Though the landlocked state of Missouri has no natural lakes with the exception of several oxbow lake formations, summer visitors can still enjoy a plethora of opportunities for waterfront activities at the state's numerous manmade lakes and reservoirs, many of which were created in the mid-20th century as the result of flood control or hydroelectric dam construction. Public swimming beaches and fishing areas are offered at many of the state's public parks, including gorgeous Creve Coeur Lake, the site of many international rowing and sailing events, or top Branson-area attraction Table Rock Lake.
Unique natural swimming holes are found at sites such as Stegall Natural Mountain Area, home to the spectacular 40-foot Rocky Falls, or the ruins of the former Welch Spring Hospital Ruins, visible from the Current River. Several parks also offer opportunities for fishing, swimming, and boating along the majestic Mississippi River, including Trail of Tears State Park. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park
2.Echo Bluff State Park
4.Long Branch State Park
5.Mark Twain State Park
6.St. Joe State Park
7.Stegall Mountain Natural Area
8.Stockton State Park
9.Table Rock Lake
10.Trail of Tears State Park
11.Wakonda State Park
12.Washington State Park
13.Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site
14.Welch Spring Hospital Ruins
14 Best Missouri Beaches
- Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park, Photo: R. Gino Santa Maria/stock.adobe.com
- Echo Bluff State Park, Photo: Sharon Day/stock.adobe.com
- Finger Lakes, Photo: yossarian6/stock.adobe.com
- Long Branch State Park, Photo: Carol/stock.adobe.com
- Mark Twain State Park, Photo: Luckyboost/stock.adobe.com
- St. Joe State Park, Photo: pimonpim/stock.adobe.com
- Stegall Mountain Natural Area, Photo: Prin/stock.adobe.com
- Stockton State Park, Photo: yossarian6/stock.adobe.com
- Table Rock Lake, Photo: Josh/stock.adobe.com
- Trail of Tears State Park, Photo: Stephanie/stock.adobe.com
- Wakonda State Park, Photo: renamarie/stock.adobe.com
- Washington State Park, Photo: Maksim/stock.adobe.com
- Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site, Photo: Juhku/stock.adobe.com
- Welch Spring Hospital Ruins, Photo: Jacob Lund/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: MEndersbe/stock.adobe.com
Attraction Spotlight in Missouri: Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum
Located in Hannibal, Missouri, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum preserves nine historic buildings connected to noted American author Samuel Langhorne Clemens, best known by his pseudonym Mark Twain. Born on November 20, 1835, Samuel Langhorne Clemens grew up in Hannibal, Missouri along the west bank of the Mississippi River. As a young man, Clemens held apprenticeships with printers and typesetters and contributed articles to his brother’s newspaper before embarking on careers in mining and riverboat piloting.
While working as a journalist for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise in 1865, he published a short story titled “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” which received international translation and widespread acclaim for its unique humorous style. Writing under the pen name of Mark Twain, Clemens published a number of noted novels and short stories throughout his career, including the 1876 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its 1885 sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, inspired by his young life in Missouri. Today, Huckleberry Finn is widely considered to be the “Great American Novel,” and Twain is renowned as one of the greatest humorist writers of the 19th century. Since 1912, Twain’s childhood home in Hannibal has been operated as a living history museum, along with a number of other museum and historic buildings preserved as part of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum complex. In 1962, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home site was designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Permanent Exhibits and Attractions
Today, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum is operated year-round as a living history museum complex, owned by the Mark Twain Home Foundation, which seeks to promote appreciation and understanding of Twain’s literary works and ideas. As one of nine properties within the complex, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home is located at 206 Hill Street in Hannibal, bordered the original whitewashed fence that served as inspiration for Tom Sawyer’s fence. The two-story home was the residence of the Clemens family from 1839 through 1853, and is credited as inspiration for the locations within Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Visitors may explore the home’s fully-restored rooms behind protective plexiglass walls, with all rooms furnished with period-appropriate decor and accessories. White statues of Twain are showcased inside every room, along with quotes related to topics of boyhood and coming of age. A garden on the property, surrounded by a stone wall, is also maintained by the museum.
