Defined by the magnificent Ozark Mountains, caves, lakes and the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, Missouri is a Midwestern state that was once known for its thriving, rough frontier towns, outlaws, and adventurers.

It is a state with modern metropolitan centers such as Kansas City and charming, touristy towns like Branson. Visitors on their weekend getaway or day trip can enjoy great beaches, resorts, parks, and more.

1. St Louis

St Louis
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St. Louis is a large city and a major river port in Missouri on the banks of the Mississippi River. The city’s symbol and its most visible icon is the 30-foot Gateway Arch, which commemorates the 1804 start of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Charming replicas of traditional Mississippi paddlewheelers tour the river, offering views of the city and the arch. The best spot to try famous St. Louis barbecue and hear some real blues is the Soulard district. To learn more about the Lewis and Clark Expedition, visit the Museum of Westward Expansion. Don’t miss the Cardinals Hall of Fame & Museum, check out the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral, and take the Anheuser-Busch beer factory tour. Take the kids to the Magic House or go on a stroll through the lush Forest Park.

2. Branson

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Branson is a small Missouri town in the Ozark Mountains, a popular vacation destination for the region, famous for its diverse and lively entertainment offers. The theaters along 76 Country Boulevard once hosted only famous country music performers, but today include all kinds of music. One of the most popular attractions is Silver Dollar City, created as an 1880s town, with all manner of entertainment as well as tours of the famous Marvel Cave. Check out the Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction, created in the Wild West style, the Hollywood Wax Museum Branson, White Water, Ziplines, the National Tiger Sanctuary, the Butterfly Palace, the Rainforest Adventure, Ripley's Odditorium and several wineries.

3. Columbia

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Columbia is a lively Midwestern college town with a reputation for progressive politics, powerful journalism, and excellent public art. Visit the Museum of Art and Archaeology to learn about the city’s past, enjoy modern art at the Columbia Art League, have fun at the old-fashioned cornfield mazes at the Shryocks Callaway Farms, take a kayak to the tranquil Finger Lakes State Park, and catch a magnificent view of the whole area from the Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area. A visit to the campus of the University of Missouri will take you to the fascinating symbolic pillars at the Francis Quadrangle. Go see some beautiful tigers at the D&D Animal Sanctuary, which takes care of abandoned animals.

4. Kansas City

Kansas City
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It comes as a surprise to many that Kansas City is not actually in Kansas, but in Missouri, on the state’s border with Kansas. Today one of the largest cities in the States, Kansas City was founded in the 1830s as a river port at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers. It is famous for its unique barbecue, jazz, craft breweries, and major league teams. Learn more about it at the downtown American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art with its world-class collection, stroll by the huge National World War I Memorial, take the kids to the Kansas City Zoo, catch a Chiefs game at the Arrowhead stadium, and enjoy the fragrant Lose Park Rose Garden.

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5. Springfield

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Springfield is a modern, thriving city in the Ozark Mountains with three universities that give it a lively vibe. The city was the site of some fierce battles during the Civil War and is famous for the legendary shootout between Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt in the town square. The location of the shootout is marked by a brass plaque in the pavement on Park Central Square. Get the feel of the city by taking a stroll through historic C-Street District, enjoy a history tour, or even better a ghost tour of the magnificent, spooky Pythian Castle. Catch a game of the city’s pride, the Springfield Cardinals, or take a jeep-drawn tram tour of the Fantastic Caverns and go on an easy stroll through the Springfield Conservation Nature Center.

6. Carthage

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Carthage is a small Missouri town which, just like its Greek namesake, has had a turbulent history with historic battles during the Civil War as well as wild west outlaws, Fortune 500 capitalists, ragtime musicians, and women’s rights pioneers. Burned to the ground during the Civil War, the city was rapidly rebuilt with beautiful Victorian architecture spread across four districts and more than 600 buildings, all listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The massive Jasper County Courthouse particularly stands out. Learn about Carthage’s history at the Battle of Carthage State Historic Site. Stroll through Red Oaks II, a reconstructed 19th-century town created by artist Lowell Davis. Enjoy the curious Precious Moments chapel and the art gallery created by artist and creator, Samuel J. Butcher. He was inspired by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel to create colorful mural depicting scenes from the Bible.

