Missouri is that unassuming state tucked away in America's Midwest. On its western edge, Kansas City is famous for barbecue, hosting the annual American Royal Barbecue, the world's largest competitive barbecue event. It's also home to Kansas City jazz, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. On the Mississippi side, St Louis boasts the Gateway Arch and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The Ozark Mountains, Branson's Nickelodeon Kids Fest, and many other attractions are on hand to fill any summer holiday with fun. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1. Fantastic Caverns
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Fantastic Caverns in Springfield, Missouri, offers visitors a unique chance to explore a cave in one-of-a-kind spelunking fashion. It is the only cave in North America that offers a completely ride-through tour, which is made possible via a Jeep-drawn tram. First discovered in 1862 by John Knox and his hunting dog, the cave wasn't explored until 5 years later by a group of twelve women associated with the Springfield Women's Athletic Club. Their names can be seen etched into a cave wall to this day. Visitors will find this cave to be a wondrous showcase of the state's underground phenomenon in the heart of the Ozarks. Things to Do in Springfield
4872 North Farm Road 125, Springfield, MO 65803, Phone: 417-833-2010
© Titanic Museum
The Titanic Museum in Branson, Missouri, first opened its doors in 2006. Its purpose was to share with patrons, as closely as possible, the experience that both passengers and crew endured on the Titanic's tragic maiden voyage. The museum itself is shaped like the Titanic, though smaller in size than the actual ship. Guests have the opportunity to see authentic artifacts, news coverage from that time period, and personal items from those who were aboard the ship. They can also touch a real growing iceberg or dip their hand in 28°F water for tactile experiences that bring the exhibit to life. The tour takes approximately 2 hours. Things to Do in Branson
3235 West 76 Country Boulevard, Branson, MO 65616, Phone: 800-381-7670
3.Branson Scenic Railway
© Branson Scenic Railway
The historic Branson Scenic Railway originates in Branson, Missouri, and winds through the beautiful Ozark Mountains on a round trip of approximately 40 miles. This vintage passenger train will take riders over trestles and through tunnels, traveling amid parts of the Missouri and Arkansas wilderness where wildlife is on full display. The three domed cars afford panoramic views that occupy most of the passengers' attention; however, guests will also want to tour the cars on their journey, as they have been restored and refurbished to match the same passenger experience of 50 years ago. The trip takes approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.
206 East Main Street, Branson, MO 65616, Phone: 417-334-6110
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© City Museum
Guests will discover the City Museum in the heart of St. Louis, Missouri. The one-time International Shoe Company building now houses a grand 600,000-square-foot playhouse museum. It is the brainchild of classically trained sculptor and world-renowned artist, Bob Cassilly, who with his team of artisans have built what can only be described as a funky funhouse and playground museum. The unique and eclectic displays of found items transformed into architectural marvels are completely interactive. Salvaged bridges, old chimneys, miles of tile, construction cranes, and two abandoned airplanes are all on display here. Visitors are encouraged to dress for a rough-and-tumble good time – with some rules. Things to Do in St. Louis
750 North 16th Street, St. Louis, MO 63103, Phone: 314-231-2489
5.Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
© Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
The Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) in St. Louis is a 27,000-square-foot building designed by the renowned American architect Brad Cloepfil. Celebrating the art of our time, the CAM offers a unique variety of changing exhibitions that provide thought-provoking elements contributing to the global cultural landscape. With more than 20 exhibitions each year, guests will see a full range of art, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, and performative, conceptual and interactive art. CAM also delivers art education through unique workshops for families, film screenings, and a monthly neighborhood art crawl. The family-friendly art museum can be found in the heart of downtown St. Louis.
