Where can you see castle ruins, waterfalls, caverns and state parks all within a few hours of each other? If you didn’t guess Missouri, that’s okay—we have a full list of 15 surreal places that will open your eyes to all that the Show-Me State has to offer.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park
There are more things to do and see in Ha Ha Tonka State Park than most other state parks have combined. A geologic wonderland, the park is home to sinkholes, caves, a huge natural bridge, and Missouri’s twelfth-largest spring.
Head up to the turn-of-the-century stone castle ruins that overlook the Lake of the Ozarks and the Ha Ha Tonka Spring.
Hike the series of trails and boardwalks available throughout the park and finish off the afternoon with lunch at one of the many picnic sites open to visitors. Eating lake-side by the Ozarks with a treasure trove of natural caves and castle ruins ready to be explored, you’ll wonder how you ever went so long without a visit to Ha Ha Tonka.
Celebrating 85 years of operation as “America’s cave,” Meramec Caverns is the largest commercial cave in the state of Missouri. With over 6,000 surveyed caves in the state, Missouri is actually known as the Cave State as well as the Show-Me State.
Meramec Caverns sets the precedent with MLB recently naming the cave as a “must-see” before a trip to St. Louis for a Cardinals game.
Tour the cave and see for yourself how this underground labyrinth of draping deposits stretches to the height of a seven-storey building. You’ll also get to learn all about how the ancient Wine Table (aka: the world’s rarest cave structure) was formed entirely underwater. You won’t want to miss the chance to see Meramec Caverns on your next Missouri adventure.
This river city just west of St. Louis attracts nearly a million visitors each year with its rich history, antique stores, gorgeous parks, and local flavor. There’s something for everyone to do in this river-side town that’s growing in popularity.
See the Lewis and Clark Rendezvous, tour Missouri’s first state capitol and see where Daniel Boone lived all in St. Charles’ storied city. Just a short drive to other local attractions that make this area of Missouri truly unique, you’ll have plenty to do and see while staying here.
Onondaga Cave State Park
This National Natural Landmark continues the Cave State lore with towering stalagmites, dripping stalactites and active flowstones.
Onondaga Cave State Park stands out as one of Missouri’s more interesting caves, complete with a river flowing through its underground passages.
Visitors can opt for a surface stroll of the park’s Vilander Bluff Natural Area, where you can take in the scenic vistas of the surrounding Meramec River. You can even choose to canoe or kayak on the river after visiting the underground wonderland that awaits you.
Elephant Rocks State Park
Formed from 1.5-billion-year-old granite, the giant, elephant-shaped boulders that populate this unusual state park in Missouri stand end-to-end like a train of circus elephants.
See first-hand the rocks that have drawn massive attention from geologists and history buffs alike for decades.
The best way to view the rocks is by traveling up the Braille Trail, a trail that was carefully designed for those with visual and physical disabilities. Travel the trail through the main area where the rocks are, and take the exploration further by heading to the old railroad engine house ruins that exist within the park. The geological and industrial history that coexist here create a truly unusual and unique experience that you’ll never forget.
What this tiny waterfall lacks in size it more than makes up for in natural beauty. With a height of just 25 feet, this waterfall is far from the likes of Niagara, but the surrounding landscape and reservoir work together to make this a magical place to visit.
And while this waterfall may not reach the impressive heights of others in the southern U.S., it is, in fact, Missouri’s largest falls.
You may not be able to immediately locate this secret site in Joplin as there are no signs directing visitors where to go. But if you head to Shoal Creek on the southernmost side of town, the gentle roar of the falls will lead you the rest of the way there.
Known as the “Heart of St. Louis,” Forest Park sits on 1,293 acres, making it a total 450 acres larger than Central Park in New York City. Over 140 years old, the park first opened in 1876 and has hosted such significant events as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 and the 1904 Summer Olympics.
Much more than a park, Forest Park features a variety of attractions. Chief among them are the St. Louis Zoo, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Missouri History Museum, and the St. Louis Science Center. There’s no end to the fun to be had in the Heart of St. Louis.
