St. Louis and its surrounding suburbs offer a lot of options for fun things to see and do. If you don't mind traveling just a bit further out of the city, you find even more great destinations to explore. Here are the top picks for day trips from St. Louis.
The state capital of Illinois is just a 90-minute drive from St. Louis. Many of Springfield's top tourist attractions are dedicated to the town's most famous former resident, Abraham Lincoln. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library is a top destination for visitors of all ages. The museum showcases the life of the 16th president with interactive exhibits and costumed characters.
Springfield is also home to other historic sites like the Old State Capitol Building which served as the statehouse for Illinois from 1839 to 1876. You can also tour the current State Capitol as well.
When you're feeling hungry, don't miss the chance to try Springfield's signature dish: the Horseshoe Sandwich. You'll find this open-faced sandwich with hamburger patties, french fries and cheese sauce at many restaurants around town.
About two hours south of St. Louis, you'll find one of the most unique natural attractions in the state of Missouri. Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park was created millions of years ago by cooled volcanic rock. Water from the Black River flows over the rock creating hundreds of waterfalls, rapids, and chutes. The deep pools in the river are great for swimming in the warm weather. In addition, the park has a hiking trail, picnic areas, a visitor's center, and a general store.
While you're in the area, you may also want to check out Taum Sauk Mountain State Park. It's located in the St. Francois Mountains and is home to the highest point and the tallest waterfall in the state of Missouri.
Two hours north of St. Louis is the Mississippi River town of Hannibal, Missouri. Hannibal has embraced its place in American history as the childhood home of the famous writer, Mark Twain. You can visit Twain's boyhood home, see Tom Sawyer's fence and experience the Mighty Mississippi aboard the Mark Twain Riverboat.
Aside from Twain, Hannibal is a charming small town. The Hannibal Trolley offers sightseeing tours of the area's scenic overlooks, famous landmarks and beautiful historic homes like Rockcliffe Mansion. There are also fun attractions for kids like the Big River Train Town & Museum and plenty of shopping and dining.
Take a 30-minute drive west of St. Louis to historic St. Charles, Missouri. Located along the Missouri River, St. Charles was home to the First State Capitol in 1821. You can still tour the old brick building with rooms that have been restored with period furnishings.
St. Charles was also the final embarkation point for the Lewis & Clark Expedition. You can learn all about the expedition at the Lewis & Clark Boat House and Museum. The museum has full-size replicas of the boats used on the journey, along with other exhibits and artifacts.
In addition to its historic significance, Main Street in St. Charles is filled with a nice variety of shops, wineries, antique stores and restaurants. It's a great place for window shopping, people watching or getting a casual meal.
About an hour to the southwest of St. Louis is Meramec Caverns. The giant cave has been welcoming visitors for more than 80 years and was one of the most popular attractions along Route 66 in years past. Meramec Caverns was formed by the erosion of limestone and other minerals over millions of years. Today, it is filled with colorful stalagmites and stalactites of all shapes and sizes.
You can see these natural wonders on a guided tour of the cave. The tour follows lighted pathways and takes about 90 minutes to complete. The cave is 58 degrees year round, so you may want to bring a light jacket or sweatshirt.
Located in the heart of Missouri wine country, Hermann is a picturesque small town along the Missouri River. It's known for its German heritage and popular wineries like Stone Hill and Hermannhof. You can spend a relaxing afternoon sipping wine and listening to live music on the outdoor terraces at either winery. Then, explore the shops and restaurants in town.
Another place worth visiting is the Deutschheim State Historic Site. The site's buildings have been restored to the way they would have looked in the 1840s and 1850s. Take a tour to learn about the German immigrants who settled the area and began the wine-making industry in the region.
When you feel like a road trip, there's no better drive in the St. Louis area than along the Great River Road. The road follows the entire western border of Illinois, but some of the best scenery is in the Metro East. The stretch of the road through Alton and Grafton runs right along the Mississippi River with views of the water on one side and the limestone bluffs on the other.
When you get tired of driving, there are plenty of places to stop along the way. Consider taking a break at Pere Marquette State Park. The park is a good spot for hiking, bird watching, and other outdoor activities. You can also get a nice meal at the restaurant at Pere Marquette Lodge.
For a livelier stop, head into Alton and hit up Fast Eddie's Bon Air for cold beer, live music, and inexpensive eats. The legendary bar is always a fun place to be, but only for those 21 and older.
Get out of the city and explore the beauty of nature at the aptly named Shaw Nature Reserve. The wilderness area is located about 30 minutes west of St. Louis. It has more than 14 miles of trails that cut through a variety of habitats like prairies, meadows, and forests. If you don't feel like walking the trails, you can take a ride on the Wilderness Wagon during warm weather months.
Shaw Nature Reserve is a great place to bring a picnic basket for a nice outdoor meal. There are three scenic picnic areas inside the reserve. For the kids, there is an outdoor classroom with musical instruments, climbing and play areas all built from natural materials.
Columbia is a fun and progressive city about two hours west of St. Louis in the heart of mid-Missouri. It's home to the University of Missouri's flagship campus. Mizzou is certainly a big draw for many who come to town, but Columbia has so much more to offer. Downtown is a vibrant place with hundreds of restaurants, bars, and shops.
Ditch the car and spend the day riding a bicycle on the Katy Trail. The scenic trail stretches more than 200 miles across the state of Missouri, closely following the Missouri River.
In the St. Louis area, you can pick up the trail in Defiance or Augusta in St. Charles County. Both small towns have places where you can rent a bike if you don't have one of your own. Then, set off on a leisurely ride through an eight-mile stretch of Missouri wine country. This part of the trail goes through the river bottoms and is relatively flat for comfortable biking. When you need food or a drink, you'll find small restaurants and shops along the way.