The 14 Best Day Trips From St. Louis, Missouri (2024 Guide)

If you’re looking for the best day trips from St. Louis, be sure to check out our list of the best St. Louis day trips!

St. Louis, Missouri, situated along the banks of the Mississippi River, is a dynamic and culturally rich city known for its famous Gateway Arch, a symbol of westward expansion.

Visitors can explore the cultural institutions of St. Louis, including the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Missouri History Museum, and the City Museum, providing a mix of artistic, historical, and interactive experiences.

Forest Park, Sunset Hills, Grant’s Farm, Laumeier Sculpture Park, and the St. Louis Zoo are also highlights of this incredible city. But once you’ve seen the best of the art galleries and parks in St. Louis, consider a day trip outside the city!

These day trips from St. Louis will take you all over Missouri so you can uncover the landscapes and traditions of the Midwest. Go on a road trip to a historic village or a neighboring city. Go rock climbing, hiking, or biking through a state park on the outskirts of St. Louis.

Whether you’re looking for history, nature, culture, or more, these day trips from St. Louis offer a wide range of experiences that cater to all types of travelers.

Find more of our favorite things to do in St. Louis!

14 Amazing Day Trips From St. Louis

From exploring the walking trails of the historic Katy Trail State Park, to sipping wines in Missouri wine country, to touring the picturesque town of Hannibal on the Mississippi River, here are some of the best day trips from St. Louis!

The best way to get around is to rent a car and explore on your own! We recommend Rental Cars, which has the largest range of vehicles for the best value on the market.

1. Katy Trail State Park

  • Distance from St. Louis: 124 miles
  • Driving Time: 30 minutes

Katy Trail State Park, stretching across the heart of Missouri, is one of the longest and most renowned rails-to-trails projects in the United States. The park follows the former path of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railroad, commonly known as the Katy Railroad, which operated from the late 19th century until the 1980s.

Today, the Katy Trail covers a distance of approximately 240 miles, making it the longest continuous rail trail in the country. The trail begins in the vibrant city of St. Charles, located just outside of St. Louis, and winds its way through picturesque small towns, farmland, and scenic landscapes, ultimately reaching the town of Clinton.

The Katy Trail offers a unique outdoor experience, providing visitors with a variety of recreational opportunities. Whether walking, running, biking, or horseback riding, outdoor enthusiasts can explore the diverse natural beauty of Missouri along this well-maintained trail.

The route passes through a mosaic of ecosystems, including dense woodlands, open prairies, and along the banks of the Missouri River, offering glimpses of wildlife and birdwatching opportunities. Katy Trail State Park is not only a haven for nature lovers but also one of the best day trips from St. Louis!

2. Elephant Rocks State Park

  • Distance from St. Louis: 87 miles
  • Driving Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Nestled in the rugged terrain of the St. Francois Mountains in southeastern Missouri, Elephant Rocks State Park is a geological wonder and a testament to the forces that have shaped the landscape over millions of years.

The park’s main attraction is a unique collection of enormous, elephant-shaped granite boulders that stand like ancient sentinels in a wooded setting. These massive pink granite rocks, some reaching heights of 20 feet, were formed through the process of exfoliation, where layers of rock gradually peeled away due to weathering and erosion.

Visitors to Elephant Rocks State Park can explore the fascinating rock formations via a well-maintained trail that weaves through the natural maze, allowing for close encounters with these giant boulders and offering stunning panoramic views of the surrounding forest.

In addition to the awe-inspiring geological features, Elephant Rocks State Park provides recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. The park features a picnic area and a playground, making it a great destination for families.

The short but scenic Braille Trail caters specifically to those with visual impairments, offering an inclusive experience by providing interpretive signage in braille and opportunities to touch and explore unique rock formations.

Elephant Rocks State Park stands as a captivating day trip destination where nature, geology, and accessibility converge to create a memorable and educational outdoor experience for all who visit.

Elephant Rocks State Park Day Trip From St. Louis
Elephant Rocks State Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit near St. Louis.

