Best Day Trips from St. Louis, Missouri

Got an extra day or two during your sojourn in St. Louis? Use the Gateway City as your springboard to explore the treasures of the “Show Me State” with the best day trips from St. Louis, Missouri.

Offering a rich cultural heritage, breathtaking state parks, historic buildings, and a bounty of wineries, this Midwestern gem is packed with fabulous, family-friendly destinations. Revel in nature on the gorgeous Katy Trail, soak up the past in charming historic towns like Ste. Genevieve, explore the amazing caverns of Meramec, or take an awe-inspiring cruise down the majestic Mississippi River.

Ready to take in some Missouri marvels? Pick your playlist and hit the road with this guide to the top-rated St. Louis side trips.

Top-rated St. Louis side trips

Hermann, MO

Feel like taking a trip into the past while dipping into some fine wine? History buff or oenophile, you’ll want to head for historic Hermann, MO. Just 90 minutes west of St. Louis, this intriguing town sprang up around the vineyards and wineries created by German immigrants in the 19th century.

Vineyard in Hermann, MO

Set in the Missouri River Valley, picturesque Hermann is packed with popular attractions. Explore the past at the Deutschheim State Historic Site, the Historic Hermann Museum, and the Gasconade County Courthouse.

Tour the lush Hermann American Viticultural Area, one of Missouri’s top wine-growing regions. Explore the scenic 20-mile Hermann Wine Trail, and do some sampling at the Chocolate Wine Trail or Berries and Barbecue event. While you’re in hiking mode, check out the beautiful Katy Trail, stretching 240 miles along the banks of the Missouri River.

Back in Hermann, stroll the streets, and you’ll see dozens of beautifully-preserved buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Browse the town’s inviting antique shops, art galleries, and microbreweries.

Unwind at the end of the day with some pampering at a local spa.

Hannibal, MO

Want to see where the creator of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn cut his writing teeth? Put Hannibal, MO, at the top of your road trip list, and you’ll get an inside look at the life of beloved 19th-century author Mark Twain.

Hannibal

Just two hours northeast of St. Louis, Hannibal sits on the banks of the mighty (and inspiring) Mississippi River. This charming town is home to a number of Twain-related attractions. Top of the list: a self-guided tour through the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum.

Feeling adventurous? Explore a visitor favorite: a system of caves dubbed the Mark Twain Cave Complex, including some of the caves that feature in Twain’s novels. Catch a performance of the one-man show Mark Twain Himself.

If you’re a true Twain fan, here’s a must-do: settle back for a nostalgic cruise down the Mississippi River on the Mark Twain riverboat. Discover the places that inspired his writing, and picture the stories of Tom and Huck coming to life.

Columbia, MO

If you want to pick up the pace and catch a youthful vibe (or you have some college prospects in your crew), you’ll want to carve out some time for Columbia, MO. Just a two-hour drive west of St. Louis, Columbia offers a perfect blend of small-town feel and urban energy. It’s home to the University of Missouri – the state’s flagship college – as well as Stephens College and Columbia College.

Columbia

Take time to explore the remarkable architecture of the University of Missouri campus, much of it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Check out Columbia’s historic landmarks, including the neo-Gothic-style Memorial Union and Jesse Hall. Browse intriguing exhibits at the Museum of Art and Archaeology.

Catch a show at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts. Explore a bounty of art galleries in Columbia’s beautiful North Village Arts District. Want to stretch your legs and grab some fresh air? Zip five miles south of town to Rock Bridge Memorial State Park for some of the best hiking in Missouri.

Ready to wind down? Hit Ninth Street for some fun retail therapy – and relax with a cocktail at one of Columbia’s cool cafes.

Springfield, IL

Are you a history buff? Then hop on the interstate, climb aboard the train, or cruise down the iconic Route 66 to Springfield, IL. Just 90 minutes from St. Louis, Springfield is the lively capital of Illinois – and for many years, it was the town that Abraham Lincoln called home.

Springfield, IL

If you want to get an inside look at Honest Abe, you’re in the right place. Springfield is packed with major attractions connected to the life and legacy of the 16th American President.

Feel the great man’s presence at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Lincoln’s preserved homestead. Take time to browse the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, where you can view exhibits and films highlighting Lincoln’s legacy.

And there’s more to discover. Take a stroll through the splendid 1902 Dana-Thomas House, a creation of Frank Lloyd Wright. View the stately, 100-year-old Governor’s Mansion, and tour the magnificent domed State Capitol Building.

Head over to Oak Ridge Cemetary, the Lincoln family’s burial grounds, and take in Lincoln’s striking bronze effigy. (According to local lore, rubbing his nose brings good luck.)

Not sure how to map out your sightseeing route? Guided walking tours are popular and plentiful in Springfield – so take your pick!

Saint Charles, MO

If you’re looking for a destination steeped in American history, you’ll find it in Saint Charles, MO. Just 30 minutes away from St. Louis, this charming town was originally founded in 1769 – making it the oldest incorporated town in Missouri. And it enjoys another claim to fame: it was the departure point for the 1804 Lewis and Clark expedition, which sparked the opening up of the Western Frontier.

Saint Charles

Once a favorite roost for explorers and pioneers, Saint Charles is rich in historic attractions. Pay a visit to the Lewis & Clark Boat House Museum and check out life-sized replicas of the expedition boats, as well as intriguing trip artifacts.

Another must-see site is the 200-year-old First Missouri State Capitol Building. This historic treasure features the original hewn timber and dark wood floors that housed the state’s first government.

Stroll the beautiful Main Street District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Immerse yourself in a bygone era as you meander the brick-lined streets and explore the town’s beautifully preserved frontier-era buildings.

Browse dozens of unique shops, antique stores, restaurants, and wineries. Snag a seat at a riverfront favorite like Farmer’s Home Tavern, The Western House, or Eckert’s Tavern – all dating back over 200 years. Raise a glass to the past as you drink in fabulous views of the mighty Missouri.

Ste. Genevieve, MO

Ready to do some time traveling? Take a 30-minute road trip to Ste. Genevieve, MO – and you’ll be transported back nearly three centuries. Originally founded in 1735 by French Canadian colonists, this charming town exudes an irresistible blend of history and romance.

Ste. Genevieve

Set in the heart of the gorgeous Missouri Wine Country, Ste. Genevieve is the oldest European settlement west of the Mississippi and home to the largest collection of French Creole Colonial architecture in the US. Wander the streets of this living history museum and feast your eyes on over 150 beautifully preserved structures – or take an informational tour of the town’s beautiful historic homes.

Want a change of pace? Relax with a picnic in Pere Marquette State Park – or take a short side trip to Hawn State Park and immerse yourself in 5,000 acres of natural beauty. When it’s time to refuel, Ste. Genevieve gives you loads of delicious restaurants to choose from.

Ready to sample some tasty libations? Scope out the amazing family-run wineries and intimate tasting rooms that Ste. Genevieve is known for. You’re probably not going to be in the mood to leave. No worries – you can settle down for the night in a cozy bed and breakfast. Chances are you’ll be bunking in a National Historic Landmark building!

Meramec Caverns, MO

Are you drawn to mysterious hidden spaces? Missouri is renowned as “The Cave State.” Make the most of it with a side trip to Meramec Caverns. Located just an hour from the St. Louis town center in Stanton, this site is Missouri’s most spectacular “show cave.”

Meramec Caverns

First discovered by European pioneers in the 18th century, the Meramec Caverns continue to draw thousands of visitors every year. And legend has it that at one time, they served as the hideout for the infamous outlaws Frank and Jesse James – a legacy that’s been immortalized in a nearby wax museum.

Ready to go deep? Take an hour-long guided tour to explore the amazing rock formations of Meramec Caverns. The entire system spans over four miles, so there’s plenty to take in. Check out the Hollywood Room, which highlights areas that have been used as settings for films like Deep Impact.

Head back above ground and jump into some family-friendly fun in Meramec State Park. Soar through the air on a zipline, try your hand at gem mining, or hop aboard a riverboat for a cruise down the Missouri River.

RELATED: Top-Rated Things to Do in St. Louis

Worked up an appetite? You can grab a bite at the park’s Southern-style restaurant. Want to make a night of it? Book into the on-site motel, or stake out a spot on the campground.

