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Discovering outdoor adventure along the Mississippi River: Missouri and Arkansas

Missouri and Arkansas are a playground for people who love the outdoors. Explore stunning vistas at state parks and discover wild rivers.

Buffalo National River
Credit: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

The Mississippi River states of Missouri and Arkansas are a playground for people who love the outdoors. The fun extends far from the banks of America’s greatest river; from wild forests to beautiful parks and scenic backwaters, this region offers endless  adventure. This itinerary will take you deep into the beauty of this region and lead you to unforgettable experiences.

Day 1 – St. Louis, Missouri

Morning: Arrive at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport

Afternoon: Explore St. Louis

Catch a bird’s-eye view of the land you are about to explore with a ride to the top of the iconic Gateway Arch, a stainless-steel monument that offers the finest view of the city. On clear days, you can see up to 50 kilometers! For fast-moving thrills, check out the coasters at Six Flags St. Louis, an outdoor theme park. If you would like to keep your feet on the ground, check out the wildlife at the Saint Louis Zoo or take a hike through the scenic trails in Forest Park.

Evening: Explore downtown St. Louis

You will find lots of entertainment options in downtown St. Louis, including blues restaurants, late night barbeque joints, sporting events, rock concerts and more.

Other options: Walk through the charming nearby city of St. Charles, which was founded by early French-American traders and explorers. Anchored by a charming, historic shopping district, the area is dotted with carefully restored buildings that house a variety of restaurants and retail shops.

Day 2 – Bonne Terre, Belleview and Arcadia, Missouri

Morning: Travel to Bonne Terre, Missouri (96km, 60 minutes)

Late morning: Walking/boat tour at Bonne Terre Mine

On this unique adventure, you can “dive to the center of the Earth.” Bonne Terre Mine, a national historic site, is the world’s largest freshwater dive resort. Water conditions remain constant, with over 30-meter visibility. You might not get to the center of the earth, but it’s a fun and interesting place to explore by boat and on foot.

Early afternoon: Depart for Belleview, Missouri (53km, 40 minutes)

Late afternoon: Explore Elephant Rocks State Park

The giant elephant-shaped granite boulders are the star at Elephant Rocks State Park. The elephant rocks, which were formed from 1.5-billion-year-old granite, are giant boulders that stand end-to-end like a train of circus elephants. The rocks have created formations that intrigue geologists, are popular with history buffs and fascinate children who love to climb on and between the boulders.

Early evening: Drive to Arcadia, Missouri (17km, 18 minutes)

Late evening: Walk the grounds of the Arcadia Academy

The former Ursuline Academy, now known as Arcadia Academy, is being restored and used as a premier destination vacation spot in one of the most beautiful and scenic parts of Missouri. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Other options: Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is a place with something for everyone: pretty picnic areas, Ozark landscapes, natural places to swim and great campsites. Play in the shallow waters of the East Fork of the Black River. Hike a trail that will show you 1.4 billion years of geologic history. Take your horse on a pretty mountain trail.

Day 3 – Ironton to Eminence, Missouri

Morning: Depart for Ironton, Missouri (12km, 18 minutes)

Late morning: Taum Sauk Mountain State Park

Climb to the top of Taum Sauk Mountain State Park and be on top of Missouri—literally. The park’s 3,000 hectares include the highest point in the state. Located in the St. Francois Mountains, the park’s wooded areas and rocky glades provide a beautiful, solitary experience for hikers. A series of trails, including a portion of the Ozark Trail, wind through the park’s picturesque setting and provide awesome views of the surrounding countryside.

Early afternoon: Depart for Eminence, Missouri (111km, 87 minutes)

Late afternoon: Echo Bluff State Park

Echo Bluff State Park is the complete, quintessential Missouri Ozark destination. With the Current River one kilometer away, Echo Bluff State Park is set in a valley surrounded by towering bluffs and cut by Sinking Creek (the Current River’s second largest tributary). Relax in the shadow of the park’s namesake, Echo Bluff, a monumental geologic wonder made of Eminence dolomite rising above Sinking Creek. It is a stunning, one-of-a-kind panorama that amazes all park visitors.

Evening: See horses at the Ozark National Scenic Riverways

There’s a group of about three-dozen wild horses roaming the lands of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The horses have been roaming wild here for about a century and are protected by a local nonprofit. Before heading out, consult with locals in town to get the latest information on the location of the horses and find a perfect viewing spot.

Other options: At Two Rivers Canoe Rental, you can enjoy a glorious excursion through the beautiful Ozark Mountains. The outfitter is located just east of Eminence and equips trips with everything from canoes, kayaks, rafts and tubes to shuttles, camping and groceries.

Day 4 – Mountain View, Arkansas

Morning: Drive to Mountain View, Arkansas (205km, 160 minutes)

Afternoon: Explore Ozark Folk Center State Park

Arkansas’s unique Ozark Folk Center State Park is America’s only facility that works at preserving the Ozark heritage and sharing it in an entertaining way. It works to keep the crafts, music and culture of the Ozarks alive. Tap your toes to mountain music at one of your favorite Arkansas state parks located in the heart of the Ozarks.

Late afternoon: Adventure at Loco Ropes

Find Loco Ropes at the entrance to the Folk Center. This state-of-the-art treetop adventure park features a thrilling high wire adventure rope course with three different segments that challenge your nerve, endurance, agility and strength.

Evening: Discover the shopping district in Mountain View

Pick up gifts and souvenirs to remember your Ozark adventure. Enjoy a hearty meal with the locals at a traditional Mountain View family restaurant.

Other options: Blanchard Springs Caverns can hardly be described in words! You must visit the caves to truly understand and appreciate their beauty. There are several different tours offered at the caverns: the Dripstone Trail, the Discovery Trail, the Discovery in the Dark Headlamp Tour and the Wild Cave Tour. Led by knowledgeable guides, the tours wind through water-carved passages, including an underground river and the world’s largest flowstone.

Day 5 – Return home

Morning: Drive to Little Rock, Arkansas (167km, 2 hours)

Afternoon: Fly home from Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport