We searched every corner of Missouri for hidden gems and thanks to our Missouri Life Ambassadors, we found one in each county: 114 of them! Here we explore places in northwest Missouri that you’ll want to put on your summertime travel itinerary.

By Danielle Bopp Breshears, Pam Clifton, Glory Fagan, and Sandy Selby


From horses to horsepower, the Andrew County Museum preserves the cultural and agricultural heritage of Northwest Missouri through artifacts, tools, equipment, and education. Known for an annual spring vintage farm equipment show and tractor parade in Savannah, the Andrew County Museum event includes a pedal tractor pull and toy tractor exhibit. The museum sponsors fun, community-engaging exhibits and seasonal activities throughout the year, provides scavenger hunts, kids camps, and field trip opportunities for groups, and hosts an occasional cold case “Who Done It?” Unsolved True Crime event. AndrewCountyMuseum.org


If you want to get away from the bright lights and the big cities where franchise restaurants offer identical fare, travel to KJ’s Cafe in Westboro. Each week, the cafe posts its daily homemade specials on its Facebook page. The Atchison County eatery offers home-cooked lunches such as beef and noodles, hot roast beef, pork chops, hand-breaded tenderloins, and taco salad. The chocolate layered dessert and cinnamon rolls are legendary. If you reach the Iowa state line you’ve gone too far. Facebook.com/kjscafe00


Housed in the former “State Lunatic Asylum #2” which opened in St. Joseph in 1874, the Glore Psychiatric Museum is the subject of numerous television documentaries and listed among the top 100 places to visit before you die and the top 20 most unique museums in the United States. On your eerily educational visit to this Buchanan County landmark, you will enter one of the surgery suites where lobotomies were performed, check out the original morgue and autopsy room, and experience the history of mental health treatment. StJosephMuseum.org/glore-psychiatric-museum


The Missouri Quilt Museum in Hamilton, which is housed in the 100-year old Hamilton Schoolhouse, features nearly 30,000 square feet of indoor space. Taking up an entire city block, the museum is the largest, most interactive quilt museum in the United States. Exhibits of antique sewing machines, vintage buttons, antique toy sewing machines, thimbles, and sewing memorabilia such as the world’s largest spool of thread (22 feet tall!) are in the collection. Visitors of all ages will find activities and may even bring their own thread to add to the spool. MissouriQuiltMuseum.com


Nine flagship craft beers, live acoustic music, and house-made pizza are the hallmarks of River Bottoms Brewing Company. Bringing life back to the Carrollton square was the aim of the business, and it hit a bull’s-eye. Sample a sensible Supreme or be adventurous and try a Peanut Butter and Jalapeno Jelly with Bacon pizza with a pint of Pre-Prohibition Pilsner. Cleverly named house specialties include such delicacies as Curds and Turds—locally sourced snack sticks and cheese appetizers. The kitchen also offers gluten- and dairy-free menu items. Great beer, delicious pizza and calzones, super service, and a welcoming atmosphere in a lively environment keep regulars returning to Carrollton for an encore. RiverBottomsBrewing.com


“Making sweet memories one visitor at a time” is the motto of YaYa’s Alpaca Farm, a Cass County agribusiness passion project near Garden City. In fact, Mr. and Mrs. YaYa, as the owners are known, call their fleecy friends “our kids.” Whether you are interested in meeting these gentle creatures, trying your hand at fiber arts, or purchasing one of many alpaca felt products, YaYa’s has something to offer. They even take reservations for private tours, birthday parties, and weddings. YaYa’s is everyone’s family-friendly happy place—woolly animals and visitors alike. YaYasAlpacaFarm.com


Providing a unique dining experience to the Chariton County area since 2020 is 1820, The Family Restaurant, a classic country-meets-gourmet eatery worth the drive. This restaurant at 414 West Bridge Street in Keytesville is open each Friday and Saturday evening by reservation only and provides guests with a Chariton-county-themed dining experience right in the heart of the downtown district. It is named 1820 because that is the year Chariton County was founded. Owners Nathan and Michelle Asbury offer diners a choice of one of two different price-point entrees such as Missouri Beef prime rib, filet mignon, pork chop, or tuna steaks to go along with unlimited family-style sides, rolls, and desserts. The restaurant even sells its own “everything” sauce called 1820 Sauce 1820theFR.com


