Missouri has many claims to fame: the key to the West, the last stop ‘til the Frontier, and the Gateway to America. Located in the direct center of the U.S., a beating heart in this vast country, the state has seen changes throughout the centuries from the very front row.
Although acquired by the U.S. as a part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, it’s believed that humans have inhabited what is modern-day Missouri for more than 12,000 years. European settlers would arrive in the 18th century and find Osage and Missouria nations of Indigenous Tribes still thriving in the region.
Admitted into the Union as a slave state in 1820 as a part of the fabled Missouri Compromise, this would be just the beginning of its prominence on the national stage. Indeed, the westward expansion in the late 19th and 20th centuries would run right through it as the Pony Express, Oregon Trail, Santa Fe Trail, and California Trail began there.
Simultaneously midwestern but sharing certain values with the American South, Missouri is a unique cross-section of culture and people.
Owing to its relatively large land mass, it’s as diverse topographically as it is culturally.
Thankfully, some of the Show Me State’s more interesting and inviting attractions are preserved in its state park system. Below are some can’t-miss spots when visiting the “Mother of the West”:
Route 66 State Park: This site memorializes one of the most famous highways in living memory: the famed Route 66. Before the advent of the interstate system that zooms its way across the American map, smaller highways like Route 66 exposed Americans of all stripes to small towns, far-flung locales, and local oddities from St. Louis to Phoenix. Stop in at this state park to get a glimpse of what traveling the grand old highway was like decades ago. Take a stroll around the grounds, bring a picnic lunch, and do a little bird watching. There is something for everyone!
Graham Cave State Park: As the locals say, a walk through this park “is a walk through ancient history,” and they couldn’t be more right! Some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, Native people inhabited this natural oddity near present-day Danville, MO. To stroll through the cave or surrounding park is to walk in the literal footsteps of those who thrived here during the Dalton and Archaic periods. The artifacts found here over the decades have given anthropologists, archeologists, and the curious at heart ample insight into what life could have been like all those millennia ago. Peruse the local exhibits for more information on this unique history, or simply toss on a sturdy pair of boots and set off for some of the best hiking the state offers.
Big Sugar Creek State Park: This site offers a glimpse into a Missouri almost gone! Containing some of the most rugged landscapes, Big Sugar Creek preserves rare flora and fauna that are all but extinct in other parts of the Show Me State. For this reason, it’s a hallowed place full of solitude and quiet reflection under its stunning canopy of forests and rocks. The opportunity to hike the secluded and quiet trails and catch a glimpse of the rare wildlife and plant life of the region draws thousands of visitors a year. This park should rank near the top of the list for those looking for some outdoor fun in southwestern Missouri.