Washington, MO

Want a day trip that’ll hit the spot with both history buffs and wine enthusiasts? Then chart a course for Washington, MO. Less than an hour from St. Louis, this picturesque town is the gateway to Missouri’s wine country.

Originally founded in 1839, Washington is home to a rich collection of historic houses and businesses featured in guided walking tours provided by the Washington Historical Society. Stroll through the former home of John B. Busch, the legendary local brewing magnate. Browse the art displays housed in a converted 1923 railway depot, and explore the town’s history museum.

If you’re craving a shot of greenery, you’ll find plenty in Washington’s many parks. Hike the trails, spread out for a picnic, or let the kids loose on the playground. Want to work up an appetite? Tee up on the local greens, swing a racquet at Phoenix Park or hit the nearby Katy Trail for a jog or cycle.

When you’re ready to refuel, check out Washington’s great selection of delicious restaurants. And, of course, when in wine country … since this region is packed with wineries, you’ll want to carve out time to do some touring and tasting of the luscious local produce.

Katy Trail State Park, MO

Ready to hit the trail in a big way? Then take a 45-minute jaunt from St. Louis to Katy Trail State Park, where you’ll find the longest recreational rail trail in the US. Whatever your choice of transportation – foot, bike, or horseback – you’ll revel in miles of stunning trails and gorgeous scenery along the banks of the Missouri River.

Katy Trail State Park

Built on what was once the corridor of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (MKT, or “Katy”), the Katy Trail is 240 miles long and features 26 separate trailheads as well as four completely restored and renovated depots.

Enjoy the thrill of following in historic footsteps: a large part of this generous stretch of land has been designated an official part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. Katy Trail is also part of the American Discovery Trail and is a Millennium Legacy Trail.

Hit the trailhead in the city of Machens, and follow the route along the Missouri River through historic towns like Jefferson City and Columbia. As you wend your way along the river’s edge, you’ll pass through some of the most beautiful areas in the state. And you’ll get an intriguing glimpse into Missouri’s rich rural heritage in the small towns that were brought to life by the MKT.

Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, MO

Up for an outdoor adventure and a peek into the ancient past? Then pack your gear and head for Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. Less than 100 miles from St. Louis, this stunning natural wonder was formed millions of years ago by the cooling of volcanic rock.

Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park

The result: an awesome natural waterslide fed by the crystalline Black River as it tumbles over and around massive igneous rock boulders. Hit the Shut-Ins State Park’s visitor center to get your bearings and stock up on supplies at the General Store.

Then sling your backpack and stroll the boardwalk for spectacular views of rapids, rock slides, and waterfalls. Beautiful to look at – and amazing to swim, slide, and splash in!

Rock hounds can feast their eyes on over 1.4 billion years of earth-shaking history – and fans of climbing will be thrilled to test their skills on the rugged rock faces. Hit the trails on foot or horseback to explore this geological gem, and take in spectacular views of the sweeping Ozark Mountain landscape.

Now unpack your General Store goodies, spread out the picnic blanket, and dig in. Don’t want to call it a day? Hook up your RV or pitch your tent, and call it a night.

Elephant Rocks State Park

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast or a history buff with a fondness for rocks (and rock climbing), head to Elephant Rocks State Park. Located 90 minutes from St. Louis, this intriguing site sits just outside the beautiful Mark Twain National Forest. These extraordinary rock formations have fascinated geologists for generations, and when you see them, you’ll understand why!

Elephant Rocks State Park

The stars of Elephant Rocks State Park are massive pink boulders formed from 1.5-billion-year-old granite, and today they stand end-to-end like a passel of circus pachyderms. Decades ago, this was a bustling quarry that shipped rock to St. Louis – and if you look closely, you’ll see the names of master stone carvers etched into some of them.

The rocks are elephantine, but the site is very visitor-friendly. Hit the easy-going Braille Trail, designed specifically for visitors with visual and physical challenges. You’ll wend your way through the largest groupings of these incredible geological formations. Want to see more? Take the path that veers off the main trail and you’ll discover the remnants of an old railway depot that was once used to ship the quarried rock.

Still got energy? Cruise down the road and burn it off in the 1.5 million acres of Mark Twain National Forest. If you’re craving some chill time, head for the cooling waters of Black River in Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, just 20 minutes away.

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