Missouri, or “The Show Me State”, has lots to offer visitors, from impressive natural scenery and outdoor adventures to exciting cities with interesting museums and lots more.
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Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Camdenton
Ha Ha Tonk State Park is one of the state’s most treasured gems, best-known for housing one of America’s few castle ruins. Located on the Lake of the Ozardks, the park hosts the stone ruins of the castle that was modeled after 16th-century European castles, which sits high atop a bluff. Robert M. Snyder, a successful Kansas City businessman, purchased Ha Ha Tonka Lake and Spring in Camden County in 1904. He immediately began constructing roads and making improvements to the land and planned to make it his private haven away from business pressures and city life. He chose the site on the rocky summit for his retirement home and envisioned building a European-style stone castle. He began constructing it in 1905, and after his death, his sons continued the project on a smaller scale. By the late 1920’s they had completed the stone mansion, several carriage houses and a water tower. The castle served as a hotel until it was destroyed by fire in 1942.
The park also features 15 miles of trails that lead to caves, natural bridges, sinkholes and the lake.
One 0f Missouri’s oldest cities, St. Charles is often ranked as one of the state’s best small towns. Founded in the 18th-century by a French fur trader, it initially served as the state’s first capital. It also played a part in the Lewis and Clark expedition, where it was known as the last “civilized” stop on their westward journey. Wander the town’s focal points, the paved brick streets along Main and Riverfront Streets, where you’ll find over 120 shops that are housed in historic 1800’s buildings. You can also enjoy walking the Katy Trail or taking a short drive to the rolling hills of Historic Missouri Wine Country where you can sip award-winning wines, take in amazing vineyard views and taste fantastic cuisine.
Onondaga Cave State Park, Leasburg
By heading underground, into the depths of Onondaga Cave State Park, you’ll discover a world of wonders that include towering stalagmites, dripping stalactites, and active flowstones. Rimstone dams, draperies, soda straws and cave coral also extensively decorate the cave. This National Natural Landmark is the quintessential example of why Missouri is often called “The Cave State.” Visitors can take guided tours to explore the underground wonderland, and above ground, the park’s Vilander Bluff Natural Area offers scenic views of the Meramec River, as well as easy access to the water for activities like fishing and canoeing.
Elephant Rocks State Park, Belleview
The gigantic elephant-shaped granite boulders are the star of the show at Elephant Rocks State Park in the Saint Francois Mountains. a geologic reserve and public recreation area. The elephant rocks, which were formed from 1.5 billion-year-old granite, are massive boulders that stand end-to-end like a train of circus elephants. They’ve created formations that intrigue geologists and are popular with history buffs, and those who enjoy climbing among them. A one-mile loop interpretive trail in the Elephant Rocks Natural Area, called the Braille Trail, is the first in Missouri state parks designed specifically for visitors with visual and physical challenges. Spur trails off the main trail include one that passes through “Fat Man’s Squeeze,” a narrow gap between two boulders that leads hikers to an abandoned quarry, and another that goes through “The Maze,” a 100-foot section of scattered boulders.
Known as the “Beautiful City,” Florissant is located just a short drive from St. Louis along the Missouri River. It offers a pleasant, scenic diversion, along with a rich history, away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. It hosts more than 400 acres of parkland across 20 city parks, and within them, you’ll find lots to do, including exploring a log cabin that dates back to the mid-19th-century, and even a U.S. fighter jet. First settled in 1785, Florissant is one of the oldest towns in Missouri, and much of its past can be glimpsed in the Old Town area, including remains of much of its Spanish settlement. Spanish archives in Havana have revealed there were 40 people and seven plantations in Florissant at the time of the 1787 census.
Branson is well-known for its bright lights and a wide variety of things to do, including entertainment opportunities. Although it’s a famous tourist destination, with many visitors drawn to its country music shows, it also offers comedy, acrobatics, dance, Broadway, Irish and more, along with a host of interesting museums and exhibits, not to mention its close proximity to the Ozarks, wineries, and the Branson Tri-Lakes. Even if you aren’t particularly fond of neon or 1980’s entertainment, you’ll likely still find its main strip an impressive and dazzling experience with plenty of charms. Away from the main thoroughfare, an array of outdoor activities and scenic natural vistas can be found too. Or, take a ride on the free trolley to explore the Historic Downtown – it’s like taking a trip back through the 1880s.
St Joseph offers a chance to learn about American history in a much more fascinating way than one ever could by reading a history book, such as seeing the spot where the Pony Express began and viewing the home where Jesse James once lived. The unassuming little home became nationally famous when Robert Ford shot and killed Jesse James within its walls – the hole where the bullet hit the wall can still be seen today. The town is also home to some 13 museums, hosts 12 annual festivals, and a host of spectacular architecture that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Outdoor recreation is available throughout its four dozen parks and 26 miles of scenic parkway too.
The largest metropolitan area in the state, St. Louis is packed with exciting family-friendly attractions and is second only to Washington, D.C. when it comes to the number of free activities available in the U.S. cities. It offers an incredible variety of museums, gardens, parks, breweries, and of course, the world’s tallest man-made monument, The Gateway Arch. An open mall surrounded by reflecting pools leads up to the historic courthouse, the site of the Dred Scott decision, facing the Gateway Arch. Explore Forest Park and the St. Louis Zoo, sample complimentary brews at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery and go on a pub crawl around The Loop.
One must-visit, especially in the spring, though gorgeous all year long, is the Missouri Botanical Garden. This Victorian-era botanical garden, known locally as Shaw’s Garden after its founder, botanist and philanthropist Henry Shaw, is the oldest of its kind in the U.S., and a National Historic Landmark. An oasis in the city, it covers 79 acres and displays a wide array of plants, trees and shrubs, including an astounding collection of rare orchids. Its show stopper is the geodesic dome known as the Climatron which covers a half-acre and hosts a rainforest-themed collection of 1,400 species of plants, like cacao, coffee and banana, along with wild-collected orchids, and a river aquarium with exotic fish. Leading the way to the Climatron are glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly which float in the lily pads. The garden also houses an English Woodland Garden, a Japanese strolling garden, a Victorian District and the original 1850’s estate home of Henry Shaw.