3. Jefferson City

  • Distance from St. Louis: 133 miles
  • Driving Time: 2 hours

Another one of the best day trips from St. Louis is to Jefferson City, the state capital. Known for its picturesque setting on the Missouri River, the city boasts a blend of historic charm and modern amenities.

The Missouri State Capitol Building, an iconic structure with a majestic dome, dominates the cityscape and offers visitors a glimpse into the state’s political history.

The Capitol Building houses the legislative chambers and features a museum that explores Missouri’s rich heritage. Explore the scenic Capitol grounds, adorned with statues, memorials, and beautifully landscaped gardens which provide a serene environment for both locals and tourists to enjoy.

Beyond its governmental role, Jefferson City offers a range of attractions and activities. The historic downtown area, with its brick-lined streets, is home to quaint shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Be sure to check out the Missouri State Museum to learn about the area’s history.

The Missouri State Penitentiary, a decommissioned prison, allows visitors to take guided tours, providing insights into the facility’s intriguing history. Outdoor enthusiasts can explore the many hiking trails that intertwine with the natural beauty of the Missouri River valley.

Jefferson City welcomes visitors to experience the heart of Missouri, and it’s a popular day trip destination from St. Louis!

Explore more of the Midwest with a visit to the famous city of Chicago!

4. Shaw Nature Reserve

  • Distance from St. Louis: 38 miles
  • Driving Time: 40 minutes

Located just southwest of St. Louis, Missouri, the Shaw Nature Reserve stands as a peaceful and expansive retreat dedicated to conservation, education, and the appreciation of native flora.

Established in 1925 by the Missouri Botanical Garden, the reserve spans over 2,400 acres, featuring diverse ecosystems, rolling hills, woodlands, and prairies. The native plant collections within the reserve showcase the region’s rich biodiversity, emphasizing the importance of preserving and restoring natural habitats.

Visitors can explore a network of well-maintained trails that wind through various landscapes, offering opportunities for hiking, birdwatching, and connecting with nature in a serene setting.

One of the notable aspects of Shaw Nature Reserve is its commitment to sustainability and environmental education. The Whitmire Wildflower Garden, a part of the reserve, focuses on showcasing native wildflowers in a naturalistic setting.

The Nature Reserve also offers educational programs, workshops, and events for all ages, encouraging a deeper understanding of ecology and the importance of conservation. Shaw Nature Reserve is the perfect day trip destination for a day of family fun near St. Louis.

5. Hannibal

  • Distance from St. Louis: 117 miles
  • Driving Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes

Nestled along the banks of the majestic Mississippi River, Hannibal, Missouri, holds a special place in American literature as the hometown of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain.

Twain’s literary works, particularly “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” were inspired by his experiences in Hannibal, and the town proudly celebrates its association with the iconic author.

Visitors can explore the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, a collection of historic buildings that include Twain’s childhood residence, the Becky Thatcher House, and the Huckleberry Finn House. The museum offers a captivating glimpse into Twain’s early life and the settings that influenced his beloved characters.

Mark Twain Cave Complex in Hannibal offers a fascinating underground adventure, allowing visitors to explore the cave system that inspired Mark Twain’s tales and discover the natural beauty of subterranean formations.

Beyond its literary heritage, Hannibal boasts a charming and picturesque downtown area that exudes historic charm. Visitors can stroll along Main Street, lined with 19th-century buildings housing boutiques, antique shops, and cafes.

The city’s riverfront provides scenic views of the Mississippi River, and the Mark Twain Riverboat offers leisurely cruises along the water. Annual events like the National Tom Sawyer Days celebrate Hannibal’s cultural richness with parades, live music, and fireworks, attracting visitors from far and wide.

Hannibal, Missouri, stands as a destination that seamlessly blends literary history, small-town charm, and scenic beauty, making it a top day trip from St. Louis for those seeking a nostalgic journey through the landscapes that inspired Mark Twain’s timeless tales.

Heading further south? Check out our guide to Hot Springs, Arkansas.

6. Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park

  • Distance from St. Louis: 100 miles
  • Driving Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes

In the heart of the Missouri Ozarks lies Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, a stunning day trip destination renowned for its unique rock formations and crystal-clear, cascading water. The park’s centerpiece is the shut-ins, a series of natural rock chutes and pools formed by the East Fork of the Black River.

