Historic sites and parks across Missouri provide plenty of recreational opportunities for visitors to enjoy some of the best cultural landmarks and natural landscapes. Parks include a chance to step back to the past with historic site tours, fishing in lakes and streams, swimming, wildlife viewing, mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking.
1. Bennett Spring State Park
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The Bennett Spring State Park is one of the first state parks of Missouri and still draws visitors today that includes nature lovers and fishermen looking for memorable experiences. The park encompasses a valley cradling Bennett Spring and offers an area of recreation and peace that has welcomed multiple generations of anglers. Anglers will find a spring branch full of rainbow trout and other fish. While fishing is the most popular activity within Bennett Spring State Park, there are several other recreational activities and amenities available in the park, including hiking trails, cabins, campgrounds, and a dining lodge.
26250 MO-64A, Lebanon, MO 65536, Phone: 417-532-4338
2. Castlewood State Park
The grounds of the Castlewood State Park were once a party spot for St. Louisans during the early 1900’s. While the dance clubs are now gone, the lush valley and meandering Meramec River remain. This state park contains trails for mountain biking and hiking that vary in difficulty, offering trails for beginners to the most experienced of mountain bikers and hikers. Castlewood State Park is thought to be one of the St. Louis area’s best destinations for mountain biking. Many recreational facilities, wide meadows abundant with wildlife, and good fishing opportunities also make this park popular for an escape or adventure.
1401 Kiefer Creek Rd, Ballwin, MO 63021, Phone: 636-227-4433
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3. Cuivre River State Park
The Cuivre River State Park offers a bit of the Ozarks within the northern region of Missouri. The park is one of the most rugged and largest of Missouri’s state parks. Cuivre River State Park provides a Ozarkian, wilder setting to the mostly agricultural landscape of the surrounding region, giving nature lovers a paradise not too far from the city of St. Louis. The natural and wild area of the park offer several different activities, such as wildlife observation, photography, backpacking, and hiking. Lake Lincoln provides fishing, boating, and swimming, while campers will find both modern and primitive campsites.
678 State Route 147, Troy, MO 63379, Phone: 636-528-7247
4. Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park
The Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park has been a huge stone gateway for family gatherings and cookout for Missourians for generations, as well as a place to simply spend some quality time with friends. The park features equestrian trails, trails for bicycling and hiking, Civilian Conservation Corps architecture, and camping facilities, all providing guests with a destination to get away from everything, only minutes away from the city. The River Hills Visitors Center houses various displays that interpret the animal and plant life found within the Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park, as well as interpretive programs.
800 Guy Park Dr, Wildwood, MO 63005, Phone: 636-458-3813
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5. Elephant Rocks State Park
The Elephant Rocks State Park, as the name suggests, is home to elephant-shaped boulders, the stars of an unusual state park within southeastern Missouri. These elephant-shaped rocks were created from granite dating back 1.5 billion years and stand end-to-end in the park like a train of elephants in a circus. The park’s Braille Trail offers an easy way for visitors to view these giant boulders, and was designed especially for those with physical or visual disabilities. This trail meanders the the main area of the elephant boulders. The park also includes the ruins of a railroad engine house and picnic tables.
7406 Hwy. 21, Belleview, MO, Phone: 573-546-3454
6. George Washington Carver National Monument
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The George Washington Carver National Monument offers some insight into the man who was once known by the nickname of the “Plant Doctor.” George Washington Carver would tend to a secret garden while he observed the daily operation of a farm of the nineteenth century. Nurture and nature influenced Carver on his journey for education, leading him to become a renowned humanitarian, educator, and agricultural scientist. The Carver Trail is a an easy, one-mile hike through the park. The loop is self-guiding and leads visitors through tallgrass prairie, across streams, and through woodlands. Activities for children are offered as well.
5646 Carver Rd, Diamond, MO 64840, Phone: 417-325-4151
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7. Ha Ha Tonka State Park
The Ha Ha Tonka State Park is a place where history and nature come together, home to excellent geological features and interesting history. This fascinating state park can be considered a geological wonderland, filled with sheer bluffs, a giant natural bridge, caves, sinkholes, and the twelfth largest spring in the state of Missouri. The ruins of the park’s stone castle overlook all of these geologic wonders, offering spectacular views of the Ha Ha Tonka Spring and the Lake of the Ozarks. Boardwalks and trails make it easy to explore all of the park, and there are picnic tables as well.
1491 State Road D, Camdenton, MO 65020, Phone: 573-346-2986
8. Harry S Truman National Historic Site
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The Harry S Truman National Historic Site allows visitors to explore the surroundings that President Harry S. Truman knew from his early life of modest ambition up through his career in politics and finally his years following being president of the United States. Guests can learn more about the life of the country’s 33rd president, as well as that of his family. Guided tours of the Truman Home are available for a fee and are offered on a “first-come, first-serve” basis. Visitors can also take a walk through the Truman family farm or watch the park film.
