Located in St. James, Missouri, Maramec Spring Park is a multi-purpose destination for camping, hiking, trout fishing, and much more. Located along the Meramec River just a few miles south of the St. James Exit on Highway 44, Maramec Spring is the fifth-largest natural spring in the state of Missouri.
Wait a moment, is that a typo? Is it spelled Maramec, or Meramec?
Popular history dictates that early American settlers often misspelled “Meramec” as Maramec (and even Merrimack). The James Foundation, owners and operators of the park, have maintained this misspelling tradition. Sources are undecided as to which is the truly correct and original spelling.
Once serving as the grounds for the historic Maramec Iron Works, Maramec Spring Park sits atop karst (limestone, dolomite) topography. Its natural spring discharges approximately 100 million gallons of water every day – incredible! Today, the park is a terrific place to enjoy the outdoors and all that the Meramec River region has to offer.
I only recently learned of Maramec Springs from an online post written by OnlyInYourState.com. After seeing beautiful images from the park, we decided to make it our next camping destination for the 2020 Fourth of July weekend. Though it rained quite a bit on our overnight trip, the result was a beautiful and dynamic sunrise the next morning.
We camped on non-electric basic site #19. Each camp site has its own fire pit, lantern hook and picnic table. On our next visit, we’ll be looking to camp near sites 1-3, as those appeared to be more private and are located much closer to the swinging bridge. It is important to note that the area can be subject to flooding due to its proximity to the river.
As you enter the park grounds you must first check in at the front office, where you’ll confirm your reservation and will be given the gate key card. We met very friendly and helpful staff and our camping neighbors were very courteous. Though we were missing a few “comfort-enhancing” things like thicker padding for bedding and more comfortable pillows, we really had a great time on our very first camping trip together.
Though there are ample on-site amenities, we recommend stopping at a local store or gas station prior to arriving to purchase any additional comforts like adult beverages, etc. Below are some additional items we found very useful during our stay.
In the early 1800s American industrialist and Ohio native Thomas James sent his business partner, Samuel Massey, to the Meramec region to inspect recently discovered hematite mines for possible development. Noticing that the Shawnee people painted with reddish hematite ore, James requested assistance from the tribe to explore nearby hematite deposits. Discovering that the area was stunningly rich with waterpower and natural resources, construction of the Maramec Iron Works facility began in 1826.
Harnessing the power of the spring and the abundance of iron-rich hematite, Maramec Iron Works became the very first successful iron works west of the Mississippi River. Maramec Iron Works was instrumental in the industrialization of early America and would become an important producer of iron used for cannonballs during wartime.
Though the demands of the American Civil War temporarily bolstered production, new railroads would bring competition from more refined operations in Pennsylvania. Surveyors also had discovered large, iron-rich deposits to the north, in Minnesota. Suffering several failed business ventures and a crash in iron prices, Maramec Iron Works was bankrupt and abandoned in 1876 – only fifty years after it opened.
Visitors can thank early American philanthropist Lucy Wortham James for her work in preserving such an incredible region of central Missouri. The granddaughter of William James and great-granddaughter of Thomas James, Lucy often found herself visiting the springs throughout her childhood and developed a fondness for the land. Upon her grandfather’s death in 1912 Lucy inherited ownership of Maramec Spring and the surrounding properties. She would continue to devote her life to developing the Meramec region and to providing charitable contributions to medical research.
Suffering from chronic nephritis, Lucy passed away in 1938. Following her death, the James Foundation Trust was formed to continue Lucy’s philanthropic interests. Maramec Spring and the surrounding 1,800 acres was preserved as a privately-owned park, open to the public. The James Foundation continues to carry out the wishes stated in the will of Lucy James. To this day, the James Foundation maintains the park and it has remained opened to the public.
“As this is considered to be the most beautiful spot in Missouri, it is my great hope that you will arrange that it may ever be in private, considerate control, and ever open to the enjoyment of the people.”
Lucy Wortham James
21880 Maramec Spring Drive
St James, MO 65559
Entrance Fee: $5 per car, per day
Maramec Spring Park is a beautifully maintained, multi-purpose destination for camping, hiking, and sightseeing. With an on-site fish hatchery, the park offers a convenient and plentiful place to fish for Rainbow Trout.
Every October, Maramec Spring Park hosts its annual Old Iron Works Day, a festival that celebrates the rich history of the region. The multi-day event is designed to depict iron work life in the early 1800s. Visitors can view blacksmithing and woodworking demonstrations, enjoy live bluegrass music, and learn more about the significance of Maramec Iron Works. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic the 42nd annual 2020 festival is canceled.
The U.S. Department of Interior declared Maramec Spring a National Natural Landmark in October 1971.