Spring break and summer vacation are right around the corner. If you are looking to stay closer to home this year, here is a roundup of several great destinations all less than two hours from St. Louis. Load up the kids, pack all the snacks, and head out to explore these great destinations.
* Be sure to check the websites of attractions before visiting for up to date COVID restrictions or closures.
Ste. Genevieve, Missouri
Take a trip just one hour south to Missouri’s oldest town established in 1750. Beautiful Ste. Genevieve boasts some of the best French Colonial architecture in the country with many structures dating to the 1700s. The area is so full of history that it became one of the newest units of the National Parks System last year. Not only can you find historic sites to explore, but the town is located near great hiking trails and boasts an amazing playground for kids of all abilities.
Things to Do
Museums – Stop at the Visitor’s Center to learn more and arrange tours. If you have a National Parks Passport book you can have it stamped here. Also check out the Center for French Colonial Life or new Art Guild. Kids will enjoy the dinosaurs and other exhibits at the new Ste. Genevieve Museum Learning Center.
Outdoor Fun – In town, check out the amazing Braden’s Challenger Playground which is designed to be accessible to all kids. A new aquatic center is located just across the road. Heading a few miles outside of town, you can find amazing hikes past interesting rock formations and scenic creeks. Hawn State Park, Pickle Springs, and Hickory Canyons are all family friendly. For animal lovers, don’t miss the Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary to view these majestic rescued cats. Younger ones may enjoy feeding the animals at Critter Lane Petting Zoo.
Sweet Treats – Wrap up your visit with ice cream or a stop at the Sweet Things Candy Shop. Right next door, adults might prefer to satisfy their sweet tooth with some gourmet honey at Harold’s Honey Bar. Trust me, it’s amazing!
Cruise Highway 79 to Hannibal, MO
This trip is both about the journey and the destination. On your way to or from Hannibal, take scenic Highway 79 past overlooks and rolling farm fields. Make a stop at the charming river towns of Clarksville and Louisiana. Closer to Hannibal, the ghost town of Ilasco is an interesting stop. Once you reach Hannibal, the options for family fun are endless as your explore this town made famous by Mark Twain.
Things to Do
Clarksville – Stroll the riverfront and check out the view from the lock & dam overlook. Visit the shops downtown.
Louisiana – The historic downtown has the most intact Victorian streetscape in the state. See the great river views from Riverview Park.
Hannibal – Explore all things Tom Sawyer throughout the downtown including Mark Twain’s boyhood home, and the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse . Kids and train lovers will adore Big River Train Town. Other adventures include cruising on the Mark Twain Riverboat or exploring Mark Twain Cave. If you want to do some more walking or hiking, the scenic Sodalis Natura Preserve is a great spot. Don’t forget to stop for a great river view from Lover’s Leap or enjoy free coffee, ice cream, and popcorn at Dutch Country General Store.
Meramec Caverns and Meramec State Park
No matter the temperature outside, it is a constant 66 degrees when you journey underground to explore the wonders of Meramec Caverns. Add to the adventure by taking a hike and viewing more caves at nearby Meramec State Park.
Things to do
Meramec Caverns – The cave tour is the big attraction here. The walk is an easy 1.25 miles but strollers are not allowed. Other attractions here include ziplining, panning for gold, a climbing wall, and boat and float rides.
Meramec State Park – Seven different trails can be found in this park. The Bluff View Trail offers nice river views and a historic CCC era shelter while the Natural Wonder and Walking Fern Trail offer short hikes past creeks and cave openings.
Sunny Jim Bottomley City Park – This park in nearby Sullivan has a really nice pool, playground, and super cute Route 66 themed splash pad if you visit on a hot day.
Explore the Arcadia Valley
We absolutely love this area of the state. The hiking and recreation options are endless and the scenery is stunning. You can also explore historic sites to turn the trip into both an adventure and an educational outing.
