In the May 2024 issue of Missouri Life, we encouraged you to head to the edges of our state and then meander just a bit over the state line for some fascinating day trips. Here are 13 more fascinating journeys to add to your edgy travelog.

Photo courtesy of Megan Gililand

By Danielle Bopp Breshears, Pam Clifton, Glory Fagan, and Susan Atteberry Smith

Coal Mining Across the Border
Novinger, Missouri, to Centerville, Iowa
Travel Time: 45 minutes

Northern Missouri and Southern Iowa were once home to more than 50 working mines between 1880 and 1966. The region was part of one of the largest bituminous coal mining areas in the United States. Today you can find several old coal mine remnants throughout the area, as well as a handful of museums where you don’t have to dig hard to find interesting local coal mining facts.

Flying well under the radar in Novinger, you can find a museum dedicated to the third largest coal producer in Missouri in the early 1900s: the Coal Miner’s Museum. This hole-in-the-wall features turn-of-the-century to mid-1900s artifacts, highlighting the Billy Creek Coal Mine, the last deep shaft mine in the state that closed in 1966.

Just about 42 miles north in Centerville, Iowa, you will find a similar museum, the Appanoose County Historical and Coal Mining Museum. Situated in a 1903 former post office, this museum also features artifacts from the late 1800s and early 1900s, as well as walk-in replicas of the Diamond Mine.

Home Sweet House Museum
Memphis, Missouri, to Keosauqua, Iowa
Travel Time: 40 minutes

A hidden gem of “Wow, I didn’t know that” moments await in Memphis, Missouri, at the Downing House Museum, the 1858 brick structure that holds a plethora of local history you probably didn’t know.

This 14-room Italianate-style museum was designed by Thomas Broadwater, a Virginia man who designed the home for fellow Virginian William G. Downing. Downing soon married the daughter of the first Scotland County sheriff and they had 10 children who were raised in the home. They also shared the home with 12 slaves brought from Virginia. The home even served as a Civil War headquarters. Today, you will be able to see exhibits on display on subjects that include the home’s 10-foot, horse-friendly doors; local legend Ella Ewing, the eight-foot, four-inch Missouri Giantess herself; and the area’s strong historical ties with aviation, railroading, and the Downing family.

If that didn’t quite quench your thirst for local knowledge, head north on Highway 15 to Keosauqua, Iowa. Here you will find the Pearson House Museum Complex, a local brick and stone structure managed by the Van Buren County Historical Society. Built in 1846, this unique-looking building was constructed by Benjamin Franklin Pearson, who took a deal on a load of bricks and finished the home’s second story with these instead of the stone he started with. The home held a trap door hideaway that was used as an Underground Railroad station. Heavily damaged in a tornado in 1967, the home was abandoned as a live-in structure and purchased by the historical society. It now features exhibits covering the local historic Ellis School, Civil War involvement, and the early settler life.

History Down the River
Hannibal, Missouri, to Quincy, Illinois
Travel Time: 35 minutes

From iconic literary boyhood homes to historic Mississippi River trade routes, it’s no secret that Marion County is full of interesting history points for locals and guests alike. There are two good places to start when it comes to exploring this history: the river and downtown. If the weather is acceptable, start your visit on the water with a one-hour sightseeing cruise with Mark Twain Riverboat Company. This historic riverboat cruise will show you some of the most scenic riverfront views in the Midwest, as well as give you a true insider look at the sights, sounds, and history of the city and the river in general. Once you get your land legs, travel downtown to shop, eat, and explore. Come hungry for more than history as you have the opportunity to enjoy a tasty Midwest tenderloin, sample Hannibal’s own brewery and winery treats, and even see what is considered to be the first coffee shop west of the Mississippi.

 Take Illinois Highway 57 North for about half an hour and you’ll arrive at another historic river town: Adams County’s own Gem City, Quincy Illinois. Here you can explore a different part of the Mighty Mississippi’s history as you take in the sights and sounds of the currently operating Lock and Dam 21. Part of the Rock Island District in the US Army Corps of Engineers, this 1,075-acre site holds a seasonal observation deck for guests to take in the process of the three roller gates and ten tainter gates onsite, as well as the 110-foot wide by 600-foot long main lock. Next, switch gears and look to the sky, as this is one of the best spots in the tri-state area for bald eagle viewing. If the season is right and you catch the right spot in migration, you can even see hundreds perched around the lock. Cap off your journey with a walk around The District, Quincy’s historic downtown area. This area is the city’s premier dining, shopping, and entertainment center, featuring several repurposed 1800s-era buildings that were once service spots for this historically popular railway and river trade city.

