We searched every corner of Missouri for hidden gems—fascinating but sometimes overlooked places that are worth the drive. Where will this southeast Missouri hidden gems road trip, with places suggested by Missouri Life ambassadors, take you?

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


Beautiful Bollinger County has picturesque scenery with rolling hills, lakes, and rivers and plenty of outdoor fun like camping, kayaking, hunting, and fishing. The county formed in 1851 from portions of Stoddard, Wayne, and Cape Girardeau Counties. The county seat and friendly town of Marble Hill is the location of the charming 14-room boutique-style E.C. Reed’s Mercantile & Hotel where guests are welcomed with freshly baked treats and cozy, clean, and well-decorated rooms. A luncheonette with soups, salads, and sandwiches and a 1940s soda fountain with house-made ice cream opened in April. The Mercantile opens in late fall, with local produce, honey, old-fashioned candy, fabrics, and more. There is even an onsite barber. “We love meeting and hosting our guests who become our friends,” say husband-and-wife owners Everett and Christy Reed. “We’re small but big on hospitality and close to so many adventures.” ECReedsMercantile.com


The Rodgers Theatre in Poplar Bluff is a tribute to the bygone era of mid-20th century movie houses. “When the Rodgers opens, my plans and ambitions will fully be realized,” proclaimed I. W. Rodgers, namesake of the art deco cinema, in 1949. Acclaimed as the finest movie theater between St. Louis and Memphis at the time it opened, the Butler County venue was fully air-conditioned and warmed by forced air and radiant heat, new at the time. Originally outfitted with 1,160 red plush seats, the Rodgers still features a brilliantly lit, red-lettered marquee. Ongoing preservation efforts have helped put this motion picture palace on the National Register of Historic Places and made it a destination for 21st-century audiences in a historic downtown setting. RodgersTheatre.org


Pirates, princesses, robbers, wizards, dinosaurs, Santa and Mrs. Claus—passengers never know who they’ll see on the St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway. The traveling history museum, located in Jackson in Cape Girardeau County, is named after the American railway company that delivered iron ore from 1874 to 1917. Passengers ride the short line railroad for about six miles in cars dating back to 1926. The railroad is operated solely by volunteers who create unique themed train excursions and provide plenty of fun-filled adventures. These events include the weekly Saturday 1 PM rides, Iron Mountain James Gang robberies, murder mysteries, and holiday events such as the popular Santa Express, which sells out a year in advance. Before boarding the train, guests visit the Whistle Stop Depot for gifts, snacks, and a Big Caboose ice cream float. The staff help their guests step back in time to relive history and make memories while traveling along the tracks. SLIMRR.com


The population of Van Buren swells from 700 to more than 7,000 every October. The streets on the east side of Business 60 are filled with local merchants and vendors with handmade crafts, food, music, plus a car show and plenty of activities for the Van Buren Fall Festival. The event takes place annually the second weekend in October. Hayride shuttles take people to and from parking areas and events. The first-ever River Jam concert took place on Van Buren’s riverfront as part of the 2022 festivities. Rickie Maples and Donald Black, event organizers, say Van Buren’s festival is unique because it’s set near the scenic Current River and other nearby natural areas that festival-goers can explore.


One cabinet and three items—that’s what the Crawford County Historical Society & Museum started with in 1934. The three-story museum, located in Cuba just off Route 66, now overflows with an abundance of treasures. The most coveted one is the 2,000-year-old vase from the Dickinson Mounds, a Native American settlement site and burial mound. There is a wide variety of historical items to see firsthand, including an 1859 wooden washing machine, one-room schoolhouse objects, 1890s bridal gowns and other vintage clothing, and military items. There is also a special display of Osage artifacts, and a Route 66 area allows visitors to travel back to a nostalgic time. A spacious second-floor genealogy department contains area family histories, school yearbooks dating back to 1923, cemetery books and census records from 1830, and much more. The museum, library, auditorium, and Veterans Memorial are part of the Recklein Commons, formerly the old Cuba School complex. CrawfordMoMuseum.com


The Rally in the 100 Acre Wood is one of rally racings premier events, a reputation that has been building since the event’s founding in 1977. Dozens of the sport’s best drivers descend on Salem in March to test themselves through twists and turns, over bumps and jumps, on roads that are decidedly less traveled. There are plenty of challenges on this 125-mile gravel course that can confound even the most seasoned drivers, but the race may be best known for the cattle guard jump that can send cars flying up to 100 feet through the air. AmericanRallyAssociation.org/100aw