223 North Main St, Independence, MO 64050, Phone: 816-254-2720
9. Hawn State Park
The Hawn State Park consists of sandstone canyons, sandy-bottom streams, cliffs, and hills of oak trees and stately pines that all create one of the state’s most scenic and significant landscapes. The almost five-thousand-acre park provides an place for everyone to experience nature’s splendour. Bird watchers are drawn to the park for the array of different bird species, hikers come for the excellent hiking trails, and geology enthusiasts come to view the variety of types of exposed rocks. Visitors will also find a backpacking trail of ten miles in length, picnic tables on a woodland floor, and a campground.
12096 Park Dr, Ste. Genevieve, MO 63670, Phone: 573-883-3603
10. Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park
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The Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park is a one-of-a-kind destination filled with ancient beauty. The park makes for a special and memorable place for anyone to visit with the geology and wilderness quality of the state park and the St. Francois Mountains that surround it. The rugged character of the Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park provides an ideal backdrop for relaxation, exploring nature, splashing around the shut-ins, having a picnic, hiking, and camping. The immersive natural playground serves as the main attraction in the 180-acre of the Johnson’s Shut-Ins Natural Area, which is just a small portion of the park’s 8,549 acres.
148 Taum Sauk Trail, Lesterville, MO 63656, Phone: 573-546-2450
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11. Knob Noster State Park
The Knob Noster State Park provides a peaceful retreat of oak woodland, along with a few spots of prairie land that runs along both banks of the winding Clearfork Creek. The state park is an area for families wanting to spend some quality time out in nature, anglers looking to catch some fish, and horseback riders, hikers, and mountain bikers seeking time on the trails. Knob Noster State Park is also home to an oxbow slough in what is known as the Pin Oak Slough Natural Area. The park also includes electric and basic campsites, two group camps, and family campsites.
873 SE 10th, Knob Noster, MO 65336, Phone: 660-563-2463
12. Lake of the Ozarks State Park
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The Lake of the Ozarks State Park provides solitude and relatively untouched natural beauty only minutes from entertainment, restaurants, and shopping. Yurts, Outpost Cabins, and campsites offer overnight lodging throughout the year, while the park store carries plenty of supplies for visitors. The park also offers paved boat ramps, boat rentals, and two beaches for swimming for water enthusiasts, and on shore, trails for bicyclists, equestrians, backpackers, and hikers meander across streams and small springs, through sunny glades and open woodlands, and up to bluffs that allow for great views of the surround Lake of the Ozarks area.
403 Hwy 134, Kaiser, MO 65047, Phone: 573-348-2694
13. Mark Twain State Park
The Mark Twain State Park is nestled within the Salt River Hills, located in the north-central area of the state of Missouri. The state park provides visitors with access to the expansive Mark Twain Lake, along with numerous outdoor recreational activities. The terrain throughout Mark Twain State Park includes bluffs that overlook the lake, as well as stands of maple, hickory, and oak trees that are abundant with turkey, white-tailed deer, and other species of wildlife. The park also contains over six miles of trails for hiking, two boat ramps with four lanes, and many picnic areas.
37352 Shrine Rd, Florida, MO 65283, Phone: 573-565-3440
14. Meramec State Park
The Meramec State Park is home to the Meramec River, which winds its way by a dramatic cave entrance, woodland areas, and majestic bluffs. The park consists of over thirteen miles of trails perfect for hiking and exploring the grounds of Meramec State Park, while visitors can also boat, raft, fish, and swim in the Meramec River. A motel, cabins, and modern campground provide guests with lodging options for just a night or longer. The park’s visitor center houses exhibits that interpret the cultural and natural features of Meramec State Park, and visitors can explore the Fisher Cave.
115 Meramec Park Dr, Sullivan, MO 63080, Phone: 573-468-6072
15. Montauk State Park
The Montauk State Park is a shady green retreat that has been preserved so that guests have plenty of chances for relaxation and fun, whether they are looking for opportunities for picnicking, hiking, camping, fishing, or simply spending quality time with family and friends. Two picnic shelters and several picnic areas provides an ideal place for visitors to have a family gathering or a quiet lunch. Three different trails offer an easy way for bicyclists and hikers to explore the grounds of Montauk State Park. A variety of lodging options include motel rooms, cabin rentals, and a modern campground.
345 County Rd 6670, Salem, MO 65560, Phone: 573-548-2201
16. Onondaga Cave State Park
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The Onondaga Cave State Park invites visitors to descend down into the depths of caves and explore a world of fascinating wonder that includes active flowstones, dripping stalactites, and towering stalagmites that help to make the park’s cave a National Natural Landmark and help illustrate why the state of Missouri is sometimes referred to as “The Cave State.” Guests are able to join guided tours of the underground cave, as well as explore the Vilander Bluff Natural Area if they would rather stay above the surface, where they can experience panoramic views of the nearby Meramec River.
