Johnson’s Shut-Ins


Johnson’s Shut-Ins is a state park in Missouri. Although not known as a dive site, it is very popular with swimmers. The dive area is relatively small and shallow (less than 20’), and very difficult to access, but nonetheless, offers a very unique dive experience.

You enter the water in a small canyon like area, with shear granite walls on each side. As you follow the canyon down, it gradually opens into the main pool. The topography changes from season to season, but the dive is generally from about 5’ to 15’. The water is extremely clear for the Midwest. We measured 25’ on our recent trip there. The fish are numerous and relatively colorful.

The hard part is getting there. From the parking lot to the water is about a half mile, with many steps up and down, so don’t take anything you don’t absolutely need. Even with the steps it would probably help to use some kind of 2 wheel dolly. All but the last part is asphalt or boardwalk. Follow the boardwalk to the very end. At this point you are at the top of the cliff where people use to (and sometimes still do) jump to the basin below. From here you climb over the railing with your gear, and ignore the sign that says “Don’t go pass this point under penalty of $500 fine”, and proceed down a very steep rocky incline to the waters edge. Although this is not exactly a sanctioned maneuver, the rule was created to deter cliff jumpers, not scuba divers. Also ignore the sign that says, “No diving”, as this was also referring to cliff jumpers. Once your dive is completed, follow these directions in reverse order to get back to your car. Although very difficult, this is a must do dive. (At least once)


3 Responses to “Johnson’s Shut-Ins”

  1. SteveC says:

    We had a great dive here today. The vis down to a depth of 15’ was great. About 25’. At this point there was a very pronounced muck level, with vis of about 1’, although it didn’t appear to go much deeper. I would say about 20’ at the most. Temp was about 75°. We dove 5mm wetsuits.

  2. Brenda Goodnight says:

    The last time I was @ Johonson Shut Ins was this summer, I was told to come back after Labor Day to do scuba diving.

    What I would like to know is, if you think it would be easier to lower my gear down from the top with a rope and retrieve the gear the same way. What do you think, could it be done? I did not go all the way to the top of the cliff, so I don’t know if it could be done.

    Brenda Goodnight

  3. SteveC says:

    I wouldn’t attempt lowering your gear from the cliff. The hardest part is walking the long distance from your car to the end of the trail. The next time I do this dive, I’m going to try to use some kind of dolly. It was very uncomfortable trying to haul everything on my back. Once you get to the end of the trail it’s a steep, but short distance to the water. At this point you can stop and carry stuff one thing at a time.
    I didn’t bring any camera or video equipment with me last time, but I will next time.
    The crowds should be gone after this weekend (Labor Day) so sometime soon would be a great time to go.
    I would sum it up this way.

    1. Bring some kind of wheeled device.

    2. Break the haul into two trips.

    3. Have enough people so someone can stay and watch equipment if making more than one trip.

    4. Bring drinking water.

    Let me know if you have any other questions.


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