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Missouri Travel Guide

Missouri recently celebrated its 200th anniversary as a part of the United States, becoming a state in 1821. The “Show Me State” will allow you to experience a beautiful balance of outdoor activities, culture, historic properties, and tourist venues.

Sure, there’s the famous Gateway Arch in St. Louis, but what else draws visitors to Missouri? If you enjoy quiet time on the lake with nothing but your thoughts and a fishing pole, Missouri will deliver unique fishing experiences in places like the Lake of the Ozarks.

The state’s serious addiction to barbecue will also provide you with endless options for trying new recipes and dishes. Suppose you hail from another state with a strong love of barbecue (Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee, to name a few). In that case, it might be time to visit Missouri to see how your favorite barbecue restaurants stack up against the creative barbecue chefs of Missouri.

Here’s a quick Missouri travel guide of some awesome things to do in the state, a handful of wonderful places to stay during your travels, and some tips for ensuring your Missouri vacation exceeds your expectations.

Best Things to Do in Missouri

1. Ascend to the Top of The Gateway Arch

If you’re flying into Missouri from another state or country, there’s a good chance you’ll land in St. Louis at Lambert International Airport, which means a trip to the famous Gateway Arch is in order. Even if you plan on a vacation that steps outside the familiar beaten paths and into the wilderness, you’ll still want to make a quick trip to the tallest national monument in the country.

Did you know you can take a tram to the top of the arch? You’ll need to climb several stories to reach the very top, and there aren’t any bathrooms up there, so it’s a good idea to visit the facilities before your ascent.

The arch rises an impressive 43 stories into the sky, and it takes some time to reach the top, so make sure you have comfortable footwear for the journey. You’ll enjoy an expansive view of the city and the Mississippi River at the top.

If you care to linger in St. Louis for more than an afternoon, you might add a walking tour of St. Louis to your itinerary, where you’ll meet at the Old Courthouse and see sights like the Gateway Arch and the Basilica of St. Louis. The National Blues Museum is also quite close to the arch and worth visiting while exploring St. Louis.

2. Visit Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Like most states, Missouri is full of state and national parks where you can camp, hike, fish, and enjoy an outdoor adventure, but one of the most interesting is the Ha Ha Tonka State Park. If you love the outdoors and want to insert nature into your Missouri vacation, this state park will deliver with its lake views, caves, and hiking trails.

One of the coolest sights at this state park is the old, dilapidated castle built by a Kansas City businessman named Robert Snyder. The wealthy businessman started constructing his European-style mansion in the early 1900s at the state park but wouldn’t live to see his dream home completed as he was killed in one of the first recorded car accidents in the state.

Snyder’s sons continued building the castle and worked for more than 15 years to complete it. The castle would remain in the family for a few decades, but debts and a massive fire took their toll on the famous residence.

The fascinating castle ruins are just one of the Missouri destinations that wait for you at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

3. Explore the Bonne Terre Mines

Some of the best sights in Missouri are below the earth’s surface. The Bonne Terre Mines once produced more lead ore than any other mine in the world, but a flood into the massive underground chambers of the mine turned the expanse into the largest freshwater dive venue in the world.

The mine opened in 1870, and workers toiled for years collecting the ore, creating huge open chambers underground. The caves were so massive that the mining companies built railways to transport the ore from deep underground to the surface.

Unfortunately, miners found a cache of underground water that flooded the mine, destroying quite a lot of expensive mining machinery. Despite the catastrophe, the mine would emerge as an amazingly unique place to explore. You’ll find that the water is exceptionally clear because high levels of lead prevent organisms from making homes in the water.

If you choose to dive into the caverns, 17 miles of rooms and paths await you. If diving deep underground is a little scary, you can also book a walking or boat tour of the mine and remain dry for your visit.

4. Tour the Harvey M. Vaile Mansion

Suppose your Missouri travels take you through Independence. In that case, you’ll probably visit the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum, but you’ll also want to squeeze in a visit to the Vaile Mansion, which is almost 150 years old.

Completed in 1881 after ten years of construction, the giant mansion cost the modern equivalent of about $4 million to build. A building influenced the style of the huge building in France.

The house boasts 31 rooms with 14-foot ceilings and a stunning red brick fa├žade. Although much of the original furniture in the home was sold years ago, some of the original furnishings remain.

For example, some of the chandeliers hanging around the mansion were originally meant for The White House in Washington D.C. but ended up hanging in the Vaile house because they had flaws. After Mr. Vaile’s death, the house became a sanatorium, spent some years as a nursing home, and eventually served as the base of operations for a bottling company.

After so many years of use, the mansion required significant renovations and repairs. Since 1983, a non-profit organization has maintained the home as a history museum.