In addition to the Boyhood Home, eight other properties comprise the museum complex, including a Museum Interpretive Center that serves as an orientation point for visitors. Opened in 1983, the Interpretive Center contains exhibits chronicling Twain’s life and career, including a Victorian-era printing press and recreated writing study area. A timeline mural chronicles the history of the Clemens family, along with important social and cultural facts about the Hannibal area.
Visitors may also explore the nearby Huck Finn House and Becky Thatcher House, where Twain’s childhood friends Thomas Blankenship and Laura Hawkins, the inspirations for the novel’s Huckleberry Finn and Becky Thatcher characters, resided with their families. Though the original Huck Finn House was demolished in 1911, it was recreated by the museum using vintage photographs using wood and materials salvaged from other nearby homes. A recreated period-appropriate backyard garden is highlighted, along with plaques explaining the home’s history and significance in Twain’s novels. The fully restored Becky Thatcher House contains a small gift shop, interactive exhibits, and Children’s Play Discovery Area allowing young visitors to dress up in period-appropriate clothing.
The Hannibal Justice of the Peace Building is also located within the museum complex, showcasing the former offices of Twain’s father, John Clemens, who served as the city’s Justice of the Peace from 1844 until his death in 1847. Original case records of cases Clemens presided over are on display in the building, which served as the inspiration for scenes in both Tom Sawyer and The Innocents Abroad. A two-story Museum Gallery building is also featured, containing collections of Twain and Clemens family artifacts, along with original Norman Rockwell paintings and original illustrations by A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court artist Dan Beard. Exhibits chronicle Twain’s career as a riverboat pilot and the world of his Tom Sawyer novels, and listening stations allow visitors to listen to audio recordings of Twain’s writings. A Tom and Huck Statue is also displayed at the foot of the neighborhood’s Cardiff Hill, and a Boyhood Home Gift Shop offers souvenirs related to Twain’s works.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Held since 1956, the museum’s annual Tom and Becky Program is held in conjunction with the city of Hannibal, crowning two local 7th graders each year’s “Tom and Becky” after a pageant selection process. The yearly winners are available for public appearances and performances at local events throughout their reign. An Inspiration of Tom Sawyer program features appearances by Mark Twain impersonator Jim Waddell, who appears at the museum complex Thursday through Sunday afternoons during the summer months. A Music Under the Stars concert series is hosted from June through August, featuring performances by local rock, country, and blues artists. The museum also holds scholarly conferences and young author workshops throughout the year and participates in Hannibal’s annual National Tom Sawyer Days festival, held over the Fourth of July holiday.
120 N Main St, Hannibal, MO 63401, Phone: 573-221-9010
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Attraction Spotlight in Missouri: The Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure
Situated high on a hill in Branson, Missouri is The Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure. The unique attraction offers guests with a unique opportunity to walk among thousands of tropical butterflies from exotic rainforest throughout the world. The site's three-day wristband allows visitors to discover all The Butterfly Palace has to offer, such as the Living Rainforest Science Center, Great Banyan Tree Adventure, Exotic Butterfly Aviary, and the Emerald Forest Mirror Maze.
Visitors can take a peaceful walk down the Exotic Butterfly Aviary's winding paths to view the many beautiful tropical butterflies, or gear up with binoculars and a magnifying glass. The butterflies are imported and are only found in a few collections in the world. Guests exploring the tropical aviary will discover a unique collection of birds and botanical specimens in addition to the butterflies. Visitors will want to remember to bring their camera, as the aviary is a photographer's dream.
