As we left our campsite, the grey clouds relentlessly showered the windshield with rain. In the few minutes it took to drive to the Johnson Shut-Ins, the rain let up slightly, instilling in us a small hope that we might be able to play in the water. We parked at a playground along the river. Nearby was a covered shelter with information about the geologic history of the area. We used our umbrella to cross the distance to the shelter and educated ourselves for several minutes until the rain was only a drizzle.
Geologic history lesson at Johnson Shut-Ins
We decided to follow a gravel trail near the river and see if it would take us to the Shut-Ins. I brought my camera with me, but the overcast weather made most photographs I took look rather dull due to poor lighting. Luckily there were some nice flowers and wild plants along the path that made for interesting subjects.
After what seemed to be about a fifteen-minute walk, we arrived at a parking lot and a large wooden building. From the tall radio antenna visible, I suspected it was a ranger station. That turned out to be the case, but it also had a gift shop and changing rooms for people headed to swim in the river.
From the ranger station, we walked along a pathway until we discovered people playing in the water below. They were wading in a shallow pool created by the river trying to squeeze through the rocks of the Shut-Ins. The rocks near this pool were short and only just rose above the water, but as the water ran through the gaps and down into a large pool further down the river, the rocks became giant granite boulders as large as elephants.
Small rocks in upper pool at Johnson Shut-Ins
Fox and I walked out on the rocks so we could check out the Shut-Ins from up close and I could take some photos. As we were doing this, the sky continued to clear up. We both wished we had brought our swimsuits as the water looked clear and was a good temperature. After a while we left to return to our campground and eat lunch.
Examining the Johnson Shut-Ins State Park on a rainy day.
Later in the day the sun was shining brightly and the clouds had all but vanished from the sky. We changed clothes in our tent, grabbed some towels, and drove back to the parking lot in front of the ranger station.
Due to the nicer weather, the Shut-Ins were bustling with activity. Many families were scattered about with people looking on from the beach, playing in the upper and lower pools, and climbing all over the large boulders in the water.
We had received advice prior to our trip that it would be a good idea to bring water shoes. As we started to make our way out into the river, we were glad we had listened. The clarity of the water seemed to be due to the rocky bottom and the moist surfaces of the boulders could be very slippery.
Clear river water
To get accustomed to the water, we slowly submerged ourselves up to our heads in the upper pool where the shadows of a cliff above the river made the water temperature quite cool. Fox was covered in goosebumps, so we decided to go explore the paths the river made between the boulders.
The river split into small streams as the water ran between rocks, creating small waterfalls with personal pools beneath them. Where the streams could not reach there were some tidal pools with warm, stagnant water filled with algae which we generally tried to avoid.
Streams at Johnson Shut-Ins
Small pool in boulder at Johnson Shut-Ins
We quickly found that traversing the streams between rocks was best done with both hands and feet in order to reduce the risk of slipping, falling, and hitting our heads on thousands of pounds of solid granite. Also stepping along the bottoms of the streams gave good traction for our feet.
As we made our way to the larger boulders near the lower pool, we encountered some deeper pools where I could not touch the bottom as well as almost unsupervised kids jumping from a large boulder above into pools near us without warning. As neither of us were interested in getting knocked out by sudden falling children, we turned around and headed back up to the upper pool where there weren’t as many people.
We found an underwater natural bench formed by flat rocks. It was covered in some slimy moss but otherwise made a good place to sit and relax in the water. Again I was struck by how cool the water was when I noticed the goosebumps on Fox’s arms, so we called it a day and waded to the beach to get our towels.
Johnson Shut-Ins turned out to be a great place to visit with clean water in which to swim and unique geologic features which were fun to explore.