These 14 affordable, family-friendly Missouri destinations will thrill both children and adults. We’ve got fun stops for families who love the outdoors, and for those who’d rather spend summer days out of the heat. Start planning your route!

Spring break is nearly upon us, and summer is just a few calendar flips away. Maybe you’re already pondering a family vacation where there are no meltdowns, everyone is smiling in the photos, and the whole family makes lifetime memories. Fortunately, happy smiles and memorable experiences are close to home here in Missouri. You don’t need to leave the state to find vacation destinations that are equally entertaining for kids and adults, yet won’t deplete the vacation budget.

To compile our list of budget-friendly, kid-approved travel destinations, our parameters were fairly simple. We wanted to share ideas where children could discover and wonder about people, places, and things at spots with either free admission or nominal entrance fees. Some locations will be familiar, while others may be new to you. The Show-Me State has too many fantastic spots for one list. Use our suggestions as a starting point, and here’s hoping you get at least one great photo where everyone’s looking at the camera.

Photo courtesy St. Louis Zoo.

Saint Louis Zoo

One of the few free zoos in the country, it’s no wonder the Saint Louis Zoo is the most-visited attraction in the region. The Saint Louis Zoo traces its origins to the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, when the city purchased the fair’s Flight Cage for $3,500. You can still see the cage, the 1920s Primate House and the Charles H. Hoessle Herpetarium in Historic Hill. Other zones include Red Rocks (for the big cats, zebras, and giraffes), Lakeside Crossing (sea lions and stingrays), River’s Edge (rhinos, hippos, elephants, and sun bears), The Wild (grizzly bears, polar bears, chimps, gorillas, orangutans), Penguin and Puffin Coast, and Discovery Corner for butterflies and insects. In all, the Saint Louis Zoo is home to more than 14,000 animals and is recognized internationally for innovative approaches to animal management, wildlife conservation, research, and education.

Free admission (parking is $15 in zoo lots), 1 Government Drive, St. Louis,

Elephant Rocks State Park

Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism.

Standing even larger than their namesake pachyderms, the billion- year-old granite boulders look like a train of pinkish-red circus elephants. Kids can climb on and between the boulders. The Braille Trail, which winds through the main area of rocks, was the first trail in a Missouri state park designed specifically for visitors with visual and physical challenges. A spur brings visitors to a point overlooking an old quarry site where Missouri red granite (Missouri Red) was quarried from the 1860s through the early 1900s. Another spur leads to the ruins of an old engine house, originally built to service trains shipping Missouri Red throughout the country. But it’s the giant granite boulders, where 19th-century miners carved their names and comments, that star at Elephant Rocks State Park.

Free admission. 7406 Highway 21, Belleview,


Springfield Cardinals

Photo courtesy Springfield Cardinals.

With a general admission ticket to Hammons Field, you can be close to the action as future big leaguers crack a bat (and you can crack a cold one). This is how baseball should be. A minor league team, the Springfield Cardinals are the AA affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. More than 100 Springfield Cardinals have gone on to play in “The Show,” either with the St. Louis Cardinals or other MLB clubs. You might even see a current St. Louis Cardinal playing at Hammons Field on a rehab assignment. Home runs aside, infield antics by red bird mascot Louie (“little brother” to the St. Louis Cardinals’ Fredbird), and special promotions add to the fun.

General admission is about $10 per ticket. Check the website for special promotions. 955 E. Trafficway St., Springfield,


Warm Springs Ranch

Photo courtesy CL Creative Studios

The official breeding facility of the Budweiser Clydesdales, Warm Springs Ranch near Boonville is home to more than 70 of the gentle giants long associated with the iconic brewery. Guided walking tours through the immaculate grounds include explanations of the horses’ care and training, a close-up look at their equipment, and of course, opportunities for interactions with the Clydesdales. The 300-acre complex features a veterinary lab, pastures, and a large breeding and foaling barn.

Guided tours: $15 ages 2 and up. 25270 Highway 98, Boonville,



Bass Pro Shops

Photo courtesy Bass Pro Shops

A massive, outdoor-themed experience awaits at the original Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World location in Springfield. Learn from the pros during free fish-feeding shows and educational seminars.

The National Archery Hall of Fame showcases more than 1,500 artifacts, including a handmade bow crafted by Geronimo, a prominent leader of the Apache people.

Admission is free to the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World and the archery museum. 1 Bass Pro Drive, Springfield,



The Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium features more than 35,000 live fish, reptiles, mammals, and birds.

