Nestled in the heart of the St. Francois Mountains is Arcadia Valley—an area that America’s 18th president, Ulysses S. Grant, recalled as one of the most beautiful places he’d ever been. Many still agree with that presidential assessment.

Filled with glimpses of bygone days, the region was home to summer resorts in the 19th century and a bustling mining industry. These days, visitors find lively recreational opportunities such as camping, fishing, swimming, kayaking, hiking, biking, horseback riding, or floating the Black River in canoes, rafts, or tubes. Catch the half-century-old tradition of the Missouri Whitewater Championships every spring on the St. Francis River, or enjoy the area’s free Mountain Music Festivals, featuring Americana music, crafters, and food vendors, each May and October.

The valley encompasses the towns of Arcadia, Ironton, and Pilot Knob, with access to gorgeous Ozark Mountains terrain. Missouri’s highest point and tallest waterfall are located nearby in Taum Sauk Mountain State Park.

LODGE at the Plain & Fancy Bed & Breakfast, a post-Victorian 1908 farmhouse in Ironton. Choose from among the inn’s four stylized lodgings for adults: the Amish Room, Rhett’s Suite, the Butterfly Room, or Scarlett’s Hideaway. Unwind around a fireplace and antique mantel, circa 1904. Hot tea and coffee are available 24/7, and breakfast is included with guest stays there.

P&F innkeepers Brenda and Tom Merello lovingly maintain the house, including the original wooden floors. Brenda grows flowers and provides fresh-cut bouquets to greet guests. For trips that include children and pets, consider Arcadia Valley Cabins, located just 2 miles outside of Ironton. Alternative lodging during busy tourism times is available in Pilot Knob at the Fort Davidson Hotel, located across from the battlefield.

DINE at FDC (Fort Davidson Cafe) in Pilot Knob, serving fresh food from original recipes; the kitchen is a microwave-free zone. Owners Chuck and Diane Correll are happy to share local background tidbits and assist shoppers in their lobby store of Missouri-made jewelry, pottery, wine, gourd birdhouses, trinkets, quilts, paintings, plus Fitz’s sodas, Serendipity hand-scooped ice cream, and fresh cookies.

As area residents for the past 18 years, the Corrells purchased and remodeled the cafe in 2016, adding a patio that seats 40 to 50 and live music on select Saturday Night Jams. The head chef is their

Reenactment of The Battle of Pilot Knob in Missouri
Reenactment of The Battle of Pilot Knob. Photo by Bryan Bethel.

son, Darren; he previously trained in San Francisco. Roots run deep here—Diane’s great-great-grandfather built the Iron County Courthouse in Ironton between 1858 and 1861.

Two other local eateries are The Iron Mule and Baylee Jo’s BBQ Seafood & Grill, both in Ironton.

VISIT one or all of the three state parks located within minutes of Arcadia Valley: Elephant Rocks, Johnson’s Shut-Ins, and Taum Sauk Mountain States Park. The Battle of Pilot Knob State historic Site and Museum is also a “must.” Its visitor center contains Civil War artifacts, a film about the area’s history, and an exceptional diorama that reveals strategies and struggles of the Battle of Pilot Knob on September 27, 1864—a pivotal skirmish that ended Confederate hopes of wresting Missouri from Union control. Outside, visitors can walk to the preserved Fort Davidson site. The battle is occasionally reenacted there.