off of the bicycle trail will lead visitors to the site, which features a mining museum that houses a large collection of geological specimens and antique mining and milling equipment.