The Living Rainforest Science Center is a popular attraction among guests of The Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure. Doing something is always more fun than just looking at something. The center houses several different inhabitants of rainforests. Visitors have the chance to get up close to geckos, salamanders, and brightly colored poison dart frogs. The interactive environment brings out the child in every guest as they learn more about the animal of the rainforest in an entertaining way, such as looking at a microscope display, taking a peek inside a frog at the virtual dissection kiosk, and much more.
The Emerald Forest Mirror Maze provides visitors with a chance to feel what it would be like explore the rainforest underneath its green, thick canopy. Guests will soon realize that not everything is exactly what it looks like as they step into the maze. As visitors make their way through twists and turns, their navigational skills will definitely be put to the test. Just when guests think they have the maze figured out, they're find themselves lost again among the rainforest's twists and turns and will be forced to correct their course. With only small patches of light in the Emerald Forest, it's recommended that adults accompany younger explorers.
The Banyan Tree Bungee Adventure can be found on The Butterfly Palace's second floor, and is a favorite attraction of both young and old alike. This maze is inspired by the Banyan Tree that grows in rainforests. The tangled web of "vines" hanging from the ceiling down to the floor gives the impressions of the Banyan Tree's roots. As visitors weave their way through the maze they'll run into several obstacles. They'll have to navigate their way around fallen pillars, rocks, and hundreds of vines at various angles stretching from the floor to the ceiling. Guests visiting The Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure should make sure not to miss this unique rainforest experience, a fun and thrilling adventure that allows visitors to spend as much time as they want in the tangled vines of the rainforest.
4106 West Highway 76, Branson, Missouri, Phone: 417-332-2231
Attraction Spotlight in Missouri: Discovery Center of Springfield
The Discovery Center of Springfield is a non-profit science center located in Springfield. Its mission is to inspire life-long learning and help people develop a greater appreciation for our world and our place in it. The museum is an interactive museum furnished with hundreds of hands-on exhibits to encourage visitors to explore and learn through play. As such, it is one of the most kid-friendly museums in the state.
In 1991, a group of community volunteers conceived the idea of establishing a center of learning to engage and raise awareness on various educational topics among the public. But it was only a year later that they managed to purchase three museum buildings in downtown Springfield. Over the years, the museum gradually expanded its operations, and today, it boasts 50,000 square feet of interactive exhibit space. In 2006, its latest extension received a LEED-gold certification, making it one of the greenest buildings in the state.
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Since its inception, the Discovery Center of Springfield continues to be the only science center serving southwest Missouri, and it is also the only youth activity center in the region. As such, the center provides a wide range of specially designed educational programs and enrichment opportunities for adults and kids of all ages. From early childhood science exploratory workshops to field trips, the programs emphasize inquiry-based learning experiences to promote deductive-reasoning and critical-thinking skills. One of its annual program highlights is its eight-week summer camp where kids can learn about a variety of science-related subjects, including astrology, zoology and chemistry.
The High Wire Bicycle exhibits are housed in two different buildings across four floors. Most of them are concentrated on the third floor, including the HighWire Bicycle, which is one of the most dramatic displays in the museum. Imagine a bicycle on a thin wire suspended in open air 20-feet from the ground. After strapping themselves securely to the bike, visitors will need to pedal precariously forward and backwards across the wire. The aim of this experiment is to illustrate the center of gravity concept in a fun and participatory manner.
Riders will soon realize that any force that causes the bike to tip sideways will be countered by the force of gravity that acts on the counterweight attached to the bike to bring the system back to a stable position. To ensure visitor’s peace of mind, the display has been equipped with numerous safety features, including a seat harness and safety net display.
Bodyworks and Chromo Zone Lab
Another display found on this floor is Bodyworks, which explores the human body and health and wellness issues. Larger-than-life displays of different anatomical models are found in Sense-sational Hall, which investigates our body organs and the five senses. Visitors will get to sniff different scents, take a look into the inner workings of a giant eyeball, and floss giant molar tooth models. Also located in this section is the Body Works Theatre, which not only showcases videos about our body system but also serves as the location of daily live interactive shows. During the show, members of staff demonstrate science concepts while engaging audiences in question and answer sessions.