Admission if purchased in advance: $35 adults, $21 children 4–11, free for 3 and under (same-day tickets are generally higher). 500 W. Sunshine St., Springfield,


Mark Twain’s Hannibal

Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

Mark Twain’s hometown is as much a character in Twain’s classic books as Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher, and Huck Finn. One ticket purchased at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum grants admission to all these attractions: Becky’s house, Twain’s boyhood home where he lived, played, and had adventures he later used as inspiration for his writings, and other buildings including an interpretative center with interactive exhibits.

Admission: $12 adults, $6 children 6–17, free for 5 and under. 120 N. Main, Hannibal,

Walk through the same cave passages that inspired The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in an hour-long guided tour of Mark Twain Cave. Explore the natural beauty of Cameron Cave in a guided flashlight tour, both at the Mark Twain Cave Complex.

Mark Twain Cave Admission: $24.99 adults, $14.99 children 4–12. Cameron Cave Admission: $26.99 adults, $16.99 children 4–12. 300 Cave Hollow Road, Hannibal,

You can cruise the Mighty Mississippi on the Mark Twain Riverboat, a replica of a 19th-century steamboat. During this relaxing one-hour sightseeing cruise, the captain shares information about the history and legends of the area. Pay a bit more and dine on board during a dinner cruise or Sunday lunch cruise.

Admission for sightseeing cruise: $23 adults, $13 children 5–12. Center Street Landing (100 Center St.), Hannibal,



Photo courtesy Hallmark

An art-making space for kids ages 14 and younger and their adults, Kaleidoscope is sponsored by greeting card behemoth Hallmark. Using Hallmark paper, stickers, ribbon, and other materials from the manufacturing process, along with Crayola markers, paint, and crayons, and their own imaginations, kids can create a variety of projects in a free, 50-minute session. A Kansas City institution since the 1970s, Kaleidoscope is the inspiration of Don Hall, son of Hallmark founder J. C. Hall. Don watched his children joyfully create projects using Hallmark’s leftover manufacturing materials and wanted to share that with others, envisioning a place where families could explore and create together.

Admission is free, but space is limited so reservations are strongly encouraged. 2500 Grand Blvd., Kansas City,


Photo courtesy City Museum

City Museum in St. Louis

A weirdly wonderful experience unlike anything else, City Museum is four floors filled with miles of tunnels, a full cave system, 30 slides (including one that sends kids coasting down 10 stories), a circus, an arts area, and a large outdoor climbing space. And yes, that’s a real school bus hanging off the edge of the roof, which also holds a Ferris wheel.

This St. Louis delight, with exhibits largely comprised of repurposed architectural and industrial objects, has been named to USA Today’s list of “10 Best Children’s Museums.” Whether you’re young or young at heart, wear pants and slide into this funhouse of art, architecture, and whimsy.

Admission: $20 per person. 750 N. 16th Street, St. Louis,


Mingo National Wildlife Refuge

Photo courtesy Debbie Koenigs/USFWS

In 1944, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service purchased more than 21,000 acres of swamp and established the Mingo National Wildlife Refuge. At the time, the condition of the land and its living resources was deplorable, as humans had reduced a beautiful swamp, lush with plants and alive with animals, into a burned and eroded wasteland in less than 50 years. Today, most of the natural plants and animals have been restored. Deer, wild turkey, bobcat, and beaver are once again plentiful, and the refuge now fulfills its primary purpose of providing food and shelter for migratory birds.

This part of southeast Missouri was once a sprawling 2 million acres of bottomland hardwood forests with species of gum, oak, and bald cypress trees. The largest remaining tract of this forest is here, where a visit to Mingo can include hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing (check out fishing gear at the visitor’s center). Observe wildlife along three auto tour roads or by walking along the mile-long boardwalk. Mingo is recognized as an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society, as the refuge supports bird species and habitats that are of conservation priority. For example, bald eagles have successfully nested on the refuge for nearly 40 years.