Over millions of years, the river has sculpted the hard volcanic rock into smooth channels and pools, creating a captivating and dynamic aquatic playground.

Visitors can wade, swim, and explore the intricacies of the shut-ins, surrounded by the lush greenery of the surrounding forest. The shut-ins provide a refreshing and picturesque escape, especially appealing during the hot summer months.

Apart from its geological wonders, Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park offers a range of outdoor activities. Hiking trails wind through the rugged terrain, providing stunning views of the shut-ins and the surrounding wilderness. The park is a haven for nature lovers and birdwatchers, with diverse flora and fauna thriving in this unique ecosystem.

Additionally, the park has campgrounds for those looking to extend their stay, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the tranquility and natural beauty of the Missouri Ozarks. Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park stands as a testament to the power of nature and is one of the most beautiful day trips from St. Louis!

Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park
Check out the unique natural wonders in the mysterious Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park.

7. Onondaga Cave State Park

  • Distance from St. Louis: 84 miles
  • Driving Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes

Onondaga Cave State Park offers a captivating blend of natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and underground wonders. At the heart of the park lies the stunning Onondaga Cave, a subterranean marvel adorned with impressive formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, and columns.

Guided cave tours lead visitors through chambers with names like the “Lily Pad Room” and the “Cathedral Room,” showcasing the intricate and delicate formations that have evolved over millions of years.

The park encompasses more than just its underground marvel, as visitors can also enjoy scenic hiking trails, picnicking areas, and access to the Meramec River, providing opportunities for outdoor activities and a chance to appreciate the diverse ecosystems of the surrounding Ozark landscape.

Beyond its natural wonders, Onondaga Cave State Park offers a range of recreational amenities. The Meramec River, flowing through the park, invites kayakers, canoeists, and anglers to enjoy its clear waters. The park also features campgrounds, providing a tranquil setting for those looking to extend their stay and immerse themselves in the beauty of the Missouri outdoors.

A road trip to this stunning part of central Missouri is a great way to spend a day outside St. Louis.

Read next: The Best Things To Do In Memphis, Tennessee

8. Hermann

  • Distance from St. Louis: 81 miles
  • Driving Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes

Hermann is one of the most charming historic towns in Missouri, making it a lovely day trip destination. Established by German settlers in the 19th century, the town’s architecture, festivals, and traditions still reflect its rich cultural history.

The historic district boasts cobblestone streets, 19th-century brick buildings, and charming bed-and-breakfasts that transport visitors to a bygone era.

The Deutschheim State Historic Site comprises two meticulously restored 19th-century homes, the Pommer-Gentner House and the Strehly House, which stand as testaments to the German immigration that shaped Hermann’s history. Visitors can explore these authentically furnished homes, gaining insights into the daily lives of the early German settlers.

Adjacent to the Deutschheim site, the Historic Hermann Museum further immerses visitors in the town’s history, featuring exhibits that highlight the contributions of the German community to Hermann’s development.

Wineries and vineyards dot the surrounding countryside, contributing to Hermann’s reputation as one of the best destinations in Missouri’s wine country. The Hermann Wine Trail, featuring several family-owned wineries, offers a delightful journey through picturesque landscapes, inviting wine enthusiasts to savor the flavors of locally produced varietals.

In addition to being in the heart of wine country, Hermann also has numerous cultural events and festivals throughout the year, including the Maifest and Oktoberfest celebrations, where visitors can partake in traditional German music, food, and lively festivities.

Whether strolling through its historic streets, indulging in local wines, or immersing oneself in cultural celebrations, Hermann, Missouri, offers a unique and delightful experience for those seeking a blend of history, charm, and natural beauty in the heart of the Midwest.

9. Ozark National Scenic Riverways Park

  • Distance from St. Louis: 145 miles
  • Driving Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes

Ozark National Scenic Riverways Park, located in southeastern Missouri, is a pristine and enchanting natural area that encompasses the spring-fed Current and Jacks Fork Rivers.

