A port city built along the bustling banks of the Mississippi river, St Louis was founded in 1764. It was named for Louis IX of France, as the first European settlers there were French fur traders.
There’s a substantial depth of history in St Louis, both from the early European settlers and the natives who came before, making it a fascinating spot for a trip.
Once you’ve seen the famous Gateway Arch, browsed the city’s many museums, and explored its brilliant botanical garden, it’s time to widen your gaze to the area beyond.
Here are the best day trips to be taken from St Louis:
1. Springfield, Illinois
The state capital of Illinois is easily reachable within the day from St Louis, and is a great option for a change of scene if you still want the city life.
A mere 90-minute drive and you’ll find yourself in a thriving city, whose attractions are centred on the most famous ex-resident: Abraham Lincoln.
The best of these is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library, which has lots of interesting exhibitions and provides a chance to interact with the history of the period.
Aside from Lincoln, there’s more history to be had: Springfield also hosts the pretty Old State Capitol building.
Hannibal is on many St Louis lists because of its main claim to fame: it was the boyhood home of author Mark Twain.
This riverside town provided the inspiration for such classics as Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer – and therefore makes a great educational day trip.
In Hannibal you’ll have the chance to visit the novelist’s childhood home, as well as browsing the extensive museum dedicated to the author and his works.
And why not take a trip down the Mississippi river and relive the adventures of Huck himself?
3. Meramec Caverns
One of the most intriguing natural wonders around St Louis, the Meramec caverns are more than deserving of a mention on the list of best day trips.
Missouri is, after all, known as the cave state – and these caverns are far and away some of the best on offer.
Not only are they a stunning example of nature’s work, they are also the oldest attraction along Route 66, and have some interesting historical claims to fame.
Jesse James was rumoured to have used the caves as a hideout, and before that they are thought to have been used as shelter by Native Americans.
A highlight of the state’s wine country, Hermann is mainly known for its interesting German heritage – evidenced in the very German-sounding wineries like Hermannhof.
It was established in 1837 by – you guessed it – Germans, who had previously come from Philadelphia.
Located along the Missouri River, it’s a lovely place to spend some time enjoying your surroundings with a delicious glass of local wine, or perhaps taking a tour of one of the wineries.
There’s also often live music hosted on the outdoor terraces of the wineries, and if that’s not enough entertainment, you can always browse around the local shops.
5. The Katy trail
This beautiful cycling and walking track stretches for over 200 miles throughout the state, more or less following the path of the Missouri River.
Cycling the trail is a great option if you feel like getting out into nature and leaving the car behind for a while.
It’s a relatively easy ride due to its fairly flat terrain, and if you get tired there are plenty of options for a quick bite to eat along the way, as well as places to shop for souvenirs of your adventure.
The trail can be started from several different points, but Defiance and Augusta are the most likely options from St Louis.
6. Johnson’s Shut-Ins
An intriguing natural attraction in the surrounds of St Louis is Johnson’s Shut-Ins.
A park created by volcanic activity long ago, the river’s flow has created pools, rapids and waterfalls that make for fun exploration.
There are hiking trails alongside, or in the summer you might simply sit around by one of the crystalline swimming spots and take a dip.
There are plenty of picnic spots to make this a great family day out, and there’s an excellent visitors’ centre to make your trip that bit easier.
7. Road Trip Along the Great River Road
Often mentioned on lists of best road trips in the area, the Great River Road is surely one of the most aesthetically pleasing ways to spend your day away from St Louis.
Hugging the western border with Illinois, the road runs alongside the Mississippi River and provides some beautiful views out across the water.
There are also some excellent spots to stop at along the way, such as the town of Alton for some great, cheap eats, or the Pere Marquette State park for a chance to stretch your legs and perhaps spot some birds.
8. Shaw Nature Reserve
Located just 30 minutes outside of the city, nature abounds in Shaw Nature Reserve.
Over fourteen miles of trails you can experience a variety of different landscapes, from meadows to forests, as well as plenty of different fauna.
If walking isn’t your thing you can always take a ride on the Wilderness Wagon instead – or simply pack a picnic and find a nice spot in which to sit.
There are three different picnic areas in the park, plus a lovely outdoor classroom for the kids, with plenty of toys and equipment to keep them entertained.
The home of the main campus of the University of Missouri, Columbia makes for a really fun day trip option.
Its downtown area has all the usual suspects of a student city: great restaurants, buzzing bars, and excellent shopping opportunities.
There are also quite a few good museums available in the town, two good examples of which include the George Caleb Bingham art gallery which hosts contemporary exhibitions, and the Museum of Art and Archaeology which covers a broader range of time periods.
10. Six Flags Theme Park, Eureka
It might not be the most cultural destination outside of St Louis, but sometimes all you need on your trip is a guilt-free day riding the roller coasters.
Six Flags is a chain with branches all over the US, so you’re guaranteed to have a very happy family at the end of a day here.
There are plenty of food options at the park, plus entertainment beyond the rides in the form of staff decked out as characters from Looney Tunes.
If you’re feeling the heat, you can also head into the on-site waterpark – the price of which is included in your ticket – for a fun splash around.
11. Diving in Bonne Terre Mine
The largest freshwater dive site in the USA is located just south of St Louis along Highway 67. French for ‘good earth’, the site used to be a functioning mine before being flooded.
It’s a fascinating underwater adventure, and divers can see the mine just as it was left: ore carts, picks, and locomotives all lying just as they were in 1961 when it was abandoned.
If you don’t dive, it’s still possible to experience the site above water, by taking a narrated tour around the underground rooms of the mines.
A boat ride is another option.
12. Ste. Genevieve
A gorgeous French-colonial town, Ste. Genevieve was actually the first permanent location for European settlers in Missouri.
Its French influence is much in evidence in the architecture around town, which makes wandering round the town more than pleasant.
Named after the patron saint of Paris, Ste. Genevieve has lots of entertaining diversions: you can take a tour of some of the historic houses, or visit a very French winery.
All in all, a trip to Ste. Genevieve feels like you’ve travelled back in time, rather than just an hour south of St Louis.
13. St. Charles
The historic charm of St. Charles, located around half an hour from St Louis, is hard to resist.
Make sure to visit its most important monument, the First State Capitol from 1821, of which you can take a tour.
The Capitol has been restored and decked out in the furnishings of the period, so it makes for a great interactive history lesson.
Then, of course, St. Charles is fully equipped with an excellent selection of restaurants, especially around Main Street, for after you’ve finished taking in the cultural sights.
14. Ozark National Scenic Riverways
Though a fair way from St Louis, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways are nonetheless worth a visit if you’ve exhausted the closer options.
This was the first national park area to protect a river system, and it’s easy to see why it was designated a protected area in 1964. There are two particularly famous rivers – the Jacks Fork River and Current River – which were the initial reason for the creation of the national park, but there are also heaps of other swimming spots, hikes, and historic sites in the area.
What better place to head on a day trip from St Louis than the town known for being the gateway to wine country? Washington sits on the Missouri River’s south bank, and aside from having more wineries nearby than you could possibly handle, it’s got great eating options, shopping, and even a historical society museum.
If you’re visiting in August, the options get even better: the annual Washington Town and Country Fair is a spectacular event for the whole family.