7. Elephant Rocks State Park

Elephant Rocks State Park
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Elephant Rocks State Park is located in the Saint Francois Mountains in southeastern Missouri. It is a geologic reserve and a popular hiking area with a very unusual outcropping of granite boulders that resemble a train of walking elephants. The elephant-looking rocks were formed about 1.5 billion years ago from a dome of molten magma that fractured and became eroded, exposing the old granite. The area was quarried in the 19th century and today is a popular rock climbing and hiking area and a heaven for geology buffs. The main trail through the park is the Braille Trail, which winds among the rocks, leading eventually to an old abandoned railroad engine house. There are picnic areas with benches and tables in the shade of the trees all over the park.

8. Grant's Farm

Grant's Farm
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Grant's Farm is a 281-acre fascinating historic farm and landmark in Grantwood Village, St. Louis, Missouri. It was originally built and farmed by Ulysses S. Grant and later bought by the Busch family, known for their love of animals. In 1954 they turned it into a popular tourist attraction and animal reserve with buffaloes, elephants, donkeys, kangaroos, camels, goats, the famous Budweiser Clydesdales, peacocks, and many others. There is a tram tour through the deer park, where the Clydesdales graze near their barn. A cabin called Hardscrabble, built by Ulysses S. Grant in 1856, was brought to the farm from another property.

9. Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Ha Ha Tonka State Park
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Ha Ha Tonka State Park is a 3,700-acre public recreation area on the Lake of the Ozarks, about 5 miles from Camdenton, Missouri. The park is breathtakingly beautiful with a number of fascinating geological features. There is a 70-feet wide natural bridge that has a span of 60 feet and is over 100 feet high. A steep sinkhole called The Colosseum is 300 feet wide and 500 feet long. The 150-foot-deep Whispering Dell sink basin has two caves – Robber's Cave and Counterfeiter's Cave – both known to have been hide-outs for 19th-century criminals. A 250-foot-high bluff towers over the gorge through which the Ha Ha Tonka Spring runs, discharging about 58 million gallons of water every day. High up on a bluff are the stone ruins of a castle built at the turn of the 20th century by a Kansas City businessman. There are over 15 miles of well-maintained trails in the park, which pass by natural sinkholes, bridges, and caves, ending at a lovely clear blue lake.

10. Hannibal

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Hannibal is a city on the Mississippi River about 100 miles from St. Louis, best known as the childhood home of author Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Many of Tom Sawyer’s and Huckleberry Finn’s adventures were set in Hannibal. The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum is one of the popular attractions. Rockcliffe Mansion is a beautifully restored museum home with many original furnishings and décor. Kids will love exploring Mark Twain Cave and Cameron Cave on a hot summer day, especially if they read about them in Tom Sawyer’s adventures. The Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse is worth the steep climb as it offers fantastic views. Get a real feel of the place by taking one of boat tours on the mighty Mississippi.

11. Hermann

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Hermann is a small picturesque town in the Missouri River Valley, in the heart of the Missouri Rhineland. Its colorful 19th-century brick buildings line the sidewalk, as they often do in Germany. Start your exploration of Hermann at the Deutschheim State Historic Site, where the restored 1840s and 1850s structures tell the story of how Germans settled the Hermann area. Catch a play at the Showboat Theatre and take a tour of the Stone Hill Winery and the lush vineyards that cover the surrounding steep hills. You can taste some of the best wines produced in Missouri in one of many typical German taverns, or try some of their famous German sausages.

12. Independence

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Today a part of the Kansas City metropolitan area stretched along the south bank of the Missouri River, Independence was once an important frontier town, a starting point for many adventurers heading to California or Oregon. Follow the path of the California, Santa Fe, and Oregon Trails along the tracks carved by real wagon trains, go for a mule-drawn wagon ride, or take a tour of historic Independence Square and the jail, where famous outlaw Frank James spent some time. Stop by the Mormon Visitors Center to learn about the importance of this faith in Independence. Visit the Englewood Station Arts District, filled with art galleries, small shops, and restaurants. Don’t miss the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site.

13. Jefferson City

Jefferson City
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Jefferson City is the capital of the state of Missouri, stretched along the picturesque Missouri River and surrounded by tree-lined bluffs. The historic downtown is dominated by the stately Missouri State Capitol, supreme court building and the governor’s mansion. Learn more about the city’s history at the very informative Cole County Historical Museum. Next to the Governor’s Mansion is the lovely Carnahan Memorial Garden, with walkways, flowers, and pools. See the latest exhibit at the Elizabeth Rozier Gallery at Jefferson Landing. Couples will get a kick out of a ghost tour of the former Missouri State Penitentiary, which was once a temporary home to some of the country’s most notorious criminals. Take a bike ride through the Binder Park Bike Trails or enjoy a slow kayak cruise on the lake.

14. Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park

Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park
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Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park is an 8,647-acre public recreation area on the East Fork Black River, surrounded by St. Francois Mountains and known as one of the best places for camping in Missouri. It is located about 10 miles from Lesterville in the Goggins Mountain Area. The park has a general store, visitors center, and a number of scenic riverside picnic areas. The main reason why so many people love spending weekends at this lovely park are the shut-ins, little pools carved into the rock by the Black River’s relentless flow. The surrounding mountains are crisscrossed with over 45 miles of hiking trails that range from easy to seriously rugged.

More ideas: Best Missouri State Parks

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15. Joplin, Missouri

Joplin, Missouri
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Joplin is a small city in the Missouri’s Joplin Creek Valley, originally settled when lead and zinc were discovered, creating an economic boom in the area. The city grew very fast and was considered quite a metropolis at the end of the 19th century. Many buildings are still standing in the colorful Joplin downtown along famous Route 66, which stretches from Chicago to Los Angeles, in the historic Murphysburg District where the city’s founding fathers built stately homes, or in the Sunshine Lamp District with its shops, restaurants, and galleries. Don’t miss Grand Falls, the largest natural waterfall in Missouri, which plunges 12 feet from a 163-foot-wide ledge. Enjoy a stroll through the Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center and pay your respects at the George Washington Carver National Monument.

More ideas: Best Missouri Beaches

16. Lake of the Ozarks

Lake of the Ozarks
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The Lake of the Ozarks is a huge reservoir in the northern Ozark mountains that formed when the Osage River was dammed. As it twists and turns, the lake looks like a dragon, earning it the nickname the Magic Dragon. The lake is surrounded by small and large communities, which offer all kinds of accommodations, from fancy resorts to campgrounds, as well as services to the visitors that flock to this popular tourist destination. The lake offers world-class boating, fishing, golfing, camping, hiking, and much more. Kids will enjoy the Big Surf Waterpark and games at Miner Mike’s and Busters Adventure. Learn to paddleboard on the lake’s tranquil waters or get a view from high up while parasailing.

17. Lee's Summit

Lee's Summit
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One of the largest cities in Missouri, Lee’s Summit is located on a fairly high elevation between St. Louis and Kansas City. Start your exploration at the Historic Downtown District, a six-block area with shops and galleries surrounded by residential streets with lovely historical churches and homes built in the 1880s. Learn about the city’s history at the Lee’s Summit Historical Museum or at the Missouri Town 1855, a reconstructed town typical for that period. Stroll through the beautiful Longview Mansion and Farm built in 1914 and relax in the lush Powell Gardens.

More ideas: Best Caves in Missouri

18. Meramec Caverns

Meramec Caverns
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Meramec Caverns is a 4.6-mile-long cavern system in the Ozark Mountains near Stanton, Missouri. The caverns were created by millions of years of water eroding the limestone rocks. Today, Meramec Caverns is the largest commercial cave in Missouri and a major tourist attraction on famous Route 66. The cave system has seven levels and is best explored by taking one of the guided tours led well-trained rangers. Some of the most popular attractions are the Wine Room with its famous Wine Table, which is a 6-foot high onyx table; a sheet wall cavern called the Greatest Show Under the Earth, where the popular show is run; the Mirror Room, a cavern with a 1.5-foot deep stream of water that mirrors the cavern’s ceiling; and many others.

19. Ste. Genevieve

Ste. Genevieve
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Ste. Geneviève is a charming historic town in Missouri that is designated as one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Dozen Distinctive Destinations, renowned for its impressive population of French Colonial buildings, the largest of its kind in the United States. The city, which was founded in 1735, is home to over 150 buildings constructed prior to the early 19th century, a number of which are open to the public as living history museums showcasing spectacular French Creole colonial architecture and unique vertical wood post construction. Charming bed and breakfast facilities are housed within National Historic Landmark buildings, with restaurants such as the Old Brick House, Sirro's Restaurant, and Stella and Me serving up casual and fine dining comfort fare. Special events held each year include the Jour de Fête French colonial festival, held throughout the city each August.

More ideas: Best Lakes in Missouri

20. Rolla

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Rolla is located approximately midway between St. Louis and Springfield, a lively college town home to the Missouri University of Science and Technology, famous for its engineering and computer sciences departments. The hills around Rolla were planted with vines by Italian immigrants a century ago, and Rolla is today a part of the Ozark Highlands American Viticultural Area. After strolling through the charming Rolla downtown, visit the fascinating Ed Clark Museum of Missouri Geology. Take a hike through the lush Mark Twain National Forest on the slopes of the Ozark Mountains. Take the kids to have some fun at the Zone Rolla's Family Entertainment or Kokomo Joe's Family Fun Center. Catch a play at the Ozark Actors Theatre and take a splash at the Fugitive Beach, located at an old rock quarry.

21. Saint Charles

Saint Charles
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Located on the Missouri River, St. Charles is a suburb of rapidly growing St. Louis, Missouri. Founded in 1769 mostly by French-Canadian fur traders, Lewis and Clark considered it “the last civilized stop” when their expedition passed through in 1804. Today’s St. Charles has a charming historic shopping area on Main Street lined with a number of meticulously restored historic buildings that now house boutiques and restaurants. Forest Park was the site of the 1904 World's Fair and today is home to the famous St. Louis Zoo, the local Art Museum, the hands-on interactive Science Center, and the fascinating Missouri History Museum. Try to catch a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium and enjoy the lush and highly renowned Missouri Botanical Garden.

22. Saint Joseph

Saint Joseph
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Stretched along the banks of the Missouri River, St. Joseph is the home to Missouri Western State University, the starting point for the once-famous Pony Express and the place where notorious Jesse James met his end.

A rough frontier town and a busy fur trading post at the end of the 19th century, today’s Saint Joseph is a thriving modern town where history blends seamlessly with culture, art, wonderful green spaces, and endless entertainment for all ages. There is so much beautiful architecture left from times past here, such as highly ornate movie palace, the Missouri Theatre, and the Patee House, once a luxury hotel and today a museum of transportation. All Saint Joseph green spaces are linked into the St. Joseph Parkway, which threads through the city of Saint Joseph for 26 miles. Just outside Saint Joseph is the Walnut Park Farm Historic District, well worth the visit. More things to do in St. Joseph

23. Table Rock Lake for Couples

Table Rock Lake for Couples
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Nestled into the beautiful Missouri Ozarks near the town of Branson, Table Rock Lake is a reservoir created after the Table Rock Dam was constructed across the White River. It has 45,000 acres of water and 800 miles of shoreline, which is protected from too much development and mostly left in its natural state. The shore is full of hidden coves and bays, perfect for a secluded, quiet moment with nature, with a fishing rod hoping for a bass or crappie, or with a loved one. The lake’s surrounds are richly forested, a part of the Mark Twain National Forest, and provide home to white-tailed deer, bald eagles, and wild turkeys. All around the lake are swimming areas, campgrounds, boat launch sites, and picnic areas.

More ideas: Hotels & Resorts in Missouri

24. Talking Rocks Cavern

Talking Rocks Cavern
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Talking Rocks Cavern is a system of caves located about 15 minutes from Branson, discovered by accident in the late 1800s. It is privately owned and operated by Herschend Family Entertainment, which offers regular tours of the caves. The tour starts by going down a series of 265 steps connected by platforms that reach to the floor of the cave. The caves are well lit and have a number of beautiful crystalline formations, such as “curtain” and the “bacon.” The tour includes a sound and light show and on the outside offers visitors additional activities such as a SpeleoBox crawl maze, a lookout tower, nature trails, and picnic areas.

25. Roaring River State Park

Roaring River State Park
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Roaring River State Park is a 4,093-acre park about 8 miles from Cassville in Barry County. It is snuggled into a deep, shady, narrow valley and surrounded by the rugged rocks of the Ozark Mountains. Roaring River State Park is a popular state park for many reasons, but the presence of rainbow trout in the river is one of the main ones, bringing anglers from all over the place. The park has seven hiking trails, picnic areas with tables and barbecues, a swimming pool, and a nature center. There is a large campground, charming rustic cabins, or the Emory Melton Inn for those who are not keen on roughing it.

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Taum Sauk Mountain State Park

Taum Sauk Mountain State Park is a 7,500-acre park located in the Saint Francois Mountains, a few miles from Arcadia in the Ozarks. Taum Sauk Mountain is the highest point in the state and the legendary Mina Sauk Falls, dropping 132 feet in three drops, is the highest fall. The mountain slopes are richly wooded, and hiking under the shade of stately pine trees by the verdant glades is a pure delight. There are a number of well-maintained trails, including a small portion of the Ozark Trail. There are 12 rustic camping grounds and several picnic areas for those who want to enjoy the solitude and unspoiled nature a little longer.