Dig deeper into the wondrous marvels of the human body at the Chromo Zone Lab, which focuses on the basic building blocks of life. The gallery exposes visitors to principles of genetics and DNA, which are becoming more important as we move into the new age of genes. There are also opportunities to conduct hands-on experiments at the onsite lab, including close-up views of the human cell using a microscope.
Kids will enjoy role-playing in Discovery Town, which features a mini supermarket and bank among other town features. In the TV studio, children can pretend to operate cameras or be a newscaster for the day as they see themselves on the monitor screen. Alternatively, they can snap pictures of themselves at the newsroom and even print out their images on the front-page news cover. Immersing children in such real-world activities helps them make sense of their surroundings and empower them to become active participants of their own learning.
The Phenomena Gallery houses some of the most popular displays in the museum. At the top of the not-to-be-missed list would be the Van de Graaff generator, which promises a hair-raising experience. Watch out for the surprised look on unsuspecting visitors as they put their hands on the machine. Parents can also get their cameras ready to snap wacky photos of their kids as static electricity makes their hair go crazy.
Have fun with a group of friends in front of the anti-gravity mirror, which demonstrates symmetry in mirror reflections. Visitors will be able to impress observers with their ability to float without any visible means of support. This is because the human body is roughly symmetrical, and by standing at the edge of the mirror, it appears that the half reflected in the mirror is the side that is not seen on the mirror. Have a blast standing in front of the air cannon. When a friend hits the rubber end of the pipe, it compresses the air inside the cannon and forces a puff of air to shoot out from the other end.
The Energy Exchange exhibit explores the basic laws of physics as well as different forms of energy, including kinetic, potential, and electromagnetic. Kids can run wild inside a human-sized hamster wheel to learn about the conversion of energy from one state to another. Simple machines are also available for users to try, including pulleys, gears, and lifts. They aim to demonstrate how these contraptions help change the direction or magnitude of the force to make moving things much easier.
Kids will also love splashing around at the water table located in this section as they learn more about water’s power and properties. Among them is the Archimedes screw where users have to turn a hand crank so that the water and balls will be able to move along a watercourse down into another water table. They can later turn another large crank to trigger a series of movement where buckets will start scooping out water and balls as they move along a vertical water bucket conveyor belt.
As a family friendly destination, Wonderland is the museum’s dedicated discovery area for preschoolers. Conveniently located on the first floor, it is designed to introduce those age five and under to basic science processes and concepts while having fun at the same time. Some of the activities include building with giant blocks, playing dressing up in builders’ clothing and maneuvering a mini backhoe and crane.
Every fall, the museum sets aside a Science Sprout Day for young learners to discover the wonders of science. Each month, a different topic is being explored so that learning will not be static. Kids will get to attend science demonstrations, story-telling sessions and a variety of interactive exercises that are sure to delight them.
The Discovery Center of Springfield hosts a variety of educational program at its center as well as beyond the museum walls. Since 2002, it has organized outreach programs to bring its interactive science programs to students in southwest Missouri. It offers a one-hour, one-off session that caters to learners from kindergarten to eighth grade. The programs are age-specific and cover a wide range of themes, including hard sciences, geology, and meteorology.
Alternatively, it also offers an eight-week program in which staff from the museum will head to the classrooms to teach once a week. The program is designed to complement existing teaching resources with the inclusion of interactive elements that would enliven and enrich students’ learning experiences. As such, topics covered during the program are closely related to the Missouri Grade Level Expectations in Science. Additionally, it is also an excellent opportunity for teachers to receive on-site professional development. At the end of the eight weeks, students will be brought to the museum for a field trip so that they will be able to apply their classroom knowledge to everyday life through the interactive exhibits.
438 E St. Louis St., Springfield, MO 65806, Phone: 417-862-9910
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