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18 Fun & Best Things to Do in Rolla, Missouri

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Founded in the mid-19th century, Rolla, Missouri, began as a town of farmers and iron workers. At the same time, that is known, how the town got its name has been up for debate.

The most famous legend is that when Rolla won the county seat for Phelps County over nearby Dillon, the folks in Dillon got to name it. Hence it was named Rolla–a good-for-nothing hunting dog.

Fittingly, given the storied nature of its name, this is also where you’ll find the Mark Twain National Forest. Twain would have appreciated the snark in Rolla’s creation.

Rolla is halfway between Springfield and St. Louis. It’s known for the Missouri University of Science and Technology, being the original starting point of the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway and its outstanding natural beauty not to mention the fact that Rolla is located along the historic Route 66, making it a terrific stop during a long road trip.

TL;DR

Most significant landmark Mark Twain National Forest
Best park Rolla Lions Club Den
Free activity Little Prairie Conservation Area
Activity for kids Kokomo Joe’s Family Fun Center
Activity for adults Public House Brewing Company
Place to eat Matt’s Steakhouse
Place to stay Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott Rolla

Things to Do in Rolla, Missouri

1. Mark Twain National Forest

Green Spring at Mark Twain National Forest

Address: 401 Fairgrounds Rd, Rolla, MO 65401, United States

One of the most popular things to do in Rolla is to visit the Mark Twain National Forest. Established in 1939 and named for Missouri native Mark Twain, the forest covers 1.5 million acres across 29 Missouri counties.

Plenty of trails for hiking, biking, and even riding horses exist. There are also several picnic areas in the forest and several campsites.

For fans of canoeing, kayaking, and floating, there are more than 350 miles of streams in the Mark Twain National Forest. Many have tree coverage, so you can enjoy them even in the hottest weather. The forest provides a nice escape from the sun, though you might want to bring a jacket if the weather isn’t incredibly warm.

If you do not want to rough it out in the forest, you could snag one of the adorable cabins at Meramec River Resort. This pet-friendly lodging will embrace you in that rustic aesthetic but with air conditioning, which I need in the Midwestern humidity.

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2. The Fugitive Beach

Address: 16875 County Rd 5285, Rolla, MO 65401, United States

Kids can’t come through Rolla and skip a day at The Fugitive Beach! This is a hidden gem in the city. It’s not a traditional sandy beach but something closer to a natural water park.

Fugitive Beach is in an old rock quarry converted into an artificial beach. You can climb the rocks and jump from tall cliffs into the waters below!

While it’s not a real beach, this most popular attraction still has plenty of sand to get between your toes and build sandcastles. The beach at this incredible water park gives you space to soak up the sun. When you’re ready to get wet, take advantage of the waterslides and beautiful water for swimming or floating.

Its name comes from its early days as Fugitive Obstacle Course. The original premise is that the guests were prisoners who had to escape from prison. Although the attraction now differs from that initial bent, the name stuck.

See Related: Best Things to Do in Missouri

3. Rolla Lions Club Den

Rolla Lions Club Den in winter
Rolla Lions Club / Facebook

Address: 1061 S Bishop Ave, Rolla, MO 65401, United States

The Rolla Lions Club created a park south of downtown Rolla for families to enjoy, and it’s a great place to get some fresh air, enjoy a picnic and let the kids run wild. There’s one large playground and two smaller areas so the kids can play. Plus, thThelub also keeps the lake stocked with perch, catfish, and bass for fishing.

Many local sports teams use this park for their games because of the two baseball fields and four soccer fields. If team sports aren’t your forte, there is a 4.5-mile trail around the back of the park. It’s perfect for a nice hike or a mountain bike ride.

Since 1935 the Rolla Lions Club has held the Lion’s Club Carnival during the week of the 4th of July. This carnival hosts rides, delicious fair food, and fireworks to celebrate the annual tradition. In addition, the carnival hosts a car raffle, so you could very well leave town in a shiny new car!

