Welcome to Missouri
Missouri has always been a land that inspires adventure. It was in St. Louis, on the banks of the Missouri River, that Lewis and Clark launched the Corps of Discovery Expedition in 1804. Two years later, St. Louis was given the moniker Gateway to the West for the pioneers and adventurers who followed in the footsteps of the intrepid explorers into the wild frontier.
While Missouri fully embraces its Midwestern soul, its landscapes, spirit for adventure and hospitality give it a vibe of its own. The state’s terrain varies from the bucolic, undulating hills of the northern plains to the majestic Ozark Mountains in the south, with rushing rivers and crystal clear lakes in between. As the Great Plains’ most populous state, the cities of St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield boast plenty of cultural dynamism.
With its dramatic mountains, soaring bluffs, deep springs, dense forests and underground caves, Missouri holds vast possibilities for adventure. Going by nicknamed the Cave State, Missouri entices hardcore spelunkers to 5,000-plus caves, dripping with stalactites and stalagmites. The 129-acre Elephant Rocks State Park features giant, 1.5 billion-year-old granite boulders that resemble pachyderms.
Experienced hikers can tackle the Ozark Trail, a 550-mile-long counterpart to the Appalachian Trail (but without the crowds). The picturesque trail passes through forests of pine and spring-fed creeks and traverses Stegall Mountain and Taum Sauk Mountain. The latter is the state’s highest point.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park adds a dash of the surreal to its mystical landscapes with a colossal 1905 European-style stone castle sprawling across a steep bluff; it’s worth a visit alone for the views of the Lake of the Ozarks. Some 15 miles of trails snake through lush forests where caves, a spring, sink-holes and a natural bridge will bring out everyone’s inner Huck Finn.
The largest of Missouri’s state parks, the stirring Lake of the Ozarks State Park sprawls across more than 17,000 dramatic and diverse acres of land, including 80 miles of lake frontage. Twelve trails meander through oak-hickory forest, and there are guided tours of Ozark Caverns at the park’s southern end.
From a trading post, St. Louis rapidly grew into a cosmopolitan city with several landmarks and museums that speak to the city’s history. The city’s symbol, the 630-foot-high Gateway Arch celebrates Thomas Jefferson’s vision of westward expansion. There’s a tram ride to the top, while underground the Museum of Westward Expansion illuminates St. Louis’s role in westward expansion following the Louisiana Purchase.
Along the river, a mosaic of red brick, silt and cobblestone buildings invokes the city’s proud steamboat-era heritage. Top-notch museums include City Museum, a multi-sensory playground with an intriguing collection of retrofitted architectural and industrial objects, as well as an aquarium and a museum of architecture.
There’s more to Kansas City than barbecue, jazz, fountains and stockyards. Along with a historic district and eclectic, walkable neighborhoods, you can easily spend days exploring the city’s stellar inventory of cultural institutions. The National World War I Museum is the second-largest of its kind in the world, while the American Jazz Museum honors jazz legends Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.
The paradigm for a big-hearted Midwestern town, revitalized Springfield preserves a history encompassing Wild West shootouts, America’s first telegraph line and a compelling stretch of Route 66.
The Branson Beat
At the heart of Missouri’s Ozark Plateau, Branson serves up family fun. Visitors can enjoy live entertainment, mini-golf, wax museums and theme parks. There’s the peculiar Odditorium, Branson’s iteration of the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! brand; the World’s Largest Toy Museum, a beloved treasure trove of boy toys and iconic mini cars; and Silver Dollar City, one of the nation’s top theme parks complete with 30 thrilling rides, innovative playgrounds and the White Water Park. Of course, a vast array of theaters put on round-the-clock shows for patrons eager for wholesome entertainment. Catch the Osmond Brothers, comedian Yakov Smirnoff, and the wild Dixie Stampede Dinner and Show.