I have spent almost my whole life in Missouri, yet it’s only recently that I’ve had the time to properly examine and appreciate the beauty of the national parks in Missouri and other local travel destinations that I have taken for granted. I think this is a common experience people are having this year now that we have extra time to explore our own backyards.
In Missouri, we are blessed to have an amazing diversity of national parks that you should visit. Some of the most famous are the Gateway Arch, the Louis and Clark Trail, and the Organ Trail, but we have over a dozen to choose from!
So next time you come to Missouri, take advantage of the beauty of our state by visiting one (or more!) of Missouris’s national parks.
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The 13 National Parks in Missouri
Here’s an overview of the best Missouri national parks. This list includes both the official parks and the associated parks in Missouri maintained by the National Park Service, including national historic trails, sites, and monuments as well as Missouri’s Gateway National Park.
California National Historic Trail
Several of the major forks of the Californa Trail starts in Missouri, in fact, two of its starting points are within the borders of Missouri. One of which is located in Gardner.
This one thousand mile-long trail was commonly used by people who were setting out to join the California Gold Rush. They would walk this trail through harsh and strange environments, hoping to reach Californa within three months-if they made it at all.
Of course, now it’s not that dangerous, now you can just take your leisurely time driving down it and taking in its great beauty.
Gateway Arch National Park
The Gateway Arch is located in the heart of bustling St. Louis. This impressive 630 feet tall structure was built in the 1960s and is one of the most popular things to see on Route 66.
It had to be constructed in two separate pieces and welded together once that had both been raised and standing on the ground. If you are wanting to take a trip in this massive structure then you must take its elevator to the top of the arch. From the top you can see how everything looks from above.
If you want to walk from one side to the other you will end up traveling over sixty acres from side to side!
George Washington Carver National Monument
George Washington Carver was a great man who was known as the plant doctor in his time. He was also commonly referred to as the peanut man, and even school kids today know his name is synonymous with peanuts.
Fewer people know that he resided in Newton County, Missouri. Today his achievements are commemorated with a national historic site which includes a state of this great man.
If you plan on visiting anytime soon make sure to pack your hiking boots along with some bug screen. Here you can wander into deep forests that are connected to many different hiking and walking trails open to the public for free.
Always keep safety in mind if you go hiking here! If you step off the trail know that people have been reported missing and have required search teams to be located. But other than that you are completely safe except for the occasional bug bite.
Harry S. Truman National Historic Site
Harry S. Truman a great man and great president now has two major historical sites located in Grandview and Independence Missouri dedicated to his memory.
The Truman sites located on 219 North Delaware Street, Independence is a national site that will cost you $8 to enter. But is well worth the fee! Inside there are displays of historical items from when Truman lived there, as well as an overview of the local history of before and after Truman was the president.
The other site is referred to as the “The Wallace Homes,” and they are located in Grandview, Missouri. This is the place where Truman and his wife spent many years along with two other couples whom they would be friends with for the rest of their lives.
If you aren’t able to travel to these locations don’t worry you can go on a virtual tour on their website.
Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
The Lewis and Clark trail is a trail that Lewis and Clark traveled while exploring the newly bought lands of America’s Louisiana Purchase.
Bought in 1803 for fifteen million dollars from Napoleon to help fuel his war funds, this is a vast trail that stretches from one side of the content to the other.
While the starting point is not in Missouri the trail runs right through the state and can be viewed from a lot of different places like Parkville, Missouri.
If you plan on visiting any of Missouri locations on the trail, don’t worry as everything is viewable from the comfort of your car. And while you’re traveling through these small towns make sure to stop at each one’s historic downtown and learn about how the Lewis and Clark trail impacted each and every one of them.
Oregon National Historic Trail
The Organ Trail is a popular travel destination and while it does not originate in Missouri like most of the others on this list it does run through it. Eighties and nineties babies will probably be the most excited to visit the Oregon Trail since it was the subject of one of the first popular computer games.
If you are wanting to take this trail from the beginning to the end, get ready for a long haul. This trail stretches for over two thousand miles and takes quite a large amount of time to traverse the full thing. However, the nice thing is that, unlike some historic trails in the US, the entire trail is traversable by car so you can see it while staying blissfully cool in your AC.