Established in 1964, it was the first national park dedicated to protecting a river system. The park is renowned for its crystal-clear rivers, towering bluffs, and diverse ecosystems, creating a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.

Visitors can embark on canoeing or kayaking adventures, navigating the gently flowing rivers while surrounded by the scenic beauty of the Ozark landscape. The park is home to numerous caves, springs, and iconic rock formations, such as the towering Alley Spring and the awe-inspiring Rocky Falls, providing ample opportunities for exploration and photography.

Beyond its natural wonders, Ozark National Scenic Riverways Park holds significant historical and cultural value. The region contains evidence of early human habitation, with remnants of Native American settlements and historic structures dotting the landscape.

The park also preserves remnants of 19th-century homesteads and mills, allowing visitors to glimpse into the area’s past. With its blend of natural beauty and cultural heritage, Ozark National Scenic Riverways Park stands as a testament to the importance of preserving both the environment and the rich history of this unique corner of Missouri.

Go on more road trips around the area with these ideas for day trips from Chicago.

10. Springfield

  • Distance from St. Louis: 98 miles
  • Driving Time: 1.5 hours

Springfield, the capital city of Illinois, holds a prominent place in American history as the hometown of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. The city is a pilgrimage site for history enthusiasts, with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum serving as a comprehensive repository of artifacts and exhibits dedicated to the life and legacy of the Great Emancipator.

Visitors can explore the meticulously preserved Lincoln Home National Historic Site, where Abraham Lincoln lived with his family for 17 years before assuming the presidency. The cityscape is adorned with historic sites, including the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech, and the Lincoln Tomb, a somber memorial to the president and his family.

Beyond its rich historical significance, Springfield offers a blend of cultural attractions and modern amenities. The downtown area features a vibrant arts scene, with galleries, theaters, and live music venues contributing to the city’s cultural tapestry.

Washington Park, a green oasis in the heart of Springfield, provides a serene escape, while the Illinois State Fairgrounds host annual events, attracting visitors from across the state. With its historic attractions, cultural offerings, and warm Midwestern charm, Springfield is one of the best day trips from St. Louis for travelers of all ages.

Springfield Illinois
Springfield, Illinois is full of unique things to see and do.

11. Mark Twain National Forest

  • Distance from St. Louis: 76 miles
  • Driving Time: 1 hour and 25 minutes

Another great idea for a day trip or even a weekend getaway is Mark Twain National Forest which sprawls across the Ozark Plateau in Missouri. Named after the famous American author Mark Twain, who spent his formative years in Missouri, the forest encompasses over 1.5 million acres of rugged terrain, encompassing rolling hills, dense woodlands, and clear-flowing streams.

The forest is a playground for outdoor activities, with numerous trails catering to hikers, backpackers, and equestrians, while its rivers and lakes provide opportunities for fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. Camping is a popular pastime in Mark Twain National Forest, with designated campsites allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the tranquility of the natural surroundings.

In addition to its recreational appeal, the area plays a crucial role in conservation efforts, supporting a rich diversity of plant and animal species. The forest is a mosaic of ecosystems, including oak and pine woodlands, glades, and bottomland hardwoods, providing habitat for deer, turkey, and a variety of bird species.

The forest management practices aim to balance recreation and conservation, ensuring the sustained health of this vital natural resource. Whether seeking solitude in the wilderness, embarking on an outdoor adventure, or simply appreciating the beauty of unspoiled landscapes, Mark Twain National Forest stands as a cherished destination for those looking to connect with nature in the heart of the Midwest.

Read next: Best Things To Do In Little Rock, Arkansas

12. Meramac Caverns

  • Distance from St. Louis: 65 miles
  • Driving Time: 1 hour

One of the coolest St. Louis day trips is Meramec Caverns, a subterranean wonderland that captivates visitors with its stunning geological formations and rich history. Discovered in the late 19th century, the caverns have evolved into one of the most popular show caves in the United States, attracting tourists and spelunking enthusiasts alike.

Guided tours take visitors on a mesmerizing journey through a labyrinth of stalactites, stalagmites, and intricate calcite formations, illuminated to showcase the cavern’s natural beauty.

