The pristine beauty of the Meramec River and its surrounding bluffs, caves and forests were recognized as supreme natural treasures very early in the state park system. As early as 1926, land was being purchased to create what is now Meramec State Park.
In 1933, Meramec State Park was among the first parks in Missouri to benefit from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, a government program created in response to the Great Depression. As part of the program, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) established a 220-man Camp in Sullivan, MO. In the nine years that followed, Meramec State Park hosted 2 CCC companies, the 739th and the 2728th, in which 2,500 men worked.
After establishing temporary quarters, the young enrollees began constructing the park's permanent public structures like the dining lodge, cabins, and recreation hall. The "Three Cers", as they were sometimes called, also built distinctive structures like the hexagonal observation tower on the Bluff View Trail whose trailhead is located near the Fireside Store & Grill.
A CCC tree nursery, once located where the parks Visitor Center now stands, supplied seedlings for erosion control projects throughout Missouri. Thousands of walnut and pine trees were planted in Meramec State Park alone to hold the thin Ozark topsoil. One such pine plantation, now matured, can be seen today near one of the parks picnic areas. CCC personnel made an impact on nearly all parts of the park. They even constructed the interpretive trail in Fisher Cave.
The labor of the men of the CCC, done mostly by hand with shovels, double-sided axes, hammers, and star drills transformed this portion of the Meramec Fiver Valley into a recreation destination for countless visitors. There is a monument that honors their struggles through one of our nation's most difficult times and for leaving us a lasting legacy in Meramec State Park at the Fireside Store and Grill.
The park's natural heritage is as rich as its abundant cultural heritage. Several miles of picturesque riverbank scenery are preserved in the park, providing a haven for river wildlife and recreation. Hidden within the park's expansive forest are several springs and more than 40 caves.
Naturalist-led tours of Fisher Cave, offered on a seasonal basis, provide an interesting adventure for park visitors. From the low, narrow streamside passages to the huge rooms filled with calcite deposits, Fisher Cave offers one outstanding cave scene after another. Inside these rooms and passages are well-preserved bear claw marks, cave wildlife and a vast array of calcite deposits ranging from intricate helictites to massive columns 30 feet tall.
The 461-acre Meramec Upland Forest Natural Area features glades, caves, sinkholes, and wet meadows. Rare plants, animals and opportunities for solitude are just a few of the reasons to explore this remote area of the park. Nature discovery programs are provided on a regular schedule at the outdoor amphitheater.
Water recreation opportunities are abundant at Meramec State Park. Float down the river in a canoe, kayak, or raft and enjoy the scenery along the way. Weekday floats offer substantially more solitude than weekends. Canoe, kayak, and raft rentals are available at the Riverstop Store and includes shuttle transportation, paddles, and life jackets. People swim in the Meramec River at their own risk. Fishermen can cast their lines into the river, which contains the greatest variety of aquatic life in Missouri.
For a closer glimpse of the scenic Meramec River valley, hiking trails wind throughout the wooded areas, past cave entrances and along the river. Eight primitive backpacking campsites are located along Wilderness Trail. Numerous shaded picnic tables and pavilions provide a great place to hold family gatherings, eat lunch or just rest.
For overnight visitors, camping opportunities vary from remote primitive backpack sites to recreational vehicle sites with sewer, water, and electric connections. Hot showers, modern restrooms, a coin-operated laundry, and a sanitary dump station are available to all campers. Cabins scattered across the hillside overlooking the valley are heated and air-conditioned and come complete with linens, cooking utensils and dishes. Guest accommodations also include a motel and a conference center. Lodging rental is coordinated at the Fireside Store and Grill, which also has picnic supplies, toiletries, tackle, souvenirs, and firewood.
Dining is available at the Fireside Store and Grill, which is located inside the park store. Hours vary by season.
Located near the park entrance is the visitor center. Here, guests will find additional literature, exhibits and a slide show to obtain an overview of the park's natural, cultural, and recreational resources. Many of the center's exhibits focus on the Meramec River. Large aquariums display the amazing variety of aquatic life found in the river from a closeness that one otherwise might not experience. The exhibit also includes a life-size riverbank diorama.