The only thing I recommend before going on this trail is to plan out a lot of different stops along the way. Make it a road trip so that you get a chance to experience what all the small towns of America have to offer. If done this way this trip can take over one week to complete, so plan accordingly.
Ozark National Scenic Riverways
The Ozark National Scenic Riverways was the first-ever park to protect a riverway. This park has many outdoor and adventurous things to do, such as hiking, canoeing, fishing, swimming, and much more for the adrenaline seekers out there to enjoy.
If the outdoor lifestyle isn’t your thing, don’t worry becasue the Ozark Riverway has numerous different seasonal shopping areas along with natural caves and other indoor places to explorer. These are all family-friendly.
The only thing I recommend is to go during the summer months since most things close down during the winter and don’t reopen until March.
Pony Express National Historic Trail
The Pony Express is the Wild West’s version of the United States mail system. This was how people could send postage across the country at a faster pace than the railroad system that was in place at the time.
If you are wanting to visit places that were on the Pony Express then you will need to plan your trip carefully. Most places from that time period have either been torn down or remodeled into modern post offices.
But if you go through the small towns you might be able to find one or two that have escaped the passage of time. If you do go on this trip I recommend buying some old-style maps because they might prove more useful (and fun!) than Google.
Sainte Geneviève National Historic Park
Sainte Geneviève, the oldest European settlement in Missouri, was on a French trading trail used by settlers long before Missouri ever became a state. During the eighteenth century the French who lived in the area would use Ste. Genevieve to trade with the Spanish.
The French would often trade the fur of local animals and goods brought over from France.
If you are wanting to travel this trail then you are going to need to do a lot of research because not much from this era exist anymore. Due to this finding exact locations is nearly impossible but not completely impossible. You will want to rely heavily on the National Park Service for visiting tips.
Santa Fe National Historic Trail
The Santa Fe Trail is a trail that leads all the way from Missouri to New Mexico. This trail was first pioneered using oxen and cattle taking mostly White settlers from one end to the other, helping them to move and bring almost all of their belongings.
This trail is most famously known for the suffering and loss that took place on it while the setters were trying to make it to their new home.
If you want to take this trail, the entire trail is now paved and can be enjoyed from the comfort of your car. Alternatively, you can hike or walk it (or even just hike parts of it).
If you take this trail I recommend checking to see if your cell phone carrier gets service in some of the more desolate spots. You will also want to keep an eye on the gas tank and not let it run low since there are portions of the trail where you could run out of gas if you are not not careful.
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
The Trail of Tears is a tragic part of American history as it caused terrible suffering and loss to the affected Native American tribes. Americans forced tibes to leave their homes and take this trail to Oklahoma where the new reservations had been set up.
A lot of them never made it to the final stop on this trail, and some people even say that it is still haunted by their ghosts.
If you are thinking of traveling on this trail, know that most of it is still intact and stays preserved to honor the lost lives.
Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site
Ulysses S. Grant was a war hero, president, and one of the most famous men in American history. While he didn’t leave much behind, his historic site is one of the last few preserved pieces of history from his life.
The historic site is located in St. Louis where you will be able to see almost his personal belongings and learn about his legacy. However, if you want to visit his tomb he is burried elsewhere.
Since St. Louis is one of the major cities on Route 66, there are many things to do here beyond the historic site if you have more time.
Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield
And for the last item on our list, Wilson’s Creek was the first major battle fought in the Civil War west of the Mississippi. While the battle was long and hard-fought, it was one of the first major victories for the Confederate army.
The battle was fought in 1861. During your visit here you will learn about the battle and what the Civil War was like west of the Mississippi.
Get Out and Explore Missouri’s National Parks
I hope you found the national parks in Missouri exciting and interesting. I wish you safe travels for wherever you end up going. If you do plan a trip, come back and let us know how your park visit goes!
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Corwyn is an 18-year-old Missourian and author who likes to play games, write and study computer science. He is currently attending Central Methodist University and is working on his third book. In his free time, he loves exploring his home state.