7556 Hwy. H, Leasburg, MO 65535, Phone: 573-245-6576
17. Ozark National Scenic Riverways
The Ozark National Scenic Riverways, established in 1964, is the nation’s first national park area created for the protection of a river system. The Jacks Fork and Current Rivers are two of the country’s best floating rivers. These rivers are clear, cold, and spring-fed, providing delightful waters for fishing, boating, swimming, tubing, hiking, bird watching, or canoeing. Along with the two well known rivers, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways park features hundred of historic sites, trails, caves, and freshwater springs. The landscape of the park is mostly rural is the occasional open fields and oak-pine forests.
18. Roaring River State Park
The Roaring River State Park is a very popular and unique park on several levels, featuring a rugged and striking landscape surrounding a narrow, deep valley. Situated within the southwestern area of the Ozark hills, the state park is one of Missouri’s three state parks stocked with rainbow trout. The Roaring River State Park also consists of a nature center that provides information about wildlife and plant life of the park, numerous picnic tables, a swimming pool, seven hiking trails, and a campground with a basic water/electric/sewer site. Rustic cabins can be found throughout the state park as well.
12716 Farm Rd 2239, Cassville, MO 65625, Phone: 417-847-2539
19. Rock Bridge Memorial State Park
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The Rock Bridge Memorial State Park is located only minutes away from Columbia, providing visitors with an escape where they have the opportunity to bicycle, hike, and scramble through the park’s scenic grounds, giving a glimpse into the state of Missouri’s underworld. The park includes some of the state’s most popular trails for hiking, as well as solitude within the Gans Creek Wild Area. Guests can also explore an extensive cave system with a spring, sinkhole, rock bridge, and an underground stream at what is known as the Devil’s Icebox. Connor’s Cave provides a peek into the underground world.
5901 South Highway 163, Columbia, MO 65203, Phone: 573-449-7402
20. St. Joe State Park
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At the St. Joe State Park, the roaring sound of engines often breaks the silence and stillness of the park’s Old Lead Belt. St. Joe State Park is one of only two parks for off-road vehicles within the state of Missouri’s state park system. The numerous trails that are designated for off-road vehicles make this state park one of the area’s premiere destination for off-roading. The St. Joe State Park also includes picnic sites, a bicycling and hiking trails, equestrian trails, two beaches for swimming, and four lakes. There are also two campgrounds that are able to accommodate campers.
2800 Pimville Rd, Park Hills, MO 63601, Phone: 573-431-1069
21. Thousand Hills State Park
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The Forest Lake and its cool waters act as the centerpiece of the Thousand Hills State Park. The broad savannas and woody shores transport visitors back to a time when the area of northern Missouri was very much less developed. Forest Lake provides opportunities for boating, swimming, and fishing, while the rest of the park offers plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities, mountain biking, and hiking. There are also cabins and campsites available for overnight park stays, and an interpretive shelter provides information for understand the park’s petroglyphs that were left by the inhabitants of the area over 1,5000 years ago.
20431 State Hwy 157, Kirksville, MO 63501, Phone: 660-665-6995
22. Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site
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The Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site offers several things to see and do for visitors, such as viewing the historic site’s introductory film titled "Ulysses S. Grant: A Legacy of Freedom.” The video lasts just a little more than twenty minutes and provides guests with an introduction into the life of Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War General and America’s eighteenth president. Visitors can also join a guided tour of the historic White Haven home, which last between thirty to forty-five minutes, as well as visit the Ice House, Chicken Coop, and Summer Kitchen. The 1872 horse stable houses museum exhibits.
7400 Grant Rd, St. Louis, MO 63123, Phone: 314-842-1867
23. Watkins Woolen Mill State Park
© Watkins Woolen Mill State Park
The Watkins Woolen Mill State Park is home to an expansive lake encompassing one hundred acres with a paved path for bicycle circling around the lake. The park also offers many spots for picnics, a picturesque campground, and abundant fishing opportunities, all of which make the state park ideal for spending a nice afternoon, or perhaps longer. The Watkins Woolen Mill State Park includes a campground with almost one hundred campsites, seventy-four of which feature electric hookups, as well as campsites designed for families. There are also five sites that are capable of accommodating those with disabilities.
26600 Park Rd North, Lawson, MO 64062, Phone: 816-580-3387
24. Weston Bend State Park
The Weston Bend State Park is located not too far from Kansas City’s bustling city life. The park consists of a campground and secluded picnic sites, as well as scenic overlooks and trails accessible to visitors with disabilities that provide sweeping views of the area’s Missouri River. The Paved Bicycle Trail is a three-mile trail that leads bikers and hikers through the woody terrain and bluffs of the park. The state park also includes both electric and basic campsites, as well as family campsites, along with a playground near the open shelter, which is available to rent for gatherings.