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4. Ber Juan Park

Address: 1200 Holloway St, Rolla, MO 65401, United States

There are plenty of wide-open grassy areas for games of frisbee or catch with the kids and dogs in Ber Juan Park. This well-loved city park encompasses almost 85 acres of grassland that sprawls into walking trails, a public pool, and many sports areas.

Along the walking paths are exercise stations to help you stretch your muscles. There are also dedicated spaces for disc golf, baseball, basketball, and soccer. Tennis courts are available if you hit them at the right time – there’s no reservation process, so you’ll have to try your luck.

Ber Juan is also home to three different playgrounds for all the outdoorsy, fun things kiddos want to do during their adventure. Of all the free things to do in Rolla, this is one of the more variant ones with a wide range of activities for the whole family.

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5. Little Prairie Conservation Area

Trail in Little Prairie Conservation Area
Rolla Hiking / Rolla Hiking

Address: Rolla, MO 65401, United States

One last significant natural area in Rolla is the Little Prairie Conservation Area, where there’s a peaceful lake in the center of the land. This 97-acre Towell Lake is perfect for boating and fishing, though be mindful of any signs of conservation practices.

From there, you can follow many hiking trails to enjoy a beautiful walk, watch for birds, or picnic in the greenery. Since these grasslands are a conservation area, you’ll see evidence of the work the Missouri Department of Conservation is doing to protect the grasslands and woodlands.

They place signs to show how they encourage native plants to grow, mainly to help local pollinators. There’s also information about what animals live in this space. Hunters with special permits can hunt for deer, rabbits, quail, turkey, and more.

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6. Stonehenge at Missouri S&T

Address: Rolla, MO 65409, United States

The recreation of Stonehenge on the campus of Science and Technology is worth s a visit if you like quirky roadside attractions. Unlike the real Stonehenge, this replica wasn’t chiseled into being with essential hand tools – students and faculty used technology to laser cut rocks to create the sculpture.

Stonehenge is set in a green area, so it’s a great place to take a break and let the kids get some energy out if you’re traveling. Informational plaques are nearby so that you can read about the creation process. If you’re staying at the Days Inn by Wyndham Rolla, this stop is just 10 minutes away.

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7. Downtown Rolla

Aerial View of Downtown Rolla
Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock

Downtown Rolla isn’t a sprawling district like other cities. However, it is home to several restaurants and shops for an afternoon or evening of adventure. Some of the eateries you can enjoy here include some tasty Italian at Di Trapani’s, old-fashioned soda fountain vibes at Soda & Scoops, or nosh on seafood at NaCl+H20.

There aren’t any hotels in downtown proper, though there are several nearby. Just a few minutes outside of the town’s downtown Pine Street, you’ll find the Hampton Inn Rolla. With a cozy outdoor pool and complimentary breakfast, the Hampton is ideal for bringing the family during those warm months when visiting Rolla.

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8. Ed Clark Museum of Missouri Geology

Ed Clark Museum of Missouri Geology entrance
Ed Clark Museum of Missouri Geology / dnr.mo.gov

Address: 111 Fairgrounds Rd, Rolla, MO 65401, United States

The Ed Clark Museum of Missouri Geology is an excellent fraction for science fans. You’ll see a collection of fossils, rocks, and minerals unique to Missouri. Not quite an odd museum compared to the now-defunct Museum of Vacuums, this place will give geology fans quite a day of exploration.

There’s even a meteorite a scientist found about 30 miles away. A replica of the state’s namesake dinosaur, Hypsibema missouriensis, is also on display.

While at the museum, you’ll learn all about what’s naturally found in Missouri’s land. The museum even has geologists on staff that can certify rocks you bring in as well.

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9. Ozark Actors Theatre

Address: 701 N Cedar St, Rolla, MO 65401, United States

The Ozark Actors Theatre has been around since 1987 and is one of four professional summer stock theaters in Missouri. Their home is the Cedar Street Playhouse, a renovated church building.

CSP has been their home since 1988, when they produced Godspell in the former First Baptist Church. Ozark Actors Theatre has been an Equity member since 1989.

