Missouri likes to live on the edge. Three of its most-visited cities lie near or directly on the state’s border, making it highly well-connected. It’s a land of adventure, history and entertainment, not to mention barbecue. With rivers and forests stretching border to border, it’s also ideal for outdoor activities. Nature parks, historic buildings, zoos, Ferris wheels—Missouri has it all. We’ve chosen three of our favorite destinations from each of these three wonderful cities. To see the full article, check out Teach & Travel’s latest issue!
The Gateway of the West is the perfect entry point to what makes Missouri special. Everybody knows about the giant arch itself, but the surrounding Gateway Arch National Park has 90-plus acres of pathways and Mississippi River views. After completing $380 million renovations in 2018, the park is better than ever, featuring two reflecting ponds and an updated museum with loads of information about settlers’ movement west. The 630-foot-tall arch is plenty spacious too, and well worth a visit up the tram to the top. It’s a historical experience students won’t forget.
The city’s civic center is sprawling Forest Park, with more than 1,300 acres of nature and activities: Walking end to end would take an hour. The park features the St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Science Center, Missouri History Museum, the Jewel Box greenhouse, The World’s Fair Pavilion, interactive sculptures, war memorials, historic houses, a skating rink, outdoor amphitheater, boathouse, and more. Visitors could spend days exploring and learning about history and science while wandering the woods and across small islands. This shining gem draws more annual visitors than anywhere else in St. Louis.
To really get in touch with nature, head to Missouri Botanical Garden, the second-largest herbarium in North America. The gardens are bursting with plants, animals, insects and historic buildings. Learn about conservation, sustainability, gardening, ecosystems, and more while taking in the colorful sights and sounds of the natural world, amidst the city.
Near the southern edge of Missouri lies extremely visitor-friendly Branson, packed with entertainment for all ages. This starts with Fritz’s Adventure, a massive complex of physical challenges. While many activities are indoors—including a multistory ropes course, underground tunnels and huge slides—the space is so large you won’t even notice. Head outside for the Via Ferrata, a huge climbing wall, and the Aerodium, which simulates human flight with winds over 100 mph.
For a more nature-centric experience, visit Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. Covering 10,000 acres of Ozark Mountain beauty, it’s a wonderful place to learn about conservation, ecosystems and history. Choose from interactive EdVentures or simply take your own tour. The park is full of activities—horseback riding, biking, fishing for rainbow trout and wildlife tram tours among them—not to mention indoor learning opportunities. Managed by Johnny Morris of Bass Pro Shops, Dogwood Canyon’s primary goal is preserving the beauty and complexity of nature.
Other outdoor adventures include long, river-like Lake Taneycomo, ideal for hiking, swimming, boating, and fishing; Shepherd of the Hills, an outdoor adventure park with ziplines, rope courses, historic farm, and historic reenactments; and the Track Family Fun Park, featuring the 150-foot-tall Branson Ferris Wheel, go-karts, minigolf, and more.
Right outside of Kansas City, Independence—hometown of President Harry S Truman—is a city of history and trails. Start your trip at Pioneer Trails Adventures and explore the city by mule-drawn covered wagon with an entertaining and educational guide. Head through Independence Square and, depending which tour you choose, see two Civil War battle sites, the 1859 Jail that held Frank James, the slave-built 1827 courthouse, the home where Bess Truman was born, and Clinton’s Soda Fountain, where Harry Truman held his first job. Amidst fascinating sights, students will learn about how America was formed.
You’ll also want to visit the Truman Library, which, though not outdoors, is a main draw that recently reopened after a $30 million renovation. The updated library will boast an all-new museum experience, telling the story of President Truman with state-of-the-art technology and exhibits for a 21st-century audience.
Make your way to one of the many nearby trails. Truman Walking Trail commemorates the president’s love for a brisk pace. This 2.7-mile trail includes 43 captivating stops around the city, such as Truman’s home, barbershop, memorials and plenty of historic buildings. Students will walk the same path Truman walked and learn all about his life and impact on the city.
Written by Josh Veal, managing editor of Teach & Travel.
The full version of this story ran in the November 2020 issue of Teach & Travel.
Photo courtesy of Branson CVB.