16600 Hwy. 45 North, Weston, MO 64098, Phone: 816-640-5443
25. Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield
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The Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield was the first major battle of the Civil War fought on the western side of the Mississippi River, as well as the site where the first Union General, Nathaniel Lyon, was killed in battle. The Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield park interprets and commemorates the battle in the context of the Civil War in the region of the Trans-Mississippi West. The 4.9-mile tour road features eight interpretive stops at locations significant to the battle. There are also five trails for walking off of the road that vary in length, ranging for one-quarter to three-fourths mile.
6424 W Farm Rd 182, Republic, MO 65738, Phone: 417-732-2662
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More Ideas in Missouri: Devils Well
Located near Akers, Missouri, Devils Well is a sinkhole cave that contains the state’s largest underground lake and is operated as a public attraction within the Ozark National Scenic Riverways national park facility. Devils Well sinkhole cave was formed due to erosion of the region’s dolomite rock layer and serves as part of the Cave Spring and Current River water supply system.
The cave formed over the course of millions of years, as surface water flowed through soil vegetation and created an acidic solution from the absorption of carbon dioxide. Over time, the dolomite underneath the region’s soil was cracked until the ceiling of an underground cavern collapsed. Though indigenous Americans in the region are assumed to have been aware of the cave’s existence, the first known exploration of the sinkhole took place in 1954 by well owners Bill and Bob Wallace. The Wallace brothers’ exploration accidentally uncovered a massive underground lake measuring 400 feet by 100 feet, approximately the size of a football field. A number of researchers explored the lake following its discovery, including a 1956 fish observation expedition overseen by geologist Jerry Vineyard. In the mid-20th century, the sinkhole became a part of Ozark National Scenic Riverways, which was established by the United States Congress in 1964 and was formally dedicated in 1971. In 2015, the cave was assessed by the Cave Research Foundation, which identified two species of crayfish within the cave and recertified the cave’s metal viewing platform.
Today, Devils Well is located within Ozark National Scenic Riverways, which is overseen by the National Park Service and protects the Current and Jack Forks Rivers system. The sinkhole cave provides access to the state of Missouri’s largest underground lake. As part of Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the sinkhole and lake may be viewed by visitors at any time the park is open during regular operating hours.
The cave is accessible from the park’s Cave Spring Trail, which is located seven miles southeast of the city of Akers within a low-lying riparian zone. The 4.6-mile trail, which was opened in 2007 and is considered a moderately strenuous hiking route, leads to the cave, which is considered a karst window formation. Along the route, visitors may observe how the cave is incorporated as part of the Cave Spring and Current River water system. A spiral staircase leads to a viewing platform, which allows visitors to view the massive underground lake containing more than 22 million gallons of water. A switch-activated light is offered on the platform, though visitors are advised to bring additional light for lake viewing. Lake water levels average 80 feet deep, though water levels fluctuate up to 10 feet due to local weather conditions.
Several information exhibits are located at Devils Well, explaining the sinkhole and lake’s formation, unique geology, and natural wildlife. Exhibits on the cave’s wildlife include information on the rare blind southern cavefish, which live in complete darkness and only show rudimentary evidence of eye formation. Ecologically, the existence of blind cavefish is considered to be a biological indicator of good water quality within a body of water, with the fish only surviving in very sensitive water conditions. In order to preserve lake conditions, all visitors are prohibited from throwing items into Devils Well.
Ozark National Scenic Riverways
Ozark National Scenic Riverways is the first unit of the National Park Service specifically created to protect a river ecosystem. The park was originally created in 1964 by the United States Congress and was formally dedicated in 1971. Today, the park protects the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers ecosystem and showcases a variety of freshwater springs, caves, nature trails, and historic sites. More than 80,000 acres of natural land are protected, which are home to a wide variety of native flora and fauna species.
The park is visited by 1.3 million annual recreational visitors, who enjoy outdoor activities such as canoeing, swimming, fishing, and hiking. Several visitor centers are offered, including the Park Headquarters Visitor Center, which presents educational exhibits and periodic showings of a nature documentary about the region, and the Round Spring Visitor Center, which sells tickets for guided tours of Round Spring Cave. Historic sites within the park include Alley Spring Roller Mill, Walter Klepzig Mill and Farm, Reed Log House, and Buttin Rock School. The park is also home to Jam Cave and the largest concentration of first magnitude springs within the United States. Several campground facilities are offered, including primitive and group campsites. Campfire programs, nature hikes, craft demonstrations, and bluegrass concerts are presented throughout the year at sites throughout the park.
Devil's Well Rd, Salem, MO 65560, Phone: 573-323-4236