With several big cities and the beautiful Ozark Mountains, there’s something to see in every region of Missouri. From Kansas City on its western border to St. Louis on its eastern side, and even Columbia and Springfield in between, you’re sure to find something to do if city life is your scene. If you prefer the great outdoors, the Show-Me State has a plethora of waterways, parks and mountains to explore. Here are some of our favorite stops across the state.
Gateway Arch, St. Louis
First up is the most notable landmark you likely associate with Missouri: the Gateway Arch. This iconic monument is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial on the banks of the Mississippi River, and it’s worth including in your tour around Missouri. The stainless steel arch pays homage to St. Louis’ role as the “Gateway to the West” as the United States expanded in the 1800s. The 630-foot arch is the tallest arch in the world and the tallest man-made monument in the Western hemisphere. And yes, you can visit the top of the arch.
The arch has a tram system that carries 5 passengers at a time on a 4 minute ride to the top through the interior of the arch. There’s a small observation area there where visitors can take in views of the river and the downtown St. Louis area. If the compact tram sounds like too much of a squeeze for you, visit the museum at the base of the arch to learn about the Native Americans, explorers and pioneers who shaped America.
Forest Park, St. Louis
This beautiful park in downtown St. Louis is considered one of the nation’s greatest urban public parks. Its 1300 acres are filled with forests, lakes, greenhouses and 5 of the city’s cultural institutions, including its zoo, art museum and science center. It is the sixth most visited urban park in the United States with the 13 millions visitors it attracts each year, and at one time hosted the World’s Fair and the Olympics. At Forest Park you can work out, leisurely take in nature, attend a concert and learn more about science, art and the state of Missouri. Check out the Jewel Box Greenhouse’s landmark art deco architecture or go on one of the park’s bird walks. No matter what your interests are, Forest Park has something for everyone.
Katy Trail State Park
If you love the outdoors with a side of history, plan to take a ride on Katy Trail. Its 237 miles follow Lewis and Clark’s path up the Missouri River. The trail is built on the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, which was called MKT or Katy for short. It’s now America’s longest “rails-to-trail” project, and along the way you can discover 4 fully restored train depots. The trail connects Clinton and Machens, Missouri, but there are 26 different trailhead options where you can pick up the path. Ride the trail on bikes, traverse it on horseback or take in its beauty on foot.
Table Rock Lake
In southern Missouri, just outside of Branson, pay a visit to Table Rock Lake. This man-made lake was constructed in 1954 and is held in place by the Table Rock Dam. In this area of the Ozarks, you’ll find just about every activity imaginable. You can of course enjoy water sports and lake activities, but there’s much more to Table Rock than the lake. Visit the caves of Talking Rocks Cavern, or the 2,200-acre Dogwood Canyon Nature Park created by the founder of Bass Pro Shops for hiking or guided fishing and horseback riding tours. Alongside the area’s natural attractions are some man-made entertainment options as well. The Shepherd of the Hills Adventure Park features roller coasters and a canopy zipline tour. You can also step back in time with the 1880s-style Silver Dollar City theme park. Here, you’ll find award-winning restaurants, period craftsmen, live shows and of course, rides.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park
For a different view of the Ozarks, head to Ha Ha Tonka State Park in Camden County. This unique park is situated on the shores of the Niangua arm of the Lake of the Ozarks. It is best known for the Ha Ha Tonka Castle Ruins, the remains of a once grandiose mansion on the lakeshore. The European-style castle was built in the early 1900s and belonged to a wealthy Kansas City family, and at one time was converted into a hotel. Unfortunately, the building burned down in 1942 but what’s left of the dream home has been preserved and is open for visitors to explore. Once you’ve seen the castle ruins, check out the caves, sinkholes and bluffs around the rest of the park.
While the surface level view of the Ozarks is pretty spectacular, you won’t want to miss what’s underneath it. Missouri is known as the Cave State. The Meramec Caverns are the perfect place to explore the Ozarks underground. The 4.6-mile cave system is near Stanton, Missouri and is big enough to fit a 7-story building inside. Take a guided tour along lighted paths through the limestone deposits and learn about one of the world’s most rare cave structures, the Wine Table. You can even enjoy a patriotic light show on the cavern walls of the theater room.
Best Places to Visit in Missouri
From caves to castles and theme parks to state parks, Missouri has plenty to discover. Has this list of the best places to visit in Missouri gotten you planning a trip to the Show-Me State? If you’re looking for more travel inspiration, check out our favorite RV destinations on the blog!