There are days and performances regularly put on at the Ozark Actors Theatre, all produced and performed by talented locals. In addition to big-name productions, the theatre has 24-hour play contests, concert series, and mystery dinners.

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10. Leach Theatre

Address: Castleman Hall, 400 W 10th St #103, Rolla, MO 65401, United States

The Leach Theatre has tons of different shows available throughout the year, thanks to its diverse population of performers. Located at the University of Science and Technology, this campus theatre produces everything from plays and music concerts.

Leach Theatre opened in Castleman Hall in 1991, almost as old as the Ozark Actors Theatre. The theatre hosts at least 100 events each academic year, featuring student productions, touring plays, and big-name musical acts. Given its wide range of performances, the theater is one of the preeminent performing arts centers in South Central Missouri.

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11. Rolla Antique Mall

Rolla Antique Mall interior and display
Rolla Antique Mall / Facebook

Address: 12020 Dillon Outer Dr, Rolla, MO 65401, United States

The Rolla Antique Mall is a unique place for people who love to shop smack dab between Rolla and St. James. It’s a two-story building with more than 90 vendors inside. Because there are many vendors around to make a sale with, you have a lot of bargaining power at the Rolla Antique Mall.

Since each booth belongs to one person, you’re also likely to find new things every dadailyou’re staying in Rolla for several days; it might be worth checking in at the antique mall more than once. That’s quickly done if you stay at one of the hotels just down the road from the shop. There are several hotels to choose from, though you could save some money by staying at the pet-friendly Days Inn by Wyndham Rolla.

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12. Mule Trading Post

Address: 11160 Dillon Outer Rd, Rolla, MO 65401, United States

The Mule Trading Post is a Route 66 icon. It opened in 1946, but the construction of Route 66 cut the store off from potential customers. The owner moved the store right to the edge of the highway, and it has flourished ever since. The Trading Post isn’t just a store; it’s also a museum dedicated to The Mother Road.

Customers used to pay a quarter for a live chicken to peck a few notes on a tiny piano, but now the attractions are mostly related to the neon sign and strange inventory. You could even stay at the Rustic Motel Rolla to get into the retro mindset that the Mule Trading Post embodies. Best of all, the motel is just a 10-minute drive from this Rolla attraction!

See Related: Best Things to Do along the Great River Road

13. Kokomo Joe’s Family Fun Center

Address: 10450 State Rte V, Rolla, MO 65401, United States

If you’re looking for fun things to do in Rolla with kids, look no further than Kokomo Joe’s Family Fun Center. Kids and adults alike will love everything to do here, from the bowling alley, a laser maze, laser tag, bumper cars, and go-karts!

There’s a trampoline park that covers 500 square feet, where you can play dodgeball and basketball on the bouncy terrain. For smaller kids, there’s a bounce area with slides and tunnels. Kokomo Joe’s Family Fun Center even has an escape room.

Staying at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Rolla is ideal for families because of the complimentary breakfast. Ensure everyone gets full so they all have energy for all the recreational activities at Kokomo Joe’s Family Fun Center.

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14. The Zone

Arcade games at The Zone, Rolla
The Zone / Facebook

Address: 555 Blues Lake Pkwy, Rolla, MO 65401, United States

Kokomo Joe’s isn’t the only fun center for fun things to do in Rolla. And, as far as birthday parties are concerned, this entertainment center is the place to be. The Zone is a roller-skating rink that has many of the same activities and a little more, including:

  • Laser tag arena
  • Laser maze
  • Bounce areas
  • Jungle gyms
  • Tons of arcade games

The Zone hosts theme nights for roller skating, and you can bundle skate time with other attractions on-site. There’s also a snack bar, so you don’t have to leave the laser tag area or roller skating to eat if you get hungry.