The caverns are home to unique features such as the Wine Table, a massive formation resembling an oversized table, and the Stage Curtain, an impressive drapery-like structure created by millennia of mineral-rich water percolating through the rock.

Beyond its geological wonders, Meramec Caverns is steeped in history, with its vast chambers having served various purposes over the years. During the Civil War, the caverns were utilized as a hiding place for Confederate soldiers, and later, the site became a venue for square dances in the early 20th century.

The caverns’ association with the notorious outlaw Jesse James adds an extra layer of intrigue, as legend has it that he and his gang sought refuge within the caverns’ depths. Today, Meramec Caverns continues to offer an educational and awe-inspiring underground experience, inviting visitors to delve into the mysteries of the Earth’s subterranean wonders.

13. Kansas City

  • Distance from St. Louis: 248 miles
  • Driving Time: 3 hours and 45 minutes

Though it’s a bit of a long drive, Kansas City is still doable as a day trip from St. Louis. You can turn it into a fun road trip!

Kansas City, straddling the border of Missouri and Kansas, is a vibrant metropolis that effortlessly combines Midwestern charm with a rich cultural scene. Renowned for its distinctive barbecue cuisine, the city offers a delectable array of smoked meats served in a variety of settings, from unassuming roadside joints to upscale restaurants.

The historic 18th and Vine District stands as a cultural hub, celebrating the city’s jazz heritage with the American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. The city’s iconic Union Station, a beautifully restored architectural gem, hosts museums, theaters, and restaurants, while the Country Club Plaza, with its Spanish-inspired architecture and upscale shops, provides a unique shopping and dining experience.

Beyond its culinary and cultural offerings, Kansas City boasts a thriving arts scene, evident in its numerous galleries, theaters, and music venues. The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, a striking architectural masterpiece, hosts a range of performances, from classical concerts to Broadway shows.

The city’s sports culture is robust, with passionate fan bases supporting the Kansas City Chiefs in football and the Kansas City Royals in baseball. Kansas City beckons visitors to experience a city that seamlessly blends tradition and innovation in the heart of the Midwest. A road trip over here from St. Louis is a great way to broaden your experiences in Missouri!

Check out our guide to the best road trips from Kansas City!

Union Station
Inside Union Station, a famous landmark in Kansas City.

14. Finger Lakes State Park

  • Distance from St. Louis: 132 miles
  • Driving Time: 2 hours

Originally a site for strip mining, Finger Lakes State Park has undergone extensive reclamation efforts, transforming it into a multi-use recreational area. The centerpiece of the park is a series of four former mining pits now known as the Finger Lakes, offering opportunities for swimming, fishing, and non-motorized boating.

The park’s extensive trail system attracts off-road enthusiasts, providing miles of terrain for motorcycles, ATVs, and other off-road vehicles. The challenging trails wind through forests, open fields, and along the lake shores, offering riders a thrilling and scenic experience.

Beyond its off-road attractions, the park also caters to traditional outdoor activities. Picnic areas and campgrounds provide spaces for family gatherings and overnight stays, allowing visitors to fully immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the region.

The park’s diverse ecosystems support a variety of wildlife, making it an ideal destination for birdwatching and nature observation. With its mix of recreational opportunities, natural beauty, and ongoing conservation efforts, Finger Lakes State Park stands as a dynamic destination for outdoor enthusiasts seeking adventure and relaxation in the heart of Missouri.

DISCLAIMER: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means if you book accommodation, tours or buy a product, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help us keep creating more free travel content to help people plan their holidays and adventures. We only recommend the best accommodations, tours and products that ourselves or our fantastic editorial team have personally experienced, and regularly review these. Thanks for your support, kind friend!

About the Author - Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award-winning writers and professional photographers behind this blog. We have been travelling the world together since 2008, with a passion for adventure travel and sustainable tourism. Through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. As one of the world's leading travel journalists, our content and adventures have been featured by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, CNN, BBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Washington Post, Yahoo!, BuzzFeed, Channel 7, Channel 10, ABC, The Guardian, and plenty other publications. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

Leave a comment