Missouri Day-Trips

Ever wake up and feel like having some adventure — nothing outlandish, just a day to escape routine and do something different?

That’s the delight of day-trips. Without requiring a lot of effort or forethought, such escapes can deliver bolts of rejuvenation. Columbia is ideally situated for excursions to Kansas City and St. Louis, where cultural, sporting and family attractions are just a short drive away on Interstate 70. Little more than an hour to the southwest lies the fun-in-the-sun Lake of the Ozarks. And scattered around Columbia are small towns with distinct charms.

This collection of day-trips takes in some of the delightfully different draws of Columbia’s neighboring communities. These six destinations are within two hours of Columbia, so all you need is one free day — or even just half a day — to go exploring.


Just 10 miles west of Columbia, Rocheport is an unpretentious town that takes pride in a list of things to do that highlights life’s simpler pleasures. Listen to live music at the General Store. Stroll along picturesque streets to discover unique shops and artisan galleries. Admire the towering bluffs along the Katy Trail. Relax on a bench and watch the Mighty Mo go by. This is an itinerary for serenity.

Katy Trail: Bike to Rocheport from Columbia’s Scott Boulevard MKT access; it takes less than an hour at a moderate pace. www.bikekatytrail

No bike? No problem. Rent a bicycle at Rocheport’s Trailside Café & Bike Shop, open April to October.www.trailsidecafebike.com

Shopping: Rocheport offers eclectic shopping in a historic downtown. Find antiques, fine art, home décor, gifts and more. www.rocheport.com

Missouri River Tours: Take an excursion on the Missouri River with either Drew’s Guide Service or Might Mo Canoe Rental. www.missouriboatworks.com or www.mighty-mo.com

Fine Dining & Wine: Enjoy a gourmet meal at Abigail’s restaurant, housed in a historic Rocheport building that was once a church. www.abigails-restaurant.com

Dine on provincial fare while taking in a spectacular view of the Missouri River at the Blufftop Bistro of Les Bourgeois Vineyards. www.missouriwine.com

Arrow Rock

A stroll through Arrow Rock is a stroll back in time. The entire village, 45 minutes northwest of Columbia, is a designated National Historic Landmark, and several of the buildings are preserved as The Arrow Rock State Historic Site. The village includes a general store museum, old courthouse, town doctor’s home, stone jail and the J. Huston Tavern. Other Arrow Rock attractions include antique shops, bed-and-breakfasts and a live theater. Yesteryear is waiting here.

Historic Tours: Easily tour the historic village on foot, and then extend the tour with a drive to nearby sites. Walking and driving maps highlight points of interest. www.arrowrock.org

Another option is a guided tour on the Friends of Arrow Rock Tram Tour, which covers some of the village’s most historic buildings, including many not otherwise open to the public.www.friendsofarrowrock.org

Be sure to check out the Missouri Department of Natural Resources museum and visitors center as well, for a recounting of the area’s history.

Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre: This nonprofit professional theater entertains audiences with Broadway-caliber musicals, dramas and comedies. www.lyceumtheatre.org

Great Outdoors: Arrow Rock State Historic Site offers a modern campground, two hiking trails and fishing in Big Soldier Lake. www.mostateparks.com/park/arrow-rock-state-historic-site

Memorable Dining: The J. Huston Tavern is the oldest continuously serving restaurant west of the Mississippi River, open since 1834. Its accolades include “Best Fried Chicken in the State” from Rural Missouri magazine. www.jhustontavern.com


Set amid hills rolling toward the Missouri River, Hermann is the heart of Missouri wine country. An abundance of award-winning wineries are clustered within a 15-mile radius of this historic German city, located a little more than an hour east of Columbia. The community celebrates its Old World heritage with numerous festivals and a profusion of historic architecture to explore. Its beautiful setting, wineries and historic charms have made Hermann a favorite destination for romance.

Wine: Find a list of wineries in and near Hermann at the city’s tourism website.www.hermannmissouri.com

Stone Hill Winery is Missouri’s oldest and most awarded winery and should be included on any visit to Hermann. The special Grapes to Glass VIP winery tour is a must for any wine lover.www.stonehillwinery.com

The Hermann Wine Trail, a consortium of seven wineries, offers special events throughout the year.www.hermannwinetrail.com

Shopping: Hermann’s shops entice buyers with antiques, German nutcrackers, bicycles, toys, gifts, art galleries, chocolate, sausage and more. www.hermannmissouri.com

Festivals: Hermann has eight annual festivals, the biggest of which are Maifest and Oktoberfest, so be sure to plan a visit with festival dates in mind. www.visithermann.com

Museums: Hermann preserves its history in several museums, from the Deutschheim State Historic Site run by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to the Historic Hermann’s Museum at the Old German School. www.visithermann.com

Lake of the Ozarks

The big three diversions at the Lake, located an hour south of Columbia, are boating, golfing and shopping. In the summertime, the calendar of events fills with activities ranging from the annual Canine Cannonball competition to Hot Summer Nights on the Bagnell Dam Strip. The local convention and visitor bureau chose FunLake.com for its Web address, and the name befits the laidback, good-time atmosphere of the Lake.

Boating: The Lake offers 54,000 acres for boaters to explore. Don’t own a boat? No worries. Visit a marina to rent a speedboat, pontoon, fishing boat or personal watercraft. There’s no need to pack a lunch; several Lake restaurants are located directly on the water. www.funlake.com

Golfing: The Lake lays claim to the title of the Midwest’s premier golf destination with 16 golf courses designed by such links stars as Arnold Palmer, Tom Weiskopf and Jack Nicklaus. Ozark forests, rock bluffs and gorgeous views deliver perfect course settings. www.funlake.com

Shopping: From the Osage Beach Premium Outlets to fabulous furniture stores, shopping at the Lake is hot all year long. www.funlake.com

Live Music: Good times require good music. Enjoy live music at the Lake’s many bars, or take in a show at the family-friendly Main Street Music Hall. www.lakeoftheozarksbars.com or www.lakemusichall.com

State Parks: Activities at the Lake of the Ozarks State Park include camping, boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, backpacking, biking, horseback riding and cave exploration. At Ha Ha Tonka State Park, hiking trails lead visitors to the ruins of an American sandstone castle, to sinkholes, natural bridges, caves, a large spring and down to the Lake itself. www.mostateparks.com

St: Louis

The Gateway City, a little less than two hours east of Columbia, is a favorite destination for families, sports fans, art enthusiasts, performing arts enthusiasts, history buffs, nature lovers and beer buffs. With so much to do, St. Louis is as much an explorer’s city as it was when Lewis & Clark began and ended their expedition here. There’s no way to see more than a small fraction of the attractions in one day-trip, so the next visit can be a whole new adventure. www.explorestlouis.com

Family Fun: The St. Louis Zoo, City Museum, Saint Louis Science Center, Gateway Arch, The Magic House and Six Flags St. Louis are just the beginning of the fun places for families to discover in St. Louis.

Sports: Named the “Ultimate Sports City” by ESPN, St. Louis has the 2012 NHL Central Division Champs St. Louis Blues, the 11-time World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals, and the NFL’s St. Louis Rams. The city frequently hosts NCAA national championship events in college sports. Less well-known is the city’s reputation as a center for the game of chess with its Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

The Arts: Grand Center, in the city’s historical arts and cultural district, is home to more than 30 arts organizations, including the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, The Fabulous Fox Theatre, the Black Rep, the Sheldon Concert Hall, Jazz at the Bistro and Circus Bistro. www.grandcenter.org

Elsewhere in St. Louis are such entertaining venues as Union Station, Scottrade Center, the Riverport amphitheater and more art museums, live theaters, music venues and spectacular architecture.

History: Discover how the past brought us to the present at the Museum of Westward Expansion under the Arch, First Missouri State Capital State Historic Site, the Old Courthouse, Scott Joplin House State Historic Site, Soldiers’ Memorial Military Museum, Missouri History Museum and many others.

Beer: Anheuser-Busch is a St. Louis icon, with its longstanding support of the Cardinals and its Clydesdale Stables at Grant’s Farm. Tours of the Budweiser Brewery are complimentary. There are also several microbreweries and brewpubs to visit in St. Louis, and the city hosts a beer-related event almost every month of the year.

Nature: With the Missouri Botanical Garden, Citygarden and one of the largest urban parks in the United States, St. Louis is an unexpected place to get back to nature.

Kansas City

The three most beloved traditions of Kansas City are jazz, fountains and barbecue. Add to these attractions such draws as world-class museums, an up-and-coming arts scene, superb shopping and striking architecture, and Kansas City is a day-trip dream. www.visitkc.com

The Arts: The arts may soon trump some of Kansas City’s more traditional claims to fame. With the opening of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in 2011, Kansas City strengthened its reputation as an arts center. Other cultural draws include three arts museums, theater venues, galleries, nightclubs, comedy clubs and concerts.

Family Fun: Favorite family destinations in Kansas City include Hallmark Cards’ Crown Center with its free art sessions at Kaleidoscope; Legoland Discovery Center; the children’s science museum at Union Station; Sea Life Aquarium; Worlds of Fun; Schlitterbahn Kansas City Waterpark; the Kansas City Zoo; Arrowhead Stadium; Kauffman Stadium and more.

Shopping: Home to the nation’s first suburban shopping district, Kansas City is renowned for its excellent shopping, from small boutiques to expansive malls and from upscale to eclectic. Popular draws are the Country Club Plaza, Zona Rosa, Kansas City Power & Light District and the City Market.

History: With the National WWI Museum, the Arabia Steamboat Museum, Jesse James Farm & Museum, National Frontier Trails Center, Civil War sites, a Renaissance Festival and more, Kansas City provides several opportunities to get close to history.

Barbecue: True, Kansas City has a wide variety of delectable dining, but nothing as legendary as its barbecue. Of the nearly 100 barbecue joints in Kansas City, Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue won the 2012 Visitors’ Choice Award. Famous finger-lickin’ favorites include Gates Bar-B-Q and Arthur Bryant’s.

Explore Some More

Central Region
Jefferson City:
The state capital is high on history, with tours of the Missouri State Capitol (recognized as one of the most beautiful in the country), Governor’s Mansion, Jefferson Landing State Historic Site, Missouri State Archives, Museum of Missouri Military History, the Missouri State Penitentiary and more museums and historic sites. Drive 30 minutes south from Columbia, or bike the Katy Trail; take a trail spur to cross the Missouri River Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge. www.visitjeffersoncity.com

Sedalia: Home to the Missouri State Fair, Sedalia has an unusual mix of attractions. The Katy Depot Historic Site has exhibits on Sedalia’s history, including its end-of-the-trail location in the 1800s for cattle drives originating in Texas. The Bothwell Lodge State Historic Site includes a furnished 12,000-square-foot mansion built between 1897 and 1928. The Daum Museum of Contemporary Art is a work of art in itself. And in the summer, there’s the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival, honoring the pioneering musician who studied music theory in town. www.visitsedalia.com

Northwest Region
Once an outfitting post for the Santa Fe and Oregon trails, Lexington invites visitors to “stroll down streets where wagon trains once rolled and shop in buildings dating back to the 1840s.” The Battle of Lexington State Historic Site & Anderson House preserve the site of a fiercely contested Civil War battlefield. Remnants of trenches can still be seen in the site’s 100 acres, and the house, though restored beautifully, still shows damage from the battle. A much newer draw in Lexington is wine: There are five wineries in Lexington’s Lafayette County. Lexington is an hour and a half west of Columbia.www.visitlexingtonmo.com