Castlewood State Park
Once a popular spot for St. Louis partiers to go hit the clubs, today Castlewood State Park serves as a retreat for nature-lovers to enjoy the winding Meramec River and surrounding lush valley. The park is considered one of the best for mountain biking, and it features many hiking and biking trails for all experience levels.
Go fishing, watch the wildlife or enjoy one of the park’s many recreation areas. No matter your choice, a trip to Castlewood State Park is perfect for those seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park
Covering nearly 9,000 acres on the East Fork Black River in Reynolds County is Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. Together with adjoining Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, the two cover more than 16,000 acres in the St. Francois Mountains region of the Ozarks.
But what makes this park so incredible isn’t just its massive size; the “shut-in” for which the park is named creates a completely surreal experience for park visitors. A “shut-in” is a place where a river’s breadth is limited by the hard rock that is resistant to erosion.
In the case of Johnson’s Shut-Ins, the river cascades around worn-down rocks and creates a natural water park that’s fun for visitors to swim and splash around in when the water levels permit it. Skip the man-made water parks and opt for the one Mother Nature created for you!
Catch all the trout your boat can handle at the best fishing spot Missouri has to offer. Lake Taneycomo’s year-round cold temperatures make this lake-river hybrid the perfect breeding ground for trout.
Once a popular tourist destination in the early 1900s, the lake’s tourism has since died down to create a serene retreat for the quiet fisherman.
The lake’s name comes from the county in which it’s located: Taney County, M.O. Not only is it a great destination for fishing, but the lake offers plenty of hiking trails off its banks, hunting opportunities, water skiing, sightseeing, and boating. All the outdoor adventure you could ever want exists here.
Right in the Mark Twain National Forest is one intricately patterned creek you won’t want to miss. Marble Creek is so named from the deposits of colored dolomites which were mined and used in the building trade as “Taum Sauk Marble.”
The surrounding recreation area offers visitors the chance to explore the natural beauty of the forests, but also possesses some hidden treasures waiting to be discovered.
Explore the recreation area to find the concrete remains of an old mill from the 1930s. You can also opt to camp out at one of the recreation area’s quiet campgrounds located at the trailhead for the Marble Creek Section of the Ozark Trail. Use the trail for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking to make this visit even more of an adventure.
Table Rock Lake
A few miles up from Lake Taneycomo is Table Rock Lake, an artificial lake that boasts over 500 miles of shoreline. Unsurprisingly, Table Rock Lake and the state park that encompasses it are some of Missouri’s most popular tourist attractions, featuring campgrounds, sightseeing, fishing, hiking and plenty of other outdoor recreational activities.
This area also has a rich cultural history, with the first settlers being Native Americans over 10,000 years ago. For years, people have flocked to the area to catch a glimpse of its impressive natural beauty. You’ll have to see it yourself to understand why.
Gothic Water Intakes
These cool castle-like structures in the middle of the Mississippi River were built a hundred years ago and are actually still used today. Although they look like castles out of something that hobbits might live in, they're actually there to clean water for people to drink.
Missouri Botanical Garden
The United States’ oldest botanical garden in continuous operation is located in the great state of Missouri. It also happens to be registered as National Historic Landmark. How's that for fancy?
Founded in 1859, the garden features 79 acres of immaculate horticulture, including a 14-acre Japanese strolling garden, the original estate, and one of the world’s largest endangered orchid collections.
The garden also features the 2,400-acre Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit, which was made to protect the Missouri Botanical Garden’s plant collection from pollution. The garden is a hub for botanical research and science education, and it provides a perfect escape for St. Louis residents to get away from the city and reconnect with Mother Nature’s beauty.
This 500-mile long stretch of river is one of the most beautiful places in Missouri. The river used to be home to the booming steamboat industry in the early 1800s, with 100-foot long sternwheelers navigating its unpredictable waters.
It’s a remarkable place to see the remnants of the once-thriving steamboat industry, learn about the nation’s history, and enjoy a nearby hike to take in the gorgeous vistas.