5. Ride Through Fantastic Caverns

Like the Bonne Terre Mines, Fantastic Caverns is a massive underground expanse filled with stalagmites and stalactites, but the cool thing about the caves is that you get to ride through them in a vehicle rather than walking through them. Some cave explorations require quite a bit of walking, but visiting this historic Springfield, Missouri allows you to explore and relax simultaneously.

Fantastic Caverns was initially discovered by a farmer and his dog and was explored several years later by a group of women. Today, the names of those female explorers remain carved into the cave walls.

The cave experience’s drive-thru design helps preserve the caves’ history and ensures visitors don’t accidentally trample over fragile cavern sections. The caves are cool and comfortable all year long, too, so they’re an excellent place to visit if your vacation takes you to Missouri when it’s boiling hot in the summer or frigid in the winter. The tour lasts about an hour, so it’s an easy jaunt whether you’re traveling with fidgety kids or exploring Missouri with your significant other.

6. Visit the Vine Historic Jazz District

The Vine Historic Jazz District is a neighborhood in Kansas City recognized as the home and starting point for American jazz music. The neighborhood sits between 18th Street, Woodland Avenue, 19th Street, and The Paseo in Kansas City. The American Jazz Museum is on the western side of the neighborhood.

Several African American-owned businesses, and museums also reside in the vicinity, like the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Although the free street car doesn’t reach the jazz district in St. Louis, renting a car and reaching everything with just a few minutes of driving is easy. Much of what you’ll want to visit in Kansas City is south of the Missouri River in the downtown area and to the east.

If your travel plans permit, you may want to devote an entire day to exploring the jazz district, so you can get your fill of the famous barbecue restaurants, some of which boast live music. St. Louis is also an excellent place to visit for country music fans; you can spend a week visiting all the live music venues throughout the city.

Although Branson, Missouri, about three hours south of Kansas City, bills itself as the Live Music Capital of the World, Kansas City comes in a close second due to the local population’s love of song. Honestly, the entire state is a musical mecca, and you’ll probably leave Missouri with a whole new appreciation of barbecue and music.

Where to stay in Missouri

Accommodations in Missouri cater to all budgets and travelers, and it’s simply a matter of finding a hotel, motel, or vacation home that’s in reasonable proximity to the attractions, destinations, and historic sites you want to visit. Look at the following list of some of Missouri’s best places to stay.

How to Get Around in Missouri

Many of the places you’ll visit in Missouri are located in remote state parks or off the beaten path, which means getting a car rental will help get you where you want to go without hassles or delays.

For example, the popular destination of Dogwood Canyon Nature Park sits in the far southern part of the state. It is several hours away from major cities like St. Louis and Kansas City. Visiting the Missouri State Capitol Building in Jefferson City requires a two-hour drive from St. Louis or a three-hour drive from Kansas City.

If you don’t want to rent a car the entire time, you might consider starting or ending your journey in St. Louis because the city does cater to visitors without cars with its excellent light rail system.

Missouri’s other major city, Kansas City, offers visitors a free streetcar. Still, the area is usually best visited by car because the streetcar only runs along one part of the city. Overall, visiting the state is most easily accomplished with a rental car, book one with RentalCars.com to get the best possible price.

Travel Tips Missouri

One of the cool things you’ll notice when you travel to Missouri is that you’ll get random people waving at you in greeting as you travel throughout the state. The people of Missouri are generally quite polite and respond well when you offer them the same courtesy they might extend to you. Here are a few travel tips to consider as you plan your fun Missouri visit.

Travel Insurance is a Must for Missouri

An inexpensive and necessary part of travel is insurance, and you might need to purchase extra insurance that isn’t included with your current insurance. You may have some insurance coverage through your credit cards for your travel purchases, but it’s a good idea to consider travel medical insurance or trip insurance. SafetyWing and VisitorsCoverage are a few options you may consider but check with your financial institutions and present insurance providers, too, to determine what coverage you already have.

Don’t Forget to Pack These Important Items

Some of the most important choices you’ll make when packing your bags and finding places to visit in Missouri are your clothes. Missouri gets quite hot in the summer, and snow regularly falls in the winter, so you’ll want to bring clothing that matches the season you’re visiting. 

However, bear in mind that visiting any of the more than 1,000 caves in Missouri usually means experiencing temperatures around 50 degrees, so you’ll find it helpful to include a light jacket even if you’re visiting in the winter and need a heavy jacket or the summer and need lots of sunscreen and hats.

Missouri is Hilly But Not Mountainous

The highest point in Missouri is Taum Sauk Mountain, which rises 1,772 feet above sea level. If you’re concerned about breathing at high elevations, you don’t need to worry about the oxygen in Missouri. Even if you go underground to tour one of the state’s famous caverns, you’ll have plenty of air for your lungs.

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