The following is part of a four-part series highlighting all that Missouri has to offer in the worlds of food, art, music and adventure. Missouri – or “Mo,” as we refer to her – has no shortage of places to explore, so whatever you’re after, there’s a Mo for every M-O.
Missouri is full of outdoor wonders, with 88 state parks, six national parks, and many other excursions off the beaten path. Ranked among the top park systems in the nation, Missouri offers a breadth of adventures, from scenic vistas to picturesque hikes, and there are many different ways to experience all that the “Show-Me” State has to offer.
Here’s a look at some of the highlights of Missouri’s wildlife, parks and more where you experience the great outdoors and take full advantage of the state’s wide-ranging landscape.
Dogwood Canyon Nature Park – Lampe, MO
Is 10,000 square miles of nature enough for you? Well, that’s what you’ll get at a visit to this sprawling Ozark Mountains oasis, where you’ll find activities and excursions for everyone in your crew. Dogwood Canyon is one of the oldest landforms in the United States, and with settlers’ log cabins in view, you can explore the habitat with activities like horseback riding, fishing, hiking, wildlife tours and more. You can also visit the conservation center or the on-site restaurant, and there’s even a custom-built treehouse courtesy of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters. The park is open every day, and tickets start at $15 for kids, though there’s an additional charge for some activities, such as horseback riding and the wildlife tram tour. If you can’t fit all the fun into just one day, consider a park membership so you can keep coming back for more.
Prairie State Park – Mindenmines, MO
One of the state’s beloved state parks, this destination offers the best outlets to become one with nature, from camping to bird-watching. Catalog some of the local wildflowers or take a walk along one of the park’s many trails. The park is named for the tallgrass prairie which used to cover a third of the state and now makes up less than one percent, but don’t worry. Some of those swaying fields are still preserved here today so you can experience the land’s natural beauty as it once was.
You can check out the park’s event calendar, where you’ll find exciting upcoming happenings like scavenger hunts, guided hikes and a lecture series. As you bounce from one activity to the next, be sure to look out for the resident bison herd that roams this 4,000-acre paradise.
Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge – Mound City, MO
If quarantine has got you playing a lot of Animal Crossing and you’re looking for encounters of the furry, feathered and fishy varieties, this wildlife preserve is your best bet. Loess Bluffs was built in 1935 by Franklin D. Roosevelt as a refuge for migratory birds, and it is still one of the top areas for bird-watching in the U.S. Fishing, photography and more are all on the agenda here. You can also go hiking and explore the local flora and fauna, including Indian grass, big bluestem, beard-tongue and skeleton plant, among a host of others. (I, for one, am particularly intrigued by the last two.)
Ha Ha Tonka State Park – Camdenton, MO
Natural wonders abound in this storied state park, which features everything from hiking trails to an abandoned stone castle. Named for said castle, a 20th-century stone mansion, Ha Ha Tonka State Park also boasts caves, sinkholes, geological formations and stunning bluffs overlooking the Lake of the Ozarks. Even if you’re not a skilled outdoors person, there are boardwalks that make the trails accessible to all visitors, along with convenient picnic areas for lunch or a quick snack before a nature walk.
Chaumette Vineyards & Winery – Ste. Genevieve, MO
Who needs Europe when you can just pop over to Missouri to enjoy a best-in-class luxury wine-tasting vacation? This resort destination offers local wines grown in the region’s rolling hills in a tasting room that’s open year-round. And in the summer months, you’ll often encounter outdoor entertainment and music to make your visit all the more memorable.
When you’re not sampling the latest varietals, you can try some surrounding hikes. Book a villa and dine at the Grapevine Grill to make a weekend of your experience. The best part? You won’t have to drive home after a day of sampling all that Chaumette Winery has to offer.
Elephant Rocks State Park – Belleview, MO
Rocks that look like elephants? Yes, please. These natural geological formations look like they stepped right out of the circus, when in fact they were formed from 1.5-billion-year-old granite. Whether you’re a geology buff or just have kids that love climbing boulders, Elephant Rocks State Park is a wonder that must be seen. Take the Braille Trail, designed to accommodate visitors with visual and physical disabilities, and then spend some time before or after setting up for a picnic to really make a day of it. You won’t find another place like Elephant Rocks State Park, so these rocky wonders are a can’t-miss item on your Missouri bucket list.