3750 Washington Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63108, Phone: 314-535-4660
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6.George Washington Carver National Monument
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George Washington Carver National Monument is a 210-acre park situated 2 miles west of Diamond, Missouri. It is the first national monument dedicated to a black American and non-president, and bears great significance to the history of Missouri as well as to that of the United States. This park offers guided tours on a ¾-mile nature trail where guests will see the 1881 Moses Carver house, a pre-Civil War cemetery where Carver family members a buried, a museum, and an interactive exhibit. The trail also takes guests across streams, through woodlands, and along a tallgrass prairie restoration area. Art and education programs teach about the famous scientist, educator, and humanitarian.
5646 Carver Road, Diamond, MO 64840, Phone: 417-325-4151
7.Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum
© Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum
The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri, is home to many historical collections from Truman's presidency. It houses two permanent exhibitions: The first being Truman: The Presidential Years, and the second being Harry S. Truman: His Life and Times. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions like the 2017 Saving the White House: Truman's Extreme Makeover, which gives guests the chance to follow the story of the controversial $5.7 million, 1,222-day renovation of the White House. Museum visitors will also see two decision theaters, new interactive elements, and letters exchanged between Harry and Bess Truman over the years.
500 West US Highway 24, Independence, MO 64050, Phone: 816-268-8200
8.Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
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The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is located at the heart of St. Louis, Missouri. The memorial, nestled up to the Mississippi River, is near the starting point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Patrons will find cultural history collections that include artifacts representing five major categories: St. Louis History, the Gateway Arch, the Old Courthouse, Westward Expansion, and the museum archives. Visitors will also have the opportunity to learn about the lives of Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Minor, the Lewis and Clark Journey of Discovery, and African-American Life in St. Louis, 1804–1865. The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is a part of the National Park Service.
11 North 4th Street, St. Louis, MO 63102, Phone: 314-655-1600
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9.Things to Do in Missouri: Kansas City Zoo
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The Kansas City Zoo in Swope Park boasts 202 acres of wildlife exhibits. Visitors will have the opportunity to learn about many different species of wildlife through zookeeper chats, some of which include topics such as penguins, gorillas, polar bears, elephants, lions, rhinos, tigers, and cheetahs. Guests will also experience the zoo's animal shows like Wings of Wonder (bird show) and Sea Lion Splash. They offer other attractions in the form of zoo rides, such as the African Sky Safari, Endangered Species Carousel, Zebra Tram, Boat Ride, and Train Ride. This Kansas City attraction is fun for the whole family.
6800 Zoo Drive, Kansas City, MO 64132, Phone: 816-595-1234
10.Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum
© Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum
The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum is dedicated to the fascinating life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain. Located in Hannibal, Missouri, visitors will have the opportunity to peer into the life of one of America's most famous novelists of literary realism. Twain is best known for his novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Here, guests will have the chance to see the home Mark Twain grew up in, the Tom & Huck Statue, the Huckleberry Finn House, the Becky Thatcher House, the interpretive center, and the museum gallery.
120 North Main Street, Hannibal, MO 63401, Phone: 573-221-9010
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11.Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
© Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
Located on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, in the university's Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, visitors will have the opportunity to explore the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, one of the oldest teaching museums in the country. The permanent collection of contemporary art represents a period from the turn of the 20th century to today. Temporary exhibitions at the museum have included The Modern Meal: Sustenance through Ritual. Visitors will also see pieces from renowned artists like Max Beckmann, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Thomas Eakins, Theo van Doesburg, Willem de Kooning, Charles Ferdinand Wimar, and William Hogarth. The building was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki.
1 Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130, Phone: 314-935-4523
12.Missouri Botanical Garden
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Informally known as Shaw's Garden after its founder and philanthropist Henry Shaw, Missouri Botanical Garden is located in St. Louis. With 79 acres of incomparable horticultural design, the botanical garden has a little something for everyone. Guests will see beautiful displays like the English Woodland Garden, Ottoman Garden, Chinese Garden, and Victorian District. The Climatron conservatory boasts a wondrous tropical rainforest. The Japanese Garden stretches across 14 acres and is one of the largest strolling Japanese gardens in North America. Some signature events to watch out for are the Orchid Show, Japanese Festival, Gardenland Express, and the Whitaker Music Festival.
