Grab the family, pack some snacks for the road, and fill up your gas tank (while it’s still semi-affordable). And leave the map at home because you’re not going far enough to need it!
The Family Attractions Card is sharing the best spots you can enjoy without straying too far from the city (or your budget). Yes, St. Louis may be the Gateway to the West, but there are plenty of attractions worth a road trip to the east, north and south as well! Get out there…it’s a wide and beautiful world!
We tried to limit this to about 300 miles roundtrip while still offering a variety of sight-seeing along the way. While you can use this as a guide, feel free to make your own adventures and share them in the comments section at the end of the article.
For the literature fans out there, head to Hannibal, MO.
Take US-61 all the way up to this rural tourist center. As Mark Twain’s hometown, Hannibal also provides the setting for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and plenty of the historic and tourist sites to visit where Twain drew his inspiration from. If you’re more partial to a good scare rather than a good read, check out the many haunted tours available in town as well.
Rollin’ down the River. After you’re finished in Hannibal, cross the I-72 bridge into Illinois and head down Route 96 to Route 100 and you’ll pass through the sleepy little towns of Rockport, Pleasant Hill, and Hardin. Just a few more miles and you’ll be in Grafton, IL, where you can shop for antiques, sample local wines, get a delicious catfish sandwich and of course, get your splash on at Raging Rivers Waterpark where you’ll get $3 off your admission if you flash your Family Attractions Card.
Grafton is also a great place to explore! You can take the free Brussels Ferry and check out the small town of Brussels (known for some of the best American Bald Eagle watching in the region), take a hike or a horseback ride in Illinois’ largest state park, the beautiful and scenic Pere Marquette State Park, or drive a few more minutes and visit Eckert’s Country Store and Farms in Grafton where fun is always ripe for the picking.
Go West, Young Man
For the adventurous types, just head west to Stanton, MO!
In our opinion, some of the most beautiful driving in Missouri is along the I-44 corridor. With rolling hills, thick forests and distinctive landscapes, this area is dotted with small towns that harbor some of the state’s most unique experiences.
Spelunk! Our first stop is at the little town of Stanton, MO’s crowning jewel, Meramec Caverns. You can experience a guided tour of its underground treasures which were once home to the notorious outlaw, Jesse James. The 90 minute walking tour of the cave system is open year round and shows you some of the most amazing rock formations in the world including Onyx Mountain, Mirror Room, and the Stage Curtain. In the warmer months, you can pan for gold, camp and even take an excursion out onto the crystal blue waters of the Meramec River with their boat tours. Use the Family Attractions Card to receive one free boat ride when you purchase another boat ride at regular price.
Zip through the trees. After your underground exploring is complete, get some ‘above ground’ exploring done by zipping above the trees with a trip on the Caveman Ziplines. This fun and thrilling adventure is just steps away from the entrance to Meramec Caverns and criss-crosses you over the Meramec River at speeds of 50 mph in a high-adrenaline, ninety-minute, extreme adventure. There’s no experience needed, but reservations are required. Here again, the Family Attractions Card can save you a few bucks, so just mention us when you make your reservations to get $10 off your admission.
Looking for a place to set up camp? Try Pin Oak Creek RV Park.
It’s the perfect Missouri camping getaway that’s open year round for whatever type of camping you’re looking for …from RV hookups, single-tent campsites, cabins or even big group facilities that bring you back to nature. And for those with a little competitive streak, you can also check out their newest attraction, paintball! If you’ve never played, now’s your time to learn. It’s open to campers and non-campers alike and spectators are more than welcome to come out and watch. You can even rent equipment there or bring your own! And is this another opportunity to use your Family Attractions Card? You bet! Save $10 on any nightly campsite/cabin rental or take $5 off your second entry for paintball with the purchase of your first at full price.
Get your thrill on! Don’t forget the fun that’s waiting just outside the city in Eureka, MO. No trip down I-44 would be complete without a trip to “Missouri’s Coaster Capital”, Six Flags St. Louis. Just a short drive from downtown, Six Flags has rides and attractions for kids of all ages. For the thrill seekers, there’s classic wooden coasters like American Thunder, Screamin’ Eagle and Boss, and sleek and fast steel rides like Batman the Ride, the Boomerang, and Mister Freeze Reverse Blast. For the little ones there’s kid friendly rides like the Log Flume, the Colossus Ferris wheel, and the train, plus Bugs Bunny National Park, a whole area of the park dedicated to the wee ones. In the warmer months, a trip to their waterpark, Hurricane Harbor, can cool you down as the temps get hot.
Create your own adventure in Illinois’ answer to the Ozarks.
Carlyle Lake is a popular, man-made lake and family-friendly destination just an hour or so outside of St. Louis. Choose from a myriad of activities on your trip including boating, fishing, camping, hiking, golfing and much more. While you’re in the area, make a trip to Breeze, IL for a tour of the Excel Bottling Company, makers of Ski Soda. One of the few ‘mom & pop’ bottlers left in the nation, they still use natural cane sugar and real fruit juices in their sodas.
Hit up a baseball game!
On your way back, see St. Louis’ other professional baseball team, The Gateway Grizzlies as they take on the nation’s top minor league teams at GCS Ballpark in Sauget, IL, just a baseball’s throw from downtown. As members of the West Division of the Frontier League, expect to see young players with pure love of the game up close and personal.
Discover a prehistoric native civilization!
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is a World Heritage Site that is managed by Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and home to some incredible archaeological finds that date back to 700 A.D. Explore the Mounds to see how native Mississippians used to live, work and play in what used to be the largest city in North America. Stop by the Museum Society Gift Shop and use your Family Attractions Card to receive one free iPod tour and save 10% off your total purchase.
Ketchup or Catsup? As long as you’re in Collinsville, you may as well see the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle! Located right along Route 159 on the south end of town, this cleverly disguised water tower is a must see roadside attraction. The Brooks brand catsup bottle (notice it’s CATSUP and not KETCHUP) has been towering over this town since 1949. And if you visit Collinsville in the middle of July, you just might be there for the annual World’s Largest Catsup Bottle Festival that includes car shows, eating contests, and even a catsup tasting!
Want a taste of the 1800s? Sikeston, MO is the place. If you head down I-55 South towards the “Missouri Bootheel”, make a stop in Sikeston. This quaint city of 16,000+ offers an exciting glimpse into Missouri’s rich history and beauty. Acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Sikeston has museums, attractions and even historical houses that date back to just after the Civil War.
Who says you can’t play with your food? If the tummies start grumbling while you’re in Sikeston, making a stop at Lambert’s Café is a must. It’s not just the “Number One Place to Pig Out” as voted by the Food Network but also a great place for the whole family to test out their catching abilities because, amidst the festive atmosphere, you can count on some rolls getting thrown around. Heads up!
Take the long way home and visit a national forest!
Over the river and through the woods to Southern Illinois we go! After Sikeston, cross the Mississippi River and drive a few miles north to visit one of Illinois’ most scenic areas, Ferne Clyffe State Park. Situated near Shawnee National Forest, this beautiful natural attraction offers an abundance of plant life (including its namesake, ferns), easy to hike trails, and unique geological features including a 100’ waterfall that has to be seen to be truly appreciated.
Road Trip Relaxation
Whichever direction you’re heading, it’s a safe bet that there will be a Drury Hotel nearby to rest your head (after all, they do have 40 different locations in Missouri and Illinois). And to help you stick to your budget, you can save $10 when you use your Family Attractions Card to book a night’s stay.