Thirty years ago, three Kansas City partners began looking in Clay County for an underground space to play paintball. After visiting a number of limestone mines, one of the partners ran an ad in The Kansas City Star looking for cave space. Jaegers Subsurface Paintball evolved out of this quest for the perfect underground venue. After hundreds of hours of physical work and the unique challenge of explaining paintball to insurance companies and government officials, the owners opened the doors in 1994. The novelty of the cave setting attracts hundreds of playing customers. Safety, customer service, and solid business practices are priorities for the Jaegers team as they welcome newcomers and regulars to the first and only underground paintball field in the world. It’s an adrenaline-fueled activity for team-building and friendly competition. Jaegers.com


At Shatto Milk Company, nothing gets in the way of producing the freshest, most natural dairy products around. No hormones. No factory farms. Just pure, honest milk from udder to store in under 24 hours. No bull. OK, a few bulls. Shatto is a Clinton County family dairy farm outside Osborn. It is open to the public for tours Tuesdays through Saturdays by appointment. Visitors are welcome to stop by the farm store Mondays through Saturdays to enjoy an old-fashioned milk bar and take home a quart in a distinctive glass bottle. Sample ice cream and cheese made on-site from the distinctive black-and-white Holsteins grazing right outside the milking parlor windows. ShattoMilk.com


Until about 1975, scofflaws in Gallatin would have been incarcerated in one of eight virtually escape-proof, wedge-shaped cells in a rotating squirrel cage jail. Each double-bunk, pie-shaped cell at the Daviess County Squirrel Cage Jail was accessible only one at a time via a single stationary door. Daviess County is home to one of only three remaining rotary prison facilities in the nation. Guided tours of this octagonal brick brig are available. Facebook.com/daviesscountysquirrelcagejail


Located south of Maysville at the Hamby Dairy Supply, Happy Rock Garden Railroad features outdoor G-scale trains with bridges and tunnels, a 125-foot stream with waterfalls, and period buildings. Step back a century watching the largest scale model train run a route that passes a model of a circa 1920s Maysville Rock Island depot and sidings, farm scenes, and a coal mine and chute. American and German steam and diesel locomotives pull coal cars, streamline passenger cars, and grain hoppers. Although some features are a work in progress, the goal of this attraction is to have fun sharing Rock Island rail history with an emphasis on Rock Island in DeKalb County. Admission is free; the train schedule is weather-dependent. Facebook.com/happyrockgardenRR


Meet old friends or make new ones at Albany’s Rhythm N Roots Festival. Like many small-town Chambers of Commerce, Albany’s sponsors events throughout the year to build and preserve a sense of community. One of these events is Rhythm N Roots, an annual Independence Day weekend music festival featuring live music, family entertainment, and serving local fare. Townsfolk and visitors alike meet around the historic Gentry County Courthouse to listen to featured bands on the main stage (including, in 2023, Eastern Heights, The Girls Next Door KC, and Hired Gun) and participate in activities ranging from a carnival to corn hole and golf tournaments put on by local sponsors. This year’s event takes place on July 1. AlbanyMo.municipalone.com

GRUNDY COUNTY Crowder State Park near Trenton is a commemorative park dedicated to the memory of Major General Enoch Herbert Crowder, an ambassador to Cuba during Woodrow Wilson’s administration and Grundy County’s native son. This 1,912-acre park offers camping, picnicking, watercraft rentals, and multiuse trails amid rolling green hills and deep ravines. Crowder is home to the oldest residence in the county, The Thompson House. The park offers a quiet study spot for area college students and hosts a few youth camps throughout the year. In any weather, Crowder State Park is a welcoming spot for anyone seeking a peaceful getaway, whether it’s for an hour or a day. MoStateParks.com


Walk along carefully plotted pollinator paths at Dunn Ranch Prairie, a fully functioning tallgrass prairie in Hatfield. Remarkably, almost 1,000 acres have never been plowed, and the topsoil where more than 300 species of native plants grow is more than 40 inches deep. To return and sustain the prairie to its original splendor, Nature Conservancy staff removed hundreds of trees, established a seed collection program and processing facility, and protected surrounding acres through direct purchase and conservation easements. Today, visitors to this native tallgrass prairie can catch sight of bison grazing, prairie-chickens dancing, bobolinks singing, and indigo buntings winging, just as they might have done hundreds of years ago. Nature.org/dunnranchprairie


Bring your camera and binoculars when you unwind along the 10-mile auto tour of Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge near Mound City. The Holt County refuge was established as a resting and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. Encompassing 7,440 acres along the eastern edge of the Missouri River floodplain and including wetlands, grasslands, forests, and loess bluffs habitats, the refuge supports up to two million ducks during fall and winter seasons and upward of a million snow geese. Loess bluffs are a geological feature made up of fine silt left behind after the last glacial period. The refuge is home to 41 known mammal species and 37 reptile species. More than 310 species of resident and migratory birds use the refuge throughout the year. From bald eagles soaring overhead to state endangered massasauga rattlesnakes slithering on the ground, Loess Bluffs offers refuge for nature, and nature for mankind. Stop in at the visitor center and stretch your legs on a hike through the loess hills. The refuge is open every day from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. FWS.gov/refuge/loess-bluffs


Across from the Fayette City Park and public pool sits the eye-catching Morrison Observatory. The Central Methodist University-owned viewing dome houses a classic Clark Telescope, initially built in Glasgow by C. W. Pritchett and moved to its current, charming location in 1936. The 12 1/4-inch refracting telescope features a long body and powerful lens and is open to the public for viewing sessions, tours, and educational sessions by university professors and speakers. CentralMethodist.edu


Kansas City’s new watering hole may well have the oldest, most storied past. Located in the historic Muehlebach Hotel, Voo Lounge—a nod to The Rendezvous, one of this landmark bar’s former names—reopened as a Marriott cocktail lounge and piano bar in February after a 40-year hiatus. Established in 1915, the Baltimore Avenue bar once counted lawmakers and literati the likes of Harry S. Truman and Truman Capote as frequent guests, the former inspiring its one-time name—The Haberdashery—and the lattter reputed to have written parts of In Cold Blood at one of its tables during a previous incarnation. Enjoy a gin cocktail, such as the signature Rendezvous, in this Prohibition-era themed piano bar. Facebook.com/vookansascity


“Always straight from our farm to your table” is the mantra of Slusher Farms near Lexington. “Fresh” comes before every product they sell, from eggs and produce to raw goat milk and honey. This small, family-owned farm, whose livestock includes chickens, goats, and bees, is dedicated to being responsible stewards of the land and providing customers with 98-percent natural food products while establishing authentic relationships with their friends, their Lafayette County neighbors, and loyal customers. Be sure to ask about Goat-a-Grams! Facebook.com/slusher.farms


Coming into its 47th season, the Great Pershing Balloon Derby is a highly anticipated annual event happening each Labor Day weekend in Brookfield. The event is the longest-running, continuously sanctioned balloon event in the nation, holding Balloon Federation of America Sanctioning. The Linn County special event began in 1977 with 40 balloons to raise funds for the Pershing Museum, and today it has grown into a festival-like atmosphere with competitions, vendors, parades, and more. PershingBalloonDerby.com


If you are passing through Chillicothe, famed for being the “Home of Sliced Bread,” be sure to check out the Grand River Historical Museum. This “hidden gem” is so-called because this treasure trove of historical artifacts is tucked away off the beaten path. The largely volunteer staff are always updating and cultivating new exhibits, such as examples of an early 20th-century house and businesses, including a soda fountain. The museum recently purchased and relocated a local Bethel AME Church. The restored church serves as a Black history museum and traditional arts center. ChillicotheMuseum.com


In a county where land is primarily occupied with agriculture, the Chloe Lowry Marsh, near Princeton, is an undisturbed habitat for marsh-loving creatures like frogs and birds. The old railroad right-of-way on the west side of the 115-acre site provides a trail for those looking for a true back-to-nature experience. Tom Nagel, a retired botanist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, points out one of his favorite features: “There’s a degraded prairie to the south of the marsh. In the fall, hundreds if not thousands of closed gentian bloom there.” The blooms of the closed gentian never open, but that doesn’t stop bees, who wriggle their way into the blooms to collect pollen. MDC.mo.gov