4344 Shaw Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63110, Phone: 314-577-5100
13.Missouri History Museum
© Missouri History Museum
Founded in 1866 and operated by the Missouri Historical Society, the Missouri History Museum is located in the Forest Park neighborhood of St. Louis. Visitors will have the opportunity to view many unique exhibitions here, like Civil Rights: The African American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, World War I: Missouri and the Great War, Seeking St. Louis, The 1904 World's Fair: Looking Back at Looking Forward, and the History Clubhouse. The museum also offers a wide array of activities, including workshops, tours, lectures, music, films, theatre, and community events. After stimulating the mind, stimulate the stomach at Bixby's, the museum restaurant on the second floor.
5700 Lindell Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63112, Phone: 314-746-4599
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14.Things to Do in Missouri: Museum of Transportation
© Museum of Transportation
This 42-acre National Museum of Transportation is located in the city of Kirkwood. While here, patrons will see rail and transit collections from the 1800s and 1900s, which have been transformed into more than 190 exhibits. Some of what they'll see include freight cars, interurban and city transit, passenger cars, rail motive power, and rail maintenance and test cars. There is a collection of rare and classic autos and trucks, like the 1901 St. Louis Motor Carriage Co. Automobile, Bobby Darin's "Dream Car", a Chrysler turbine car, and 1959 Ford gas turbine tractor. The museum also features other exhibits like the Douglas aircraft C-47A and the HT Potts towboat.
3015 Barrett Station Road, St. Louis, MO 63122, Phone: 314-965-6212
15.The Gateway Arch
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The Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis is the nation's tallest monument. The curved 630-foot-tall monument pays tribute to Thomas Jefferson's vision of St. Louis as the gateway to Western Expansion. The awe-inspiring catenary arch was designed by renowned architect Eero Saarinen, and was built over 20 months between February 1964 and October 1965. Sixteen tram cars holding five passengers each, making 4-minute trips to the top. Once at the top, visitors can stay on the observation deck as long as they like; 16 windows overlook St. Louis and 16 windows on the opposite side overlook the Mississippi River.
11 North 4th Street, St. Louis, MO 63102, Phone: 877-982-1410
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16.Things to Do in Missouri: National Blues Museum
© National Blues Museum
The National Blues Museum is located in downtown St. Louis and is dedicated to exploring the musical history and influence of the blues. The origin of blues music resides in the Deep South and has been the foundation of nearly all American popular music over the last century. Around 15,000 square feet of the 23,000-square-foot space are dedicated to highly interactive technology, artifact-driven exhibits, special event space, and a theater. This museum offers visitors the chance to explore the various regional styles of the blues as well as learn about the musicians who created it. The museum often hosts public programs, including lectures, films, and live musical performances.
615 Washington Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63101, Phone: 314-925-0016
17.Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
© Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was founded in 1990 and is dedicated to preserving the history of African-American Baseball. Located in Kansas City, the 10,000-square-foot museum shares its space with the American Jazz Museum. When African-Americans began playing baseball in the late 1800s, they started off playing on college, military, and company teams, eventually making their way into professional baseball. Bud Fowler and Moses Fleetwood Walker were among the pioneers at that time. The museum offers guests the chance to explore what it was like throughout the history of the league through baseball artifacts, hundreds of photographs, multi-media computer stations, and film exhibits. Things to Do in Kansas City
1616 East 18th Street, Kansas City, MO 64108, Phone: 816-221-1920
18.Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
© Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
This neoclassically designed museum boasts beautiful pieces of artwork from all over the world. Located in Kansas City, the museum has over 35,000 works of art and welcomes about 500,000 visitors per year. Guests will find ancient artworks here, such as Egyptian and Near Eastern, Greek, Roman, and early Christian exhibits. Visitors will also find a large collection of Native American artwork that includes basketry, quill and beadwork, paintings, sculptures, and textiles. That's not all; additionally, the museum presents African, Chinese, American, European, Japanese, and South and Southeastern Asian collections. The Rozzelle Court Restaurant, styled after 15th-century Italian courtyards, is a relaxing place to grab something to eat at the museum.
