There and back: Spectacular day trip ideas from St. Louis

Missouri

ST. LOUIS – Summer has begun and with it comes the steady drumbeat calling us toward adventure; a yearning to get out of our comfort zones and go somewhere new. To explore.

But most adults are not blessed with the prototypical “summer vacation” of school-age children, so we must find the time to make our own escapes into the wild. Sometimes a simple day trip is what we need to shake loose from the mundane and recharge the batteries.

We’ve selected nearly a dozen unique spots across the bi-state region where you can take in Mother Nature’s majesty above ground or below it, and experience unique locales that will ignite your imagination.

Taum Sauk Mountain
Missouri’s highest natural point is located about 98 miles south of Downtown St. Louis in Iron County. The 3-mile rugged loop trail features two prominent highlights. A polished granite plaque located at the start of the trail marks the high point in the state. The Mina Sauk Falls, the tallest waterfall in the state, is located about halfway along the trail.

Meramec Caverns
Take Interstate 44 about an hour west of St. Louis and you’ll surely see billboards advertising the Meramec Caverns, a beloved tourist destination hundreds of millions of years in the making. Visitors can take an hour and 20 minute-long tour of the caverns. The caverns were once a station on the Underground Railroad and, according to local legend, briefly served as a hideout for the James Gang.

Bonne Terre Mine
The former St. Joseph Lead Mine offers underground walking and boat tours, as well as scuba diving expeditions for certified divers in its billion-gallon lake. The guided walking tours showcase the first mineshaft, dug in 1864, abandoned mining tools and railways, and other speleological features.

Crystal City Underground
Flooding has temporarily closed this stunning locale to all but kayakers and canoeists. When Crystal City Underground eventually reopens, the venue offers disc golf, trail runs, pole vaulting, volleyball, and other activities.

Hickory Canyons
We can get you from Downtown St. Louis to this idyllic box canyon and waterfall in just four steps:

  • Take I-55 south to Highway O near Ste. Genevieve.
  • Follow Highway O southwest until it merges with Highway 32.
  • Continue south until you can turn onto Highway C.
  • Turn left on Sprott Road and you’ll see the canyons.

Laumeier Sculpture Park
If you’re a resident of the greater St. Louis region, maybe Sunset Hills doesn’t leap to the front of your mind when thinking of day trip destinations. You should reconsider and pay a visit to Laumeier Sculpture Park. There are just a few short trails on the 105-acre park, but you could spend hours taking in and discussing the 66 sculptures and art installations with friends or family.

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park
This state park, located less than 10 minutes south of the University of Missouri’s campus in Columbia, features the serene Gans Creek, as well as the Shooting Star and Karst trails. But the proverbial crown jewel of this park is the Devil’s Icebox, a double-sinkhole that stays 56 degrees year-round; a perfect destination amid the summer heat.

Ha Ha Tonka Castle Ruins
You’re looking at about a three-hour drive to make it to this hidden gem nestled atop a bluff overlooking the southernmost “arm” of Lake of the Ozarks. K.C.-area businessman Robert Snyder Sr. commissioned the building of a stone mansion in the early 1900s; an “American castle” modeled after European manors. After his death, Snyder’s sons oversaw the completion of the home in the 1920s before the stock market crash. A massive fire destroyed the home in 1942. The ruins remain an enduring testament to a bygone era of post-Gilded Age opulence.

Fort de Chartres, Illinois
Located across the river about an hour south of St. Louis, the fort, built near Prairie Du Rocher, was the seat of the local French government and primary military outpost in what’s known as “Illinois Country.” The fortification you see today is actually the third—and final—version of the structure, completed in 1754. Earlier forts were made of wood and deteriorated over the years due to flooding from the Mississippi River. The final rebuild was made from limestone. The fort’s stone masonry powder magazine is said to be the oldest building in the state of Illinois. The fort and surrounding lands are a national landmark and host colonial-era reenactments.

Cahokia Mounds
The mounds are one of only 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the United States. The 2,200-acre site is home to the largest prehistoric Native American settlement north of Mexico. Learn how these ancient Americans lived and thrived over a period of several centuries. Visitors have the option to take a guided tour or walk the trails on their own. Key features include Monks Mound, a 10-story platform mound, the largest manmade earthen mound in what is now the United States; and the Cahokia Woodhenge, a large circle of timber believed to act as a solar calendar for the populace. Admission is free but donations are welcome.

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