What do you think of when asked about the state of Missouri? A few years ago, all that would come to mind were the cities of St. Louis and Branson, but not much else. It was a pass-through state to many other destinations for us, but never a destination itself. After exploring the state, we realized we had been missing out. Missouri has unique state parks, awesome bike trails, lively cities, a delightful wine country, and lovely small towns. There are so many options to choose from, it just depends on what you like to do. The best part about a trip to Missouri is that it offers a budget-friendly vacation.
The Great Outdoors
State Parks - Missouri has numerous state parks, each distinctive for various reasons. Interested in standing next to a massive, billion-year-old pink granite boulder? Elephant Rocks State Park is the place for you. It’s easy to see where the name originated from because the rocks really do resemble circus elephants! Castlewood State Park was the place to party for the St. Louis city dwellers in the early 1900’s. When exploring, we met an older gentleman with a metal detector searching for jewelry left behind. Apparently, not on a fool’s errand as he had already found vintage collectibles on his quest. The park is now utilized for hiking and mountain biking. The steep rock ledges offer sweeping views of the dense valley of the Meramec River below. Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is a perfect destination on a hot summer day. Swim in the clear waters of the naturally carved swimming holes at the heart of the park. We said budget-friendly, right? The state offers free admission to all of these sites.
Elephant Rocks State Park
Castlewood State Park
Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park
Canoeing –The Current River is 75% spring-fed and water temps average around 58-60 degrees. Canoeing the crystal clear river was a surreal experience. As we paddled through the lush forest, exploring caves and passing by dramatic dolomite bluffs, we kept saying, “I cannot believe we are in Missouri right now.” It was absolutely stunning.
Exploring a Cave on the Current River
Canoeing on the Current River
Biking – The Katy Trail stretches 237 miles across Missouri. We biked a portion of the trail in the fall and what a treat that was. The limestone path was gloriously flat and easy to ride, the leaves were changing, and the views were impressive. The trail parallels the Missouri River periodically and weaves through multiple small towns and historical sites.
Katy Trail Limestone Path
Bridge on the Katy Trail
Beautiful fall color and bluffs on the Katy Trail
Kansas City is an eclectic area with more fountains than you can count (second only to Rome), BBQ restaurants galore, and an innovative arts scene. The vibrant Power & Light District is the premier location for entertainment, restaurants, and bars. St. Louis is a pleasant city with beautiful parks, a world-class zoo, gorgeous gardens, a plethora of local breweries, and fabulous restaurants. Branson has been a popular destination for decades and before we visited, we thought it was going to be chock-full of cheesy musicals and old school restaurants. It certainly was, but it also offered so much more. The new Branson Landing has enlivened the area with an extravagant promenade with restaurants and shops. At the epicenter is an awesome water display that lights up the sky, shoots water, and breathes fire along to music. It is quite a show to enjoy while having dinner and drinks.
Festival at Laclede’s Landing in St. Louis
Missouri Wine Country is nestled among rolling hills, gorgeous vineyards, and charming small towns. Missouri’s mixture of great sun exposure, blazing hot summers, and rich soil makes it an ideal place for growing grapes. Before visiting, we thought all wine originated from European grapes, but was surprised to find out that’s not the case. Missouri’s wine region boasts of its use of the Norton grape, one of the oldest native grapes in America. Sip and be merry on a trip filled with live music, great food, antique shopping, and colorful landscapes.
Enjoying wine while listening to live music at Blumenhof Winery
Breathtaking view at Augusta Winery
Hermann sits on the banks of the Missouri River and is a picturesque German influenced town. It is home to Missouri’s oldest winery, Stone Hill, and six other wineries are within 15 miles of town. Trolleys are spotted carting around its thirsty visitors from winery to winery. St. Charles is another river town settled by the French and is steeped in historic significance. It served as Missouri’s first capital in the early 1800’s and provided a rendezvous place for Lewis and Clark before their exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. Not only rich in history, the brick-paved streets of town are lined with artisan shops, restaurants, and cafes. Hollister is the smallest on our small town list. The English influenced village in the Ozarks is only a few blocks long but is alluring all the same. The Ye Olde English Inn, first opened in 1912, will transport you into the Elizabethan era. The exterior is adorned with vertical timbers and high-peaked roofs with the interior possessing a handcrafted staircase surrounded by all stone walls.
Try a sample of one of the 40 types of different bratwurst in Hermann
Walking the streets of St. Charles
The railroad spurred the expansion of Hollister
Downing Street in Hollister
Missouri is a state that can easily be dismissed due to its location, but it actually has a lot to offer and we’ve only scratched the surface. The best part of exploring is finding new things to do and new places you never knew existed!