4525 Oak Street, Kansas City, MO 64111, Phone: 816-751-1278
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19.Pulitzer Arts Foundation
© Pulitzer Arts Foundation
The Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis was designed by the internationally renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando. It first opened to the public in 2001. The foundation's art exhibits are always changing, as it is a non-collecting institution with only three permanent art installations, which were commissioned by the Pulitzers. They are Ellsworth Kelly's Blue Black, Richard Serra's Joe, and Scott Burton's Rock Settee. The foundation offers a wide variety of exhibitions like Buddhist art, Old Masters, and modern contemporary artists Ann Hamilton and Dan Flavin. The foundation offers an impressive roster with leaders in fields like art, design, architecture, urban planning, science, and technology.
3716 Washington Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63108, Phone: 314-754-1850
20. Things to Do in Missouri: Saint Louis Art Museum
© Saint Louis Art Museum
The Saint Louis Art Museum is located in St. Louis's Forest Park. The museum, built in 1904, was designed by architect Cass Gilbert, who got his inspiration for the design from the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, Italy. With over 33,000 works of art, guests can expect to see work from these collections: African-American, African, American, Ancient American, Ancient, Pacific Islands, Asian, contemporary, decorative and design, European, Islamic, modern, Native American, photographs, prints, drawings, sculpture, and textile arts. Patrons will also see exhibitions like The Hats of Stephen Jones, In the Realm of Trees, and Lost in Space by Shimon Attie.
1 Fine Arts Drive, St. Louis, MO 63110, Phone: 314-721-0072
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21. Saint Louis Science Center
© Saint Louis Science Center
The Saint Louis Science Center is located in the southeastern corner of Forest Park and was founded 1963. The site offers a three-story Science Center connected by a skybridge to a three-story Planetarium. The center offers a variety of scheduled activities like Simulated Space Missions, Family Med School, Flight Academy, Science at Sunset, Date Night under the Stars, and Camp-Ins. Visitors will also find exhibits and attractions such as The Discovery of King Tut, Mission: Mars, Human Adventure, and the Life Science Lab. Also available to visitors is the Omnimax Theatre with movies like Born to be Wild, Extreme Weather, Dream Big: Engineering our World, and Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs.
5050 Oakland Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63110, Phone: 314-289-4400
22.Saint Louis Zoo
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Recognized as a leader in conservation, education, and animal management, the Saint Louis Zoo in Forest Park is a must-visit attraction when in Missouri. Widely considered America's top free attraction, the zoo stretches over 90 acres of property, has approximately 14,840 wild animals, and is home to around 603 different species. While here, guests will see animals that include cheetahs, grizzly bears, jaguars, lions, polar bears, snow leopards, slender-tailed meerkats, monkeys, apes, elephants, Caribbean flamingos, bald eagles, owls, and penguins. Visitors will also want to check out the zoo's safari tours, keeper chats, sea lion feedings, and penguin feedings.
1 Government Drive, St. Louis, MO 63110, Phone: 314-781-0900
23.Science City at Union Station
© Science City at Union Station
Science City at Union Station is located in Kansas City and features over 120 hands-on displays, the Arvin Gottlieb Planetarium, and the City Extreme Screen theatre. Observe tools and methods of paleontology at the Dinolab and Digsite, where guests will find Lyle the Camarasurus – a real fossil. Other great attractions patrons will find here are the Demo Area, Force & Motion, Genetics: Unlock the Code, Giant Lever, KC Rail Experience, Maze Park, Nature Center, Science on a Sphere, Sky Bike, Spark!Lab, and The Science of Energy. Science City is a magical place where family, kids, and even adults will find new things to explore on every visit.
30 West Pershing Road, Kansas City, MO 64108, Phone: 816-460-2020
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The Anheuser-Busch "Budweiser" Brewery is located in the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis. Since inception in 1852, they have prided themselves on brewing the finest beer, while maintaining tradition, one batch at a time. This site is the oldest and largest of their breweries, chosen because of its proximity to the Mississippi River. Originally, the area offered many natural cave formations the brewery used to store beer before artificial refrigeration. While here, guests can enjoy tours like the Complimentary Tour, Beermaster Tour, Beer Museum Tour, and the Day Fresh Tour. After a tour, guests can head to The Biergarten for a fresh ice-cold Budweiser and a bite to eat.
1200 Lynch Street, St. Louis, MO 63118, Phone: 314-577-2626
© Innsbrook Resort
Innsbrook Resort is a beautiful vacation home community that sprawls across an astounding 7,500 acres of land, located just 45 minutes west of St. Louis. The resort has an event center, restaurant, and 18-hole championship golf course as well as recreational and residential properties. Guests will have plenty of activities to choose from, like horseback riding, hiking magnificent nature trails, playing a round of golf, and canoeing or sailing on one of its 100-plus lakes. This resort offers individuals, couples, and families the opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of city life while on vacation, while connecting more intimately with Missouri's nature.
1 Aspen Lake Drive, Innsbrook, MO 63390, Phone: 636-928-3366
25 Best Things to Do in Missouri
- Fantastic Caverns, Photo: Courtesy of macropixel - Fotolia.com
- Titanic Museum, Photo: Titanic Museum
- Branson Scenic Railway, Photo: Branson Scenic Railway
- City Museum, Photo: City Museum
- Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Photo: Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
- George Washington Carver National Monument, Photo: NPS Photo
- Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, Photo: Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum
- Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, Photo: Courtesy of Adam - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in Missouri: Kansas City Zoo, Photo: Courtesy of Rusty Dodson - Fotolia.com
- Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, Photo: Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum
- Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Photo: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
- Missouri Botanical Garden, Photo: Courtesy of Dmitry V. Petrenko - Fotolia.com
- Missouri History Museum, Photo: Missouri History Museum
- Things to Do in Missouri: Museum of Transportation, Photo: Museum of Transportation
- The Gateway Arch, Photo: Courtesy of andreykr - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in Missouri: National Blues Museum, Photo: National Blues Museum
- Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Photo: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
- Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Photo: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
- Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Photo: Pulitzer Arts Foundation
- Things to Do in Missouri: Saint Louis Art Museum, Photo: Saint Louis Art Museum
- Saint Louis Science Center, Photo: Saint Louis Science Center
- Saint Louis Zoo, Photo: Courtesy of Alfred - Fotolia.com
- Science City at Union Station, Photo: Science City at Union Station
- Anheuser-Busch Brewery, Photo: Courtesy of master_c - Fotolia.com
- Innsbrook Resort, Photo: Innsbrook Resort
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of rudi1976 - Fotolia.com
Attraction Spotlight: George Washington Carver National Monument
Located near Diamond, Missouri, the George Washington Carver National Monument was the first unit of the National Park Service dedicated to an African American and the first national monument dedicated to a non-presidential figure, honoring leading 20th-century inventor, botanist, and environmentalist George Washington Carver. Though his exact date and year of birth are unknown, George Washington Carver was born as a plantation slave in Diamond Grove, Missouri between 1861 and 1865.
Within the first week of his life, he was kidnapped by raiders from Kentucky along with his mother and sister, though he alone was recovered by efforts from his master, Moses Carver. Following the abolition of slavery during the American Civil War, George and his older brother James were raised as part of Moses’ family, with Moses and his wife Susan encouraging both boys to pursue intellectual interests. After being rejected from application at Highland University in Kansas, Carver became the first African-American student of the Iowa State Agricultural College, earning a master’s degree in botany and operating an experiment station focused on plant mycology and pathology, which brought him national recognition.