A new gem has been discovered in Nodaway County. Make It Maryville, a nonprofit made up of local small business owners and volunteers, planned and began The Northwest Missouri Moon Festival in 2022. Many Make it Maryville board members have a background in entertainment on different levels, and so the festival was a natural extension. “John Marriott, the father of one of our board members, was a singer in the ’80s and recorded in Nashville,” says Holly Kay Cronk, Missouri Life’s ambassador for Nodaway County. “He wrote a song called Missouri Moon and that is how we got our name. This song is now our festival anthem. The summer of 2023 will be our second year and we are pulling out the stops to bring some great entertainment to the stage.” The festival is held outside with inflatables for the kids and a beer garden for adults. No one will go hungry or thirsty because there will be food trucks, a local winery, a brewery, and a whiskey maker at the festival. Facebook.com/northwestmissourimoonfestival


Catch a glimpse inside the milking parlor and view the cheese kitchen at Green Dirt Farm, a sheep dairy farm and creamery outside Weston. The company’s cafe in Weston, Green Dirt Farm Creamery, serves sandwiches and cheese boards featuring the cheeses made on the farm. The cafe also showcases other local small-batch food producers, including Betty Rae’s ice cream. Book a guided tour of the dairy farm and cheese kitchen, and stay for lunch or dinner! GreenDirtFarm.com


An unexpectedly pleasant surprise awaits visitors to Unionville: the Bixler 108, a popular local performance and event venue located in a historic, recently restored storefront in the Unionville Square. The Bixler 108 Listening Room features live music nearly every weekend with a busy schedule of local, regional, and national touring artists. In 2023, guest artists include Goldpine (Nashville), Kray Van Kirk (California), Avery Grouws Band (Iowa), Kerry Grombacher (New Orleans), Alice Wallace (Nashville), Chad Elliott and Kathryn Fox (Iowa) and Sophia Talvik (Sweden). Nearby dining options include the Square View Diner, Shannon B’s, and the occasional food truck, all offering up tasty fare. Facebook.com /thebixler108


One of the last things you might expect to run across on a rural blacktop in Ray County, near Camden, is an intimate, elegant bistro. You have arrived at Elements destination restaurant. This food-lovers haven is open by reservation on Friday and Saturday evenings for a dining experience prepared by owners who have more than 75 years of hospitality experience between them. Elements features continental cuisine, offering seafood, steak, and handcrafted seasonal dishes in a serene setting. ElementsDining.com


Come in for a landing at Marshall’s impressive Nicholas-Beazley Aviation Museum. Enjoy a high-flying history lesson about namesake duo, Nicholas and Beazley, as they ventured from aviation parts collectors to personal plane engineers. Some of the parts they manufactured even ended up on Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis. Explore the museum’s interactive exhibits and memorabilia. See models such as the NB3 New Day airplane and TG-6 Glider on a self-paced stroll or call ahead to schedule a guided tour. NicholasBeazley.org


Guests to the Union Ridge Conservation Area near Green Castle can enjoy birdwatching, hunting, fishing, and camping among forests, grasslands, open fields, savannahs, and prairies. Missouri wildflower lovers would be wise to visit during the summer to see the Spring Creek Ranch Natural Area, the 1,700-acre swath of land set aside for restoring prairie and savannah communities in the area, featuring big and little bluestem, purple coneflower, prairie clover, and leadplant. MDC.mo.gov


The posted population of Allendale might say 53, but on any given Independence Day, the population swells to easily 10 times that. Since the early 1960s, generations of men in this small hamlet have risen well before dawn on the Fourth of July to cook a freewill-donation breakfast. What started as a community gathering hosted by area men proudly serving “whole hog sausage” from a donated pig has grown to a full-course breakfast that includes eggs, pancakes, and toast washed down with 700 cups of coffee and gallons of orange juice. Proceeds from the annual event profit the entire town. Along with Allendale Community Betterment, the event has helped provide sidewalks, plant trees, put a roof on the community building, contribute playground equipment, and furnish picnic tables to the city park. Facebook.com/allendale4thofjuly

Discover Southeast Missouri’s Hidden Gems • Missouri Life Magazine

Article originally published in the May 2023 issue of Missouri Life.