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15. Ozark Rivers Audubon – Nature Center

Turtle in Ozark Rivers Audubon Chapter
Ozark Rivers Audubon Chapter / Facebook

Address: 550 Meriweather Ct, Rolla, MO 65401, United States

When you want to enjoy nature, take to the hiking trails at the Ozark Rivers Audubon Nature Center. With around 70 acres to hike through and explore, the Audubon Nature Center is a must-see for all those visiting Rolla. One long trail goes on for three miles through different habitats, including woodlands, pine forests, meadows, prairie, and a riparian zone (habitat tucked between freshwater and land).

Take your family for a trip around the hiking trail, have a picnic as you enjoy the different biomes, or try and spot as many native animals as you can among the towering trees. You can make a game of it: whoever spots the most, or the animals first, gets a prize. For bird lovers, you can go birding while learning about the bird conservation efforts of the local Audubon society. There are monthly lectures with different speakers and group outings for bird-watching.

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16. Public House Brewing Company

A musician playing at Public House Brewing Company
Public House Brewing Company / Facebook

Address: 600 N Rolla St, Rolla, MO 65401, United States

When you need fun things to do in Rolla for the adults in your group, head to the original Public House Brewing Company location, the Brewpub in Rolla. Here you can enjoy live music, hang out with friends, play board games, or make the most of a rainy day. After launching Public House out of a garage in 2007, the brewpub opened in 2010.

As Rolla’s first brewpub, a stop at the Public House became one of the most loved tourist attractions in town. Besides sampling delicious craft brews, you can also enjoy some delicious food alongside it. Perhaps you’ll have your own Revelation–a Public House dry stout offering.

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17. Matt’s Steakhouse

Bourbon salmon and asparagus at Matt's Steakhouse
Matt’s Steakhouse / Facebook

Address: 12200 Dillon Outer Dr, Rolla, MO 65401, United States

Head over to Matt’s Steakhouse when you’re in the mood for tasty, slightly elevated food. Even Mashed said Matt’s is the best steakhouse in all of Missouri. So you know you have to try it for yourself, right? Since it’s right by the antique mall, you have no excuse to avoid a decadent dinner.

When you’re stuffed after a good meal, pop down the road to the comfy Holiday Inn Express Rolla. Take a soak in the jacuzzi to wind down or save up for more food at the hotel’s complimentary breakfast the following day.

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18. Stark Caverns

Rock exhibits at Stark Caverns
Stark Caverns / Facebook

Address: 125 Cave Dr, Eldon, MO 65026, United States

Stark Caverns is one of the many cool attractions you’ll find just outside of Rolla, MO. Starting as a tourist attraction in 1950, the cave has been known by several names, including Enchanted Caverns and Fantasy World Caverns.

Yet, since 2017, it has returned to its original name Stark Caverns. In addition to touring the incredible cavern, you can view highlights of the site’s entire rock collection.

If you feel compelled to visit the cavern, you can stay at the nearby Margaritaville Lake Resort Lake of the Ozarks. This incredible resort offers many fun things you shouldn’t miss out on.

With three pools, an island feel, and more margaritas than you can count, you’ll love this place. Just don’t forget that lost shaker of salt.

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FAQ

What are the main attractions or points of interest in Rolla, MO?

By far, some of the most fun things you’ll do in Rolla, MO, will be done among towering trees in the beauty of nature. Check out Mark Twain National Forest for hiking and mountain biking, Ber Juan Park for some jungle gym fun, or hit up one of the area trampoline parks if you need to stay inside.

Are there any historical sites or museums worth visiting in Rolla, MO?

Rolla, MO, was formerly the home to the Vacuum Museum, though that has since closed. Still, you can find the Ed Clark Museum of Missouri Geology in the town’s technology campus at Missouri S&T. Plus; the town is where you’ll also find parts of Route 66.

What are some family-friendly activities or attractions in Rolla, MO?

Besides hanging out on the jungle gym at some of the town parks or hitting up one of the sports courts, you could enjoy some games at The Zone bowling alley. Grow your family’s team-building skills at laser tag at The Zone or Kokomo Joe’s, or hang out at one of the area’s thrilling water parks — Fugitive Beach.

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