Throughout his career, Carver taught as an instructor in the agriculture department of the Tuskegee Institute, creating a mobile learning program inside a “Jesup wagon,” named after financial backer Morris Ketchum Jesup. He popularized a number of widely adapted farming rotation techniques, including the planting of sweet potatoes and legumes as a means of revitalizing overfarmed cotton fields, which earned him the nickname “The Plant Doctor.” A farmer’s bulletin on the farming of peanuts gained him widespread national acclaim, earning him celebrity status as a public speaker on both agriculture and racial issues. As the result of his extensive work, Carver became the leading African-American public figure of his time, earning him the nickname “Black Leonardo” in a 1941 Time magazine feature. Following Carver’s death in 1943, $30,000 of funds were dedicated toward the development of a national monument in his honor, encompassing a number of preserved sites connected to his boyhood home, by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Permanent Exhibits and Attractions
Today, the George Washington Carver National Monument spans 240 acres near present-day Diamond, Missouri, including the preserved 1881 Moses Carver House and surrounding fields where Carver spent his childhood. A Visitor Center serves as an entrance to the monument, which contains a small museum with interactive exhibits on Carver’s life and scientific advancements, as well as a bookstore and a theater presenting a short orientation film. An observation deck also allows for views of the area’s rolling hills and expansive prairie woodlands.
Along the one-mile Carver Trail, visitors may explore the woodlands and streams of the area along a self-guided loop, along with several historic sites connected to Carver’s life. The Carver Cemetery contains the grave sites of Moses and Susan Carver, though George himself is buried at a site at Tuskegee University. The park’s Boy Carver Statue, commissioned in 1960 by sculptor Robert Amendola, sits near a bridge in one of the park’s natural areas, and a pond on the former Moses property, Williams Pond, dates back to the 1930s and is named for Moses Carver’s niece, Sarah Jane Williams, featuring several meditative plaques elaborating on Carver family history.
While the Visitor Center is entirely wheelchair-accessible, visitors with accessibility concerns should inquire with park rangers about their individual needs before embarking on the Carver Trail. Service animals are also welcome throughout the entire facility. Visitors are encouraged to stay on established trails while on the Carver Trail and discouraged from swimming, wading, fishing, or climbing on cemetery headstones. As the park is a natural preserve area, visitors are also cautioned to be on the lookout for poison ivy, ticks, and other natural hazards, and may not remove plants or wildlife from the park.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Guided tours of the monument are offered daily throughout the morning and afternoon, lasting approximately one hour and 15 minutes and including tours of the historic Moses Carver house. A variety of educational programming and demonstrations are also offered for young visitors, including hands-on reenactments of traditional farm activities such as old-fashioned laundering with lye soap and a scrub board. A natural dyes program offers art experiences with traditional mediums, and nature programming educates about the nearby plant and wildlife ecosystems that influenced Carver’s scientific findings. A Junior Rangers summer program also offers the opportunity to earn participation badges and certificates in exchange for completion of park activities.
5646 Carver Rd, Diamond, MO 64840, Phone: 417-325-4151
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Attraction Spotlight: Riverbluff Cave
Located near Springfield, Missouri, Riverbluff Cave is a paleontological site that is operated as a private scientific research site. Though the cave is not open to the public, an online photo archive documents researchers’ findings within the cave, and the nearby Riverbluff Cave Museum offers a variety of fossils and exhibits related to the cave’s natural wildlife.
Riverbluff Cave is approximately 830,000 years old, making it the oldest fossil cave site within the United States. The cave, which is located within the Missouri Ozarks’ Springfield Plateau karst landscape, is approximately 2,000 feet long and contains fossils from the Pleistocene era dating back as far as 1.8 million years ago. The cave was discovered by accident in the modern era on September 11, 2001 during county-supervised blasting for the development of a new road near Springfield, Missouri. Prior to its discovery, there is no evidence that the cave had ever been accessed by humans. In order to protect its unique geological ecosystem and features, the cave’s entrance was covered to enclose the site following its discovery, and an airtight passageway entrance system was implemented in 2002 to create a safe entryway for researchers to access the site.
Today, Riverbluff Cave is operated as a paleontological site overseen by the Missouri Institute of Natural Science. Exploration and fossil collection is overseen by Springfield-Greene County Parks naturalist Matt Forir and Missouri Institute of Natural Science director Lisa McCann. Though the cave is not open to the public, it is the second cave in the world to be digitally wired for virtual touring, and an archive of photography of the cave’s fossils and formations are showcased on the cave’s website.
The 830,000-year-old cave is the United States’ oldest fossil cave site, showcasing a wide variety of Pleistocene-era fossils and geological formations. The cave measures approximately 2,000 feet long from its entrance to its furthest room, with a large, elaborately-decorated main room encompassing its first 200 feet. Notable geological formations within the room include a calcite river, a snow cone formation, bacon-like formations, and a calcite structure known as the cave’s “Christmas Tree.” Unlike many commercial show caves within the Mississippi region, the cave’s speleothems and other formations remain in their original state today and have not been touched or altered for more than 55,000 years.
The cave’s fossils and ecosystem are indicative of Missouri’s climate within the interglacial Pleistocene era, which spanned from approximately 1.8 million years ago to 11,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. During that time, the Missouri region was home to a number of animals that are typically characteristic of lower latitudes, including the peccary, a member of the artiodactyl family Tayassuidae, which also contains well-known pig and boar species. Bones of flat-headed and long-nosed pecarries have been found in caves within Missouri, Kentucky, and Texas. A passage within the cave contains the largest known tract of peccary tracks found anywhere in the world. A large number of short-faced bear fossils have also been found within the cave, along with specimens of snakes, reptiles, and giant turtles common to the area during the Pleistocene. The cave is home to a millipede specimen dating back as far as 50,000 years ago, the only documented fossilized millipede from the Pleistocene era. A number of fossils belonging to cooler-climate animals are also showcased, including American lions and mammoths.
Riverbluff Cave Museum
Though the cave is not open to the public due to the delicate nature of its contents, the Missouri Institute of Science operates the nearby Riverbluff Cave Museum, which showcases a variety of fossils and minerals excavated from the cave. The nonprofit museum is operated as an educational endeavor to showcase findings from the cave and educate visitors on the Missouri region’s geological and biological history. The museum is divided into two exhibit sections, with one section exclusively dedicated to showcasing fossil findings from the cave, including giant short-faced bear fossils, peccary footprints, and mammoth bones. A reproduction of the cave’s giant short-faced bear scratches is presented, along with a display of fossilized dung and a comparative display of fossil skulls.
In the museum’s general natural history exhibit, a large collection of minerals is showcased, with some displayed under ultraviolet light to create a glow effect and illuminate the specimens. Dioramas depict the soil layers of the Missouri region and the fossils contained within each. Fossils of area dinosaurs, ancient fish, and insects are showcased, including pieces of a triceratops skeleton. The museum offers a small gift shop area selling fossils, minerals, and souvenirs. Guided group tours and presentations for elementary and secondary school student groups may be arranged by appointment.
2327 W. Farm Road 190, Springfield, MO 65810, Phone: 417-883-0594
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Attraction Spotlight: Joplin History and Mineral Museum Complex
Located in Joplin, Missouri, the Joplin History and Mineral Museum Complex contains two museums detailing the industrial and mining history of the Joplin region and the Tri-State Mining District. The Tri-State Mining District was a historic mining district in the United States Great Plains region that was formed following an 1870 discovery of zinc ore near the city of Galena, Kansas.
For the greater part of the next century, the district became one of the main zinc and lead ore mining regions in the world, producing more than 50 percent of the United States’ zinc mining products and 10 percent of its lead mining products. Major Superfund sites sprung up throughout the mid-to-late 19th and early 20th centuries in southeast Kansas, southwest Missouri, and northeast Oklahoma. Production within the Joplin-Granby region of southwest Missouri’s Jasper and Newton Counties began in the mid-19th century, and the city of Joplin was founded in 1873 as a mining boomtown. Though the region’s mining deposits were largely abandoned in the late 1960s and early 1970s, mining conditions within the region resulted in a number of federal, state, and local cleanup and reclamation projects to reduce acidic water conditions produced from the flooding of abandoned mines.
The Joplin History and Mineral Museum was originally the vision of Dorothea B. Hoover, an instrumental figure in the creation of the city’s Joplin Historical Society and its public Historical Museum facility. Hoover was the daughter of an early pioneer family and grew up during Joplin’s height as a mining boomtown. Following her education at Wellesley College and a professional career in Washington, D.C., Hoover returned to the Joplin area and became a major advocate for cultural and historic preservation within the region. Hoover’s vision was eventually recognized by a citizen group led by Tri-State Mineral Museum curator Everett Ritchie, who created the Joplin History and Mineral Museum facility in 1994.
Permanent Exhibits and Collections
Today, the Joplin History and Mineral Museum Complex is presented as a dual museum complex, showcasing two museums detailing the social and economic history of Joplin and the Tri-State Mining District. Original museum exhibits and mineral specimen displays created by Everett Ritchie in 1994 are still on display at the museum, along with a variety of exhibits related to the social and cultural history of the city of Joplin. As a public educational museum facility, the museum strives to connect community audiences with the region’s past and foster civic engagement to shape its future through its public programming.
Two distinct museum facilities are showcased at the complex, including the Everett J. Ritchie Tri-State Mineral Museum, which boasts one of the most notable mineral collections within the Tri-State Mining District region. The geology and geochemistry of the region is examined through a variety of exhibits, along with the mining methods and processes utilized by miners throughout the region’s 100-year operation period. An Evolution of Mining exhibit chronicles the timeline and development of the region from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century and beyond, while a Prehistoric Finds exhibit showcases fossil finds and artifacts connected to the region’s geological development and prehistory. Several special mineral collections are on display, including a Glowing Rocks exhibit that showcases minerals under fluorescent lights. A Maps Collection displays historic preserved mining maps detailing areas throughout the region, while a Mineral in Product exhibit details the everyday uses of lead and zinc and the common products the minerals are used in.
At the Dorothea B. Hoover Historical Museum, the social and cultural history of the Joplin region are explored through a variety of exhibits utilizing collections obtained by the Joplin Historical Society. Major exhibit areas chronicle the development of notable businesses and industries in the area that grew as a result of the mining district’s success, such as the Empire District Electric Company exhibit. Famous Joplin residents such as Langston Hughes and Dennis Weaver are highlighted in the Famous Joplinites exhibit, while the area’s connection to national figures of note is explored in a Bonnie and Clyde exhibit and a Merle Evans Miniature Circus exhibit. A Joplin Sports Hall of Fame exhibit honors local and regional sports figures, while a Parkwood and Memorial High Schools Memorabilia exhibit preserves items connected to the city’s public high schools. Other major exhibits on display include a turn-of-the-century soda shop replica, a large historic cookie cutter collection, and a display of Belsnickle artistic creations by artist Linda Lindquist Baldwin.
Ongoing Programs and Events
A variety of annual public special events are hosted at the museum complex, including a three-day Spring Rock and Gem Show displaying a wide variety of rare and significant mineral and gemstone specimens. A Chatauqua weekend event also serves as a major museum fundraiser, offering a variety of public activities throughout a weekend in October. Activities presented as part of the fundraiser include a cocktail event, a downtown mural tour, and a historic walking tour.
504 S. Schifferdecker Avenue, Joplin, Missouri 64801, Phone: 417-623-1180
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