Bootheel Youth Museum in Malden uses every visual and tactile means available to provide programs and projects that foster the thirst for knowledge in children of all ages. Whether it relates to math, science, natural resources, or the arts, BYM, as it’s called, offers displaysn and exhibits for educational enrichment in a 25,000-square-foot Dunklin County facility. Visit the sun and moon or make tracks on the Lewis and Clark Trail. Experience the Shadow Room or the Bubble Room. Discover the fun and games that nearly half a million visitors have enjoyed since the museum opened in 1996. BootheelYouthMuseum.org


Mountain View’s West Side Park at 406 North Pine Street is a go-to spot for peaceful walks, a meditative rest on one of many benches, or a picnic lunch at a covered shelter. It’s also the location for the seasonal farmers’ market on Saturday mornings. But the Howell County park has a unique feature that sets it apart: there are 15 trees that came from famous and historic trees. Each tree planted by the local garden club and city parks board along the winding walking trail has a signboard beside it to explain its origin. From the Mount Vernon Red Maple which descended from the same tree grown on George Washington’s Mount Vernon farm, to the Moon Sycamore that came from seeds that orbited the moon on Apollo 14’s 1971 mission, each tree has an unusual story. Parks and City Operations Manager Eddie Owens says, “Each of those trees were planted with a purpose.”


Shepherd Mountain Bike Park features some of the steepest, most technical, and challenging riding between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Located in the rolling hills of the Arcadia Valley at Ironton, the park has five trails with natural features, climbs, jumps, and banks for various skill levels, and five “raw” trails designed for the Big Mountain Enduro, which the park hosted in 2021 and 2022. The park also welcomes hikers and sightseers. It is open seven days a week and operates shuttles Fridays through Sundays for all. Shuttle passes must be purchased in advance and retrieved in-person at The Wheel House. The park’s Phase 2 is currently underway and will add a four-mile multiuse loop and more downhill trails. ShepherdMountainMo.com


“How are you today? How may I help you?” Owner Ron Foster and staff greet customers with welcoming  and friendly smiles at Madison County’s Scherrer Grocery. The country store, open for 42 years, is south of Fredericktown on US Highway 67, and about 10 miles past Cherokee Pass. This family-favorite spot serves made-to-order sandwiches piled high with fresh lunch meat, cheeses, and other toppings; old-fashioned sodas like Vess and glass-bottled Coke; and towering cones of hand-scooped ice cream. Scherrer’s has been a community staple for 42 years and still offers quality sandwiches, sweets, and heavy doses of nostalgia and charm.


Visit the 64-acre site in Mississippi County where mounds tell the story of Towosahgy—Osage for “old town”—through archaeological excavations. The Towosahgy State Historic Site at East Prairie is surrounded by fertile farmland that was once the fortified village and civic-ceremonial center for Mississippian people who lived there eons ago. Visitors take a self-guided tour, learning about the area through exhibit panels and seeing evidence of an ancient culture’s existence in the form of mounds. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969. Ceramic vessels from Towosahgy are  displayed at Southeast Missouri State University’s Crisp Museum in Cape Girardeau. MoStateParks.com


Located three minutes from I-55 at New Madrid, the Mississippi River Observation Deck is worth the stop. Visitors enjoy panoramic views of the Mississippi from the expansive boardwalk or from several observation benches. The 120-foot-long observation deck provides a far-reaching view of the river to watch passing barges and vessels. The area is of historical significance, first founded by Spanish settlers in 1783 and named after Madrid, Spain. The 1811 earthquake was centered in the area and changed the course of the river. In 1862, the New Madrid portion of the river played a key role in the Union defeating the Confederate Army in the Civil War. The must-see New Madrid Museum is located across the street and is open seven days a week.


