From human-made wonders like the Gateway Arch to the natural beauty of the Johnson's Shut-Ins, Missouri has a lot to offer. The state's two biggest cities, St. Louis and Kansas City, are filled with museums, monuments, and other urban treasures. In more rural areas, visitors will find small communities brimming with history and hospitality. Here are the top ten places to visit in Missouri.
National World War I Museum: Kansas City
The brave Americans who fought in the Great War are honored and remembered at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City. The museum houses one of the world's largest collections of war artifacts, along with interactive exhibits and displays depicting key moments and battles. But the most powerful part of the experience is the personal stories and eyewitness accounts of what it was like to be in the war.
The museum's Main Gallery is home to a permanent exhibit, The World War, 1914-1919. It provides a comprehensive history of the war though original documents, videos and other artifacts. There are also several limited-run exhibits that focus on particular aspects of the war. Another highlight is the Liberty Memorial Tower. Visitors can enjoy a great view of the Kansas City skyline from the open-air observation deck at the top of the tower.
The National World War I Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are extended summer hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day. During the summer, the museum is open Sunday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $16 for adults and $10 for children.
Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park: Reynolds County
The natural beauty of Missouri is on full display at Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park in Reynolds County. The popular swimming and hiking area formed millions of years ago when molten volcanic rock cooled along the Black River. Today, that cooled volcanic rock protrudes from river bed creating waterfalls, chutes, and deep pools for swimming. For those who prefer to see the beauty of the shut-ins from a distance, there is a hiking trail and observation area high above the river.
Johnson's Shut-Ins is a great place to spend the day, but the park can also accommodate longer visits. There are six log cabins for overnight stays, as well as a campground for both tents and RVs. Other amenities include a general store and a visitor's center with information about wildlife, plants and the history of the area. The main gates to the park open daily at 8 a.m.
The Gateway Arch: St. Louis
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis welcomes visitors from around the world. The iconic symbol of the city rises 630 feet above the St. Louis Riverfront, making it the tallest monument in the United States. The Arch is an impressive sight from the ground, but don't miss the chance to see it from the top. A tram system shuttles visitors to an observation area inside the top of the Arch. Windows offer a great view of the surrounding city and the Mississippi River below.
The Arch just part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The memorial celebrates Thomas Jefferson and his role in the expansion of the American West. It also includes the Old Courthouse where slave Dred Scott sued for his freedom.
The Gateway Arch is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with extended summer hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In the summer, the Arch is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The entrance fee is $3 for adults. Children get in free. Tram rides are $10 per person.
Missouri Wine Country: Gasconade & St. Charles Counties
German immigrants brought their wine-making skills to Missouri more than 150 years ago. The fertile soil along the Missouri River proved a great location for growing grapes. Today, the state has more than 120 wineries. Many of the most popular vineyards are located west of St. Louis in St. Charles and Gasconade Counties.
The small town of Hermann in Gasconade County is the heart of Missouri Wine Country. It's home to two of the state's most well-known wineries, Stone Hill and Hermannhof. It's also where to explore the Hermann Wine Trail. The trail is a cooperative effort of seven local wineries that come together to host events and celebrations throughout the year.
Another favorite stop in wine country is Augusta in St. Charles County. Augusta's largest vineyard is Mount Pleasant Winery, with its award-winning wines, wine cellar tours, and live entertainment. In addition, Augusta is home to three smaller wineries located along the Missouri Winestrasse. These wineries offer a more intimate tasting experience.
Pony Express National Museum: St. Joseph
Learn about the nation's first "high-speed" mail service at the Pony Express National Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri. St. Joe was the starting point for Pony Express riders who delivered mail to California in the early 1860s.
A visit today includes a tour of the stables where the riders began their 2,000-mile journey. The museum also has interactive exhibits telling the brief history of the Pony Express and showing the many dangers the riders faced. Visitors can also see other historic exhibits like a 1860s coin collection and a one-room schoolhouse.
The Pony Express National Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for students and $1 for children.
Mark Twain's Boyhood Home: Hannibal
Hannibal is a small Mississippi River town in the northeast corner of the state. Its claim to fame is as the boyhood home of the author Mark Twain. Readers can learn all about historic Hannibal in Twain's novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
The most popular tourist spots in Hannibal celebrate this connection to Twain. Visitors can tour the author's boyhood home, see Tom Sawyer's whitewashed fence, visit nearby caves or navigate the Mighty Mississippi on the Mark Twain Riverboat.
The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $11 for adults and $6 for children ages six to 17. Children five and younger get in free.
Bonne Terre Mine: St. Francois County
With more than 6,000 caves and caverns, Missouri is also known as the Cave State.
One of the most unique is Bonne Terre Mine in St. Francois County. It's one of the largest underground caverns in the world. The lower part of the mine is filled with a billion gallons of groundwater creating the world's largest subterranean lake.
Visitors can take a walking or boat tour of the mine. The walking tour follows an old mule trail down the first two levels of the mine. From there, it's a boat ride across the huge underground lake. The crystal clear water offers 100 feet of visibility. For those looking for more adventure, Bonne Terre Mine also offers scuba diving. There are 24 lighted, dive trails exploring the submerged architecture of the mine.
Bonne Terre Mine is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, from mid-May to October 1. It's open weekends only in the winter. Walking and boat tours are $27 for adults and $20 for children. Prices vary for scuba diving tours.
Missouri's Oldest Settlement: Ste. Genevieve
The history of Missouri starts in Ste. Genevieve, a small town on the Mississippi River. The area was first settled by the French in the early 1700s, making it the state's oldest settlement. Visitors can still experience much of that French Colonial heritage. The town has retained its historic feel with narrow streets, fenced gardens, and colonial buildings.
Ste. Genevieve's most historic buildings are located in an area known as the National Landmark Historic District. The district includes the 1792 Bolduc Museum House, the 1818 Felix Valle State Historic Site and four other prominent sites. Visitors can see all six sites during the Historic Passport Tour.
In addition to its rich history, Ste. Genevieve is a charming small town with nice boutique hotels and bed & breakfasts. There are restaurants, wineries and quaint stores for shopping.
Lake of the Ozarks: Camden & Miller Counties
For fun in the sun in Missouri, there's no better place than the Lake of the Ozarks. The 85 square miles, man-made lake is the state's top destination for boating, swimming, and other water sports. Along the lake's extensive shoreline, there are several small towns with a variety of hotels, restaurants and resorts to cater to tourists.
Another option for enjoying the area is the Lake of the Ozarks State Park. The park offers a more outdoorsy experience. Lodging includes log cabins, RV and tent camping. Visitors can also rent canoes and kayaks, or spend the day at a public swimming beach. For those looking to spend time out of the water, there are 12l hiking and biking trails spread out over thousands of wooded acres.
Berlin Wall Sculpture: Fulton
Fulton is a small Missouri town with a big history. Fulton's Westminster College is where former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave his famous "Iron Curtain" speech in 1946. Visitors can learn more about the speech and the Cold War at the Churchill Museum on the college campus.
One prominent exhibit at the Churchill Museum is the Berlin Wall Sculpture. The artwork titled Breakthrough was created by Edwina Sandys, Churchill's granddaughter. It's made from a section of the wall that was located near the Brandenburg Gate.