A River Here, A River There
Troy, Missouri, to Hardin, Illinois
Travel Time: 1.5 Hours

Many Journeys to the Edge in this neck of Missouri’s woods take place along the Mississippi River, but on this border-town trip, you can enjoy another locally loved waterway, the Cuivre River. Start in Troy, Missouri, and explore Cuivre River State Park, the 6,400-acre natural area of grasslands, savannas, forested hills, and limestone bluffs. This rugged area is very Ozarks-like and features plenty of great trails for hiking, backpacking, and wildlife-watching. A favorite spot of many guests is the Frenchman’s Bluff toward the western end of the park, otherwise known as Lover’s Leap. An old legend states that an explorer in the area fell in love with an Indian chief’s daughter, causing a forbidden runaway and ultimate leap over the edge so they could be together forever.

Before crossing the state line, stop at Troy’s one-and-only Krumbly Burger, the all-American eatery with a twist. Enjoy their special seasoned, lean, ground chuck burgers, fried catfish, chili, burritos, and much more, and you will see why this has been a local staple eatery since 1987.

After lunch, drive over to Hardin, Illinois, to enjoy the Hardin riverfront on the Mighty Mississippi. You can take in the views of the Joe Page Bridge and the various boats and barges that take advantage of the lift bridge. Watch the skies for bald eagles, as this is one of their hot spots during winter migration. Of course, you can’t leave town without a good local dinner, so head over to The Barefoot Restaurant to try their comfort food offerings. Joe Page Bridge, Route 100, Hardin, Illinois; The Barefoot Restaurant, 106 S Water Street, Hardin, Illinois 

A History-Lover’s Trek
St. Louis, Missouri, to Waterloo, Illinois
Travel Time: 47 minutes

Located southwest of downtown St. Louis, the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site covers ten lovely acres and includes five historic structures. Visitors can take a self-guided walk around the park grounds, view a film, and tour the museum for free. Next door is the 280-acre wildlife park Grant’s Farm, which is owned and operated by Anheuser-Busch InBev. If travelers drive about five miles south, they’ll arrive at Jefferson Barracks, a military base from the early 1800s through World War II and named after former US President Thomas Jefferson. The expansive site features a national cemetery established after the Civil War, and a recreational park managed by St. Louis County. Several museums are part of the site, including the Missouri Civil War Museum and the Jefferson Barracks Telephone Museum, an 1896 restored building that holds an extensive collection of phone-related equipment and memorabilia.;

The history-themed day continues in Waterloo, Illinois, with a visit to one of the state’s first settlements. Visit the early American home on Church Street called the Bellefontaine House. Captain James Moore, an officer of the Virginia Militia during the American Revolution, organized and led settlers to move West. They crossed mountains, floated rivers, and walked for miles to arrive in Illinois country in 1781. They stayed at Fort Kaskaskia until the following spring, when they continued north. Moore stopped when he saw a clear spring of running water, called La Belle Fontaine, or “beautiful spring.” Five generations of Moore’s family lived at the homestead. It is thought that the kitchen area in the home is Moore’s original log cabin. When it’s time for food, try a smoked, thick-cut pork steak or a sampler platter with pulled pork, turkey, brisket, and ribs at Shorty’s Smokehouse on South Main Street, or a tasty burger, wings and more from Big Rod’s Roadhouse on Jamie Lane.


Eating Up Some History
Sikeston, Missouri, to Cairo, Illinois
Travel Time: 35 minutes

The current Sikeston Depot Museum & Cultural Center originally began as the Iron Mountain Train Depot in 1916. Now, the small but well-organized museum features many permanent and rotating exhibits. The upper gallery includes permanent historical exhibits of Indian heritage, and the main gallery combines history, art, and special exhibits. An art gallery features local and regional artists’ work. The community room is dedicated to the history of the community. The museum is open on Saturdays. While you’re in Sikeston, visit another place filled with local history, Lambert’s Cafe, for a memorable meal. Catch freshly baked rolls, plus enjoy pass-arounds like fried potatoes and onions, black-eyed peas, fried okra, macaroni and tomatoes, and more to complement generous-portioned meals like ham steak, chicken and dumplings, fried catfish, beef liver and onions, and more.

Fort Defiance State Park is located at Cairo Point, the southernmost tip of Illinois in Alexander County. It is a former military fortification site located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Nearby bridges take traffic to Missouri across the Mississippi River and Kentucky over the Ohio River. Lewis and Clark also landed at this spot and spent nearly a week in present-day Cairo. They learned how to determine longitude and latitude, a skill they needed for their continued westward exploration. Travelers who visit the “point” can enjoy the view from a large elevated observation desk. Located about two miles away is another place that’s worth the stop. The Magnolia Manor, formerly the Charles Galigher House, is a red brick Victorian mansion that was added to the National Register of Historic Places because the home was a place Ulysses S. Grant visited during the Civil War. The museum is open daily for tours. ,

Photo courtesy of Missouri State Parks

American Indian Footsteps
East Prairie, Missouri, to Columbus, Kentucky
Travel Time: 55 Minutes

Towosahgy State Historic Site is a former fortified village for Mississippian people who lived in the area years ago. Visible mounds help to tell the story of the Towosahgy people through archaeological excavations. After outdoor exploration of the site, stop by Sandy Ridge Smokehouse for a tender chopped brisket sandwich, garlic cheese grits, creamy street corn dip, or another delicious option from the menu. The restaurant is located in an old grain bin.

Another area to explore is less than an hour away at Columbus-Belmont State Park. The 160-acre recreation park and historic site is located in the western part of the state high above the Mississippi River. It was the site of the 1861 Battle of Belmont. The park is also part of the National Parks Service Trail of Tears Water and Land Route site. The area includes the 42-acre Belmont Lake and multiuse trails. The farmhouse, which once served as a Civil War hospital, is now a museum. Park visitors can enjoy the campground, birdwatching, boating, hiking, picnicking, miniature golf, and playground. There is a small gift shop and snack bar.


Color & Creativity
Neosho, Missouri to Bentonville, Arkansas
Travel Time: 45 Minutes

A small town in Missouri’s southwest corner, Neosho—also known as The Flower Box City—is back in bloom. Say hello to the 66-foot world’s largest flower box on the way to the square, where revitalization efforts are taking root. Murals at the Newton County Courthouse give you a colorful glimpse of area history. A block west, learn more from exhibits at the Newton County Historical Museum. You’ll find an eclectic array of local eateries serving everything from ramen bowls to wood-fired pizza, and shops offering everything from women’s clothing to pottery by local artists. Don’t miss historic Big Spring Park or the Neosho National Fish Hatchery, a landmark since 1888. 

Deeper into the Ozark Mountains, along I-49, is Pineville, a quiet town of about 800 on the way south through McDonald County. Stop at the McDonald County Historical Society Museum in the old courthouse, then spend some time outdoors in The River City, where the Little Sugar and Big Sugar creeks meet to form the Elk River. The river is a favorite for paddlers, and Bluff Dwellers Cave near Noel is only about 10 miles away. 

Look for a community guide on the Neosho Chamber of Commerce website and a visitors guide on Pineville’s website.;

Less than 50 miles from Neosho is Bentonville, Arkansas, long known as the headquarters for Walmart Inc. and more recently a popular hub for arts lovers and cycling enthusiasts. Museums are gems of the city. The free Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has welcomed more than 10 million visitors since it opened in 2011; its satellite museum, The Momentary, is housed in a decommissioned cheese factory and features contemporary art. Nearby, the Scott Family Amazeum children’s museum is a popular attraction for families. With nearly 70 miles of winding trails, Bentonville has also become the Mountain Biking Capital of the World.

Photo courtesy of Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce

President & Primates
Lamar, Missouri, to Pittsburg, Kansas
Travel Time: 30 minutes

A half-hour south of Nevada is the birthplace of President Harry S. Truman, and the town where the legendary lawman Wyatt Earp first donned a badge. In Lamar, population 7,600, Truman Day, the annual celebration of the 33rd president, will be May 4 this year at his childhood home. Earp, Lamar’s first constable, is another point of pride, and there’s even a park named after him. You can also visit Barton County Memorial Park, the previous site of the World War II-era Barton County