Missouri has its own version of the Grand Canyon—Grand Gulf State Park—just down the road from Thayer. A chasm, created by a collapsed cave, plunges 130 feet down from the top of the stone bluff and stretches nearly 3⁄4 of a mile. A natural bridge crosses the gulf at about the halfway point. There are trails and boardwalks that allow visitors awe-inspiring views from the top of the Grand Gulf. It’s a rugged descent for those wanting to explore the floor, so most prefer to take in the view from above, where lush greenery creates shady spots for summertime picnics. MoStateParks.com


Looking for a kid-approved destination? Set your GPS for Caruthersville’s River City Adventure Park. This activity-filled park offers attractions and adventures at its six-acre venue. The site provides a variety of outdoor diversions for all ages, including a trampoline park, kids’ zipline, pedal cart track, slide, ropes course, sand pit beach area, paintball, and Nerf wars. There’s also a miniature golf course, yard games, corn hole, dig pit, seasonal activities with photo opportunities, and more. New activities open in 2023, including the mega tube slide, axe throwing, and corn maze. RiverCityAdventurePark.com


Jim Eddelman’s significant financial contribution and donation of 46 acres turned his dream of Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial into a beautiful reality. The goal for the Perryville facility is to “provide healing and education for veteran’s children and visitors from around the country.” The scenic site includes several features: America’s Wall, which is an exact replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC; 49-foot Honor Flag Memorial; Guardians of Freedom monument; and indoor military museum. The secluded, peaceful area provides a respite from distractions to allow visitors time to reflect and honor the brave military members and their sacrifices. MNVMFund.org


Tom and Janet Scheffer and daughter Sybill opened their St. James restaurant in 2006, but they never advertised the opening. Their reputation for excellent food and attention to detail preceded them. They’d already restored and opened a 100-year-old farmhouse as a beautiful antique and gift shop. After numerous customers suggested they open a restaurant because of their knack for food and excellent service, the couple opened Sybill’s Saint James, built onsite and modeled after a Southern plantation-style home. The restaurant offers indoor and seasonal outdoor dining. Guests enjoy flavorful creations like handmade lobster Rangoon, chicken roulade, and bacon-wrapped scallops in maple Dijon sauce. Reservations are encouraged. Regardless of menu choices, guests know “the secret ingredient is always love.” Sybills.com


Military memorabilia, President John F. Kennedy dishes, woodcarvings, vintage toys, artifacts from railroads, mining, farming, carpentry, and much more—Reynolds County Museum houses a vast array of artifacts in the comfortable, modern facility. There are also 1,200 volumes of family and county histories, census information, local cemeteries, church and school histories, and more. The museum is located in the center of Ellington. It was established to illustrate and preserve the history of Reynolds County, and is open March to October. RCGHS.org


Doniphan’s Current River Heritage Museum has two floors of exhibits, artifacts, and photographs. The building also houses the Ripley County Historical Society library and Ripley County Chamber of Commerce. First-floor exhibits include interpretations of logging, tie rafting, gigging, life, and industry on the Current River, plus a Current River johnboat.The lower level has a one-room school, kitchen, county history, and a new and extensive military museum. The nearby interactive Heritage Homestead has an 1860s restored cabin, vintage furnishings, a log barn housing antique farm implements, and a fully operational blacksmith shop open Saturdays for forging demonstrations. The site adjoins the original Doniphan Cemetery, which is a resting place for Civil War soldiers. Doniphan.org/heritage-museum


Donnie and Sheila Beggs, along with their children Bryce, Taylor and Shelby, open their family farm near Sikeston each fall. Guests enjoy a true “farm adventure” with 60 different activities and attractions at Beggs Family Farm. The fifth-generation Scott County farm opens for the 24th year from September 30 to October 29 on weekends and some Thursdays. Visitors enjoy a nine-acre themed corn maze, wagon ride to pick pumpkins, Barnyard Express train, camel rides (Saturdays only), petting zoo, giant slide, jumping pillow, Bubble Bin, pedal cars,miniature golf, obstacle course, life-sized bird houses, gift shop, concessions, and more. The family opens the farm June 10-11, 17-18, and 24-25 for their first-everSpring  Summer Festival with flowers, photo opportunities, baby animals, attractions, live music, and concessions. BeggsFamilyFarm.com


The Wild Horses of Shannon County have wandered the Ozarks wilderness for more than a century. They can be seen at various times during the day grazing in one of three main areas: in the Shawnee fields east of Eminence, the Broadfoot fields located north of Eminence, or in fields above Two Rivers east of Eminence. The horses move throughout the vast 80,000 acres of protected Ozark National Scenic Riverways near the Jack’s Fork and Current Rivers. When sightseers come upon the wild horses, they should maintain at least a 50-foot distance from the animals and should not attempt to feed or pet them. VisitEminence.com


“Touching the past, inspiring the future.” Bonne Terre’s Space Museum and Grissom Center offers a world-class collection of aerospace artifacts spanning from “the dawn of space travel to the spacecraft of today.” The museum opened in 2003 and expanded in 2019. Museum President Earl Mullins and the board of directors work tirelessly to add artifacts to the galleries, including Gus Grissom’s M-5 Mercury spacesuit, McDonnell Aircraft Corp. drafting table, Apollo Mission Control console, and even an International Space Station toilet mock-up. Visitors meet Max Robot and enjoy a real-life shuttle theater experience. The 5,000-square-foot nonprofit facility, named in honor of Mercury 7 Astronaut Gus Grissom, celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2023 and is open weekly on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Space-Mo.org


Shakira is timid and enjoys lounging in her yard, while Sebastian is social and loves sunshine. Izzy craves attention and enjoys pool time. Sisters Gracie and Thor both love lounging in their hammocks. Gracie, nearly blind in both eyes, avoids mud and keeps herself and her sister clean. Thor, stubborn and independent, loves her sister and enrichment time. These big cats live at Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary, a nonprofit big-cat rescue and educational facility at St. Genevieve. Visitors can see the cats through general, early-bird, or VIP tours, and can view artifacts and purchase souvenirs. Staff work to “give animals a voice” by increasing public awareness in the hope of curbing the abuse of big cats held in captivity by unqualified, private owners. CrownRidgeTigers.com


It’s the only museum in the nation dedicated to preserving the history of the United States military’s first newspaper. The National Stars and Stripes Museum and Library, located in Bloomfield, is a 7,000-square-foot facility with multimedia exhibits, collections, and documents. From the very first issue of Stars and Stripes printed by Union troops in November 1861, through various wars, to the modern era, the museum offers visitors the unique perspective of viewing American military history through exhibits, publicly accessible archives, special programs, and educational outreach. Guided tours may be requested. The museum is closed Tuesdays and Sundays. NSSML.org


A husband-and-wife Texas County brewing team, a barn,and a nearby river are the ideal combination for Piney River Brewing Co. Joleen and Brian Durham, founders and owners of the brewing company, purchased their home and land in 1998 in Bucyrus. The refurbished BARn was the official brewery for Piney River Brewing Co. when it opened in March 2011. The couple perfected their home-brew recipes and created award-winning beer. In November 2011, Piney River became the first Missouri microbrewery to can its beer. The Missouri IPA and McKinney Eddy Amber Ale were the first two offerings in cans and kegs sold at area retail locations. Demand quickly outpaced supply, and that led to a $1.3 million expansion. The BARn is still home to a thriving taproom on weekends. “We continue to grow our brand to be one that is sought out when beer lovers come to the Ozarks,” Joleen says. PineyRiverBrewing.com


The history and cultural heritage of the small community of Old Mines in southeast Missouri dates back three centuries. Old Mines traces its origins to French settlers and explorers in the early 1700s, making it one of the oldest communities in Missouri. The Washington County community will celebrate the 300th anniversary of the land grant given to Philippe Francois Renaut in 1723 to conduct mining operations in the area. The anniversary celebration takes place on June 24 on the grounds of Old Mines’ St. Joachim Church with the opening ceremony at noon followed by music by Dennis Stroughmatt, tours of the church and old cemetery, bread baking and French croquinoles pastries prepared onsite, and crafters, vendors, games, and more. OMAHS.weebly.com


The St. Francois Mountains, St. Francis River, and Big Creek are the scenic backdrops at Sam A. Baker State Park. The park, established in 1926, is named after former Missouri Gov. Samuel Aaron Baker, who served from 1925 to 1929. From fishing and camping to canoeing and floating, outdoor activities abound at the park. The 5,323-acre site also has plenty of space for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Visitors may reserve a rustic cabin or claim a spot at one of two large campgrounds. A camp store and visitor center are onsite. The park is located four miles north of Patterson on Highway 143 in Wayne County. MoStateParks.com

11 Country Stores and Where to Find Them • Missouri Life Magazine

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