Check out binoculars and activity backpacks for kids at the visitor’s center. Admission: $3 per vehicle for daily permit. 24279 State Highway 51, Puxico,


Bonne Terre Mine

Photo courtesy Bonne Terre Mine

An abandoned lead mine underneath the town of Bonne Terre is now a Missouri marvel. From its origins in 1864, the mine became the world’s largest producer of lead ore before closing in 1962. After the miners left, the mine gradually filled with water to form a one-billion-gallon, 17-mile-long lake. It is now illuminated with more than 500,000 watts of stadium lighting below the water’s surface. Certified divers can tour through the mine’s dive trails with specially trained dive guides in the world’s largest fresh-water dive resort. For those who would rather stay dry, combination boat and walking tours are narrated by guides who show you where miners dug with picks and axes in the 1860s, and the guides share insights into Missouri’s Lead Belt. Summertime bonus: The air temperature in the mine is a constant 65 degrees year-round, the perfect anecdote for heat and humidity.

Admission: $28 adults, $21 children under 11. 185 Park Ave., Bonne Terre,


Table Rock Lake

Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

With more miles of shoreline than the coast of California, Table Rock Lake, southwest of Branson, offers every kind of water sports, from boating, swimming, skiing, tubing, wake surfing, and even scuba diving, to world-class fishing for all ages and levels. Table Rock Lake is annually listed as one of the Top 100 Bass Lakes in the country. Moonshine Beach, the lake’s only sand swimming beach, is located near Table Rock Dam and offers showers, public restrooms, a playground, and a boat launch. The lake has 14 public marinas and most offer boat, paddleboard, and jet ski rentals. With more than 43,000 acres of water and multiple coves, there’s room for everyone’s water fun. Table Rock State Park features hiking and biking trails, picnicking sites, and campgrounds in addition to water access and rentals.

Free admission to the state park. Camping rates start at $15. 5272 State Highway 165, Branson,


Pony Express National Museum

Photo courtesy Pony Express National Museum

Interactive exhibits at the Pony Express National Museum help kids learn why young, skinny fellows on fast horses were crisscrossing the plains and mountains of the American West in the early 1860s. Located in the original stables in St. Joseph, the museum documents the 18-month-long venture of providing faster mail service between St. Joseph and Sacramento, California, using solitary mounted riders traveling at great personal risk. An interactive map traces the route. Pumping water from the same well used to water the horses is just one of the hands-on experiences. The Hall of Riders includes authentic objects from riders’ personal collections, stories about trail life, and photographs of riders, including Johnny Fry, the first west-bound rider on April 3, 1860.

Admission: $8 adults, $4 students 7–17, $2 children 4–6, free for 3 and under. 914 Penn St., St. Joseph,


Soccer Capital of America

Photo courtesy Freepik

It’s not a title that’s officially bestowed, but Kansas City can rightfully claim the moniker. Catch the fast-moving action of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and cheer on the Kansas City Current, May through September, at Children’s Mercy Park. In 2024, you can watch the Current play in the first stadium purpose-built for a NWSL team. The facility is under construction at Berkley Riverfront Park.

Sporting Kansas City, a two-time Major League Soccer Cup champion, also plays home matches at Children’s Mercy Park. The crowds of devoted fans who are chanting, singing, and waving flags make attending a match an experience. Home matches frequently sell out.

A KC pro soccer match will help you prep for the excitement of the 2026 FIFA World Cup, with the City of Fountains as a host city for match play.

KC Current ticket prices start at $15. 1 Teal Rising Way, Riverside,; Sporting KC single-game tickets start at $35. 1 Sporting Way, Kansas City,


River Fun

Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

Celebrate the Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR), the first national park area to protect a river system, with a float on the Current River or its tributary, the Jacks Fork. Raft, tube, kayak, or canoe either of these spring-fed, cold, clear rivers. For the kids, borrow free River Exploration Kits, which include nets, field guides, and bug boxes at Round Spring, park headquarters in Van Buren, Alley General Store, or the Alley Campground. Multiple outfitters rent floating craft in Salem, Eminence, and Van Buren.

The irritants and stress of daily life float away on rivers like the Black River, which is crystal-clear in spite of its name. Rent tubes, rafts, kayaks, and canoes in Lesterville to float the Black River; it runs fairly shallow most of the season. Both Huzzah Creek and Courtois Creek rise in Mark Twain National Forest and flow north to the Meramec River. The Huzzah is surrounded by limestone bluffs, while the Courtois (pronounced locally as “Cote-a-way”) flows through dense stands of trees and has abundant fish. Both streams have been voted “Best Local Float Trips” by a St. Louis newspaper, as they are less than 100 miles from St. Louis. Rent gear in Steelville or Leasburg.

Pro tip: Go during the week for a less crowded, more family-friendly experience.

Rentals vary by outfitter but range around $60 for kayak, $50 for canoe, $175 for four-person raft.