St: Joseph: Three hours northwest of Columbia and an hour north of Kansas City, St. Joseph has several attractions to rope in folks keen on Wild West adventure — the Pony Express National Museum, Patee House Museum and Jesse James Home Museum. While in town, check out The Glore Psychiatric Museum and the National Military Heritage Museum. Visitors will find 225 shops and 150 restaurants within a 10-mile radius. www.stjomo.com

Weston: A booming river port in the 1800s, Weston shows off its history in a historic district covering 22 blocks of the town’s downtown. The area included 91 historic homes and buildings, most of them antebellum. Weston also offers museums, wineries, a brewery tour, the Weston Bend State Park and Snow Creek, a winter resort with skiing, snowboarding and tube sledding. Weston sits just minutes north of Kansas City’s International Airport. www.westonmo.com

Southwest Region
Known as the “Live Music Show Capital of the World,” Branson is in the business of family entertainment. The more than 100 live shows in Branson range from nostalgia to acrobats to dinner shows to dramatic theater. Branson also boasts one-of-a-kind museums, including the Titanic Museum; championship golf; three lakes offering fishing, boating and other water sports; and award-winning theme parks, including the family favorite Silver Dollar City. Branson is a bit of a drive, close to 3½ hours, so feel free to check out the more than 200 places to stay. www.branson.com

Lebanon: This Route 66 town, located two hours southwest of Columbia, entices visitors with its beautiful Ozark rivers. Bennett Spring State Park is a premier trout destination where anglers fish for rainbow trout in a stream stocked every night (the stream runs into the Niangua River, a favorite for float trips). Along with a range of campsites, the state park also offers motel rooms and cabins. Back in town, check out the Route 66 Museum to see recreations of life on the Mother Road. www.lebanonmissouri.org

Mansfield: Laura Ingalls Wilder penned all nine of the series’ manuscripts at Rocky Ridge Farm, where she and Almanzo made their home near Mansfield, a little more than three hours southwest of Columbia.Little House enthusiasts can explore all things Laura at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum and the Mansfield Historical Society and Museum, as well as take in a live outdoor show, “Laura’s Memories,” in the fall. www.lauraingallswilderhome.com

Southeast Region
Bonne Terre: From 1864 until 1962, the St. Joseph Lead Co. operated mines at Bonne Terre, located 2½ hours from Columbia (about an hour south of St. Louis). When the mines closed, the manmade caverns filled with cold, clear water, creating a unique destination for scuba divers that has attracted the likes of Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic. The Bonne Terre Mine also offers walking and boating tours; above ground, visitors can explore Bonne Terre’s Space Museum. www.bonneterre.net

Elephant Rocks State Park: A little more than three hours southeast of Columbia, this destination is a longer drive, but it’s worth discovering. Gigantic red granite rocks big enough to dwarf grown men and women are strewn around the park. The largest boulder is 27 feet tall (or more than two stories), 35 feet long and 17 feet wide. The sculpted boulders sit in fantastic perches that make climbing and exploring enormous fun. The odd placements also make for fun pictures, as kids (and adults) like to pretend to hold up boulders weighing a couple of hundred tons. mostateparks.com/park/elephant-rocks-state-park

Northeast Region
This Missouri River town, two hours northeast of Columbia, is famous for being the boyhood home of Mark Twain. Celebrate Twain’s work and life with a visit to the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, a complex with eight properties including two interactive museums. More adventure awaits in Mark Twain Cave and Cameron Cave, and aboard the Mark Twain Riverboat. Every July, the town celebrates National Tom Sawyer Days. Hannibal is also home to Rockcliffe Mansion, a 13,500-square-foot American castle built in 1900, and the “unsinkable” Molly Brown Birthplace & Museum.www.visithannibal.com