Things to do
Historic Sites – Visit a Civil War battleground at the Pilot Knob Historic Site. The site also features a playground. Visit the courthouse downtown and see if you can find the cannon ball mark.
Hikes – Elephant Rocks State Park is a must see. An easy path winds pass massive granite boulders. Arrive early or a weekday as this park gets crowded fast on weekends. Johnson’s Shut-Ins is another must see park. An easy paved trail leads to a boardwalk overlook of the scenic cascades. Up for a longer hike? Hike the full 2.5 mile trail or venture over to nearby Taum Sauk Mountain to see the highest point in Missouri and the state’s tallest waterfall.
Where to eat – Head to the historic and beautiful Arcadia Academy for made from scratch meals. Follow up your visit with ice cream and candy while taking a trip back in time to the Old Village Mercantile in quaint Caledonia.
See the Big Things in Casey, IL
Head east on Highway 70 to the Little Town of Big Things. Casey, IL holds an impressive collection of the World’s Largest Objects such as the biggest mailbox, rocking chair, and pitchfork. All of these items are available on display to view for free.
Things to do
See the Big Things – Find out the full list of 12 World’s Largest attractions here. The town also boasts many more items that are not record breakers but just plain big!
Kaskaskia Dragon – On the way there or back, stop just off the highway in Vandalia at the shop next door to buy a token to make the dragon breathe fire.
Where to eat – The Whimsy Cafe is next to the largest windchime while Richards Farm has the largest pitchfork. Or make a sidetrip to the tiny town of Moonshine for a famous Moonshine burger. Looking for a snack? Try Tretzel Time or the Candy Depot (also home to the largest wooden shoes.)
Fort De Chartres, IL
You may not expect to find a French Colonial Fort in southern Illinois, but this historic spot is a must see. Combine your visit with a great hike along the bluffs for a full day.
Things to do
Fort de Chartres – This reconstructed 18th century stone fort has so many interesting areas to explore. Climb around the buildings and foundations and see the powder house which is the oldest structure in all of the state. The museum is well worth a visit.
Modoc Ferry – If coming from the Missouri side, start or end your trip with a ride on the ferry between Illinois and Ste. Genevieve. Kids will get a kick out of it and it offers an up close view of the river.
Hiking – Salt Lick Point is one of the best hikes around. The climb up the bluffs is a little steep, but the views are worth it. Or stick to the lower and flat Johnson’s Trail to view the rocks and bluffs from below.
Where to Eat – Take a cruise through the tiny but charming village of Maeystown for lunch at Hank & Lily’s Creekside. Or head into beautiful downtown Red Bud for more dining options and ice cream.
Take the River Road to Grafton
The Great River Road in Illinois is one of the area’s most scenic drives. The road squeezes between the mighty Mississippi and towering bluffs. There are several quaint towns and scenic parks to stop at along the way. Timing your visit to end with watching the sun set over the river is even better.
Things to do
Alton – Stop at the free Great River Museum to learn more about the mighty Mississippi and even tour the lock and dam.
Elsah – This is the town time forgot. The entire village is listed on the National Historic Register. Stop at the general store for a treat along the way.
Dow – Just northeast of Elsah, the TreeHouse Wildlife Center is a great spot for the whole family to view rescued wildlife.
Grafton – Stop at the river for a view of the lighthouse. Explore the many shops and restaurants in the beautiful downtown. Take a ride on the scenic aerial lift up to the bluffs. Soar through the trees on a family friendly zipline.
Hiking – Between Alton and Grafton lies Olin Nature Preserve. This preserve has a variety of scenic trails for even the littlest legs. (They close for the winter but reopen April 1.) Just north of Grafton lies Pere Marquette State Park. See the panoramic views from one of the many hiking trails or enjoy the viewpoints on the scenic drive.
Where to eat – Grafton is full of different dining choices. The Loading Dock is popular for it’s river views and outdoor dining. The Pere Marquette Lodge offers delicious meals all day. There are at least three different places in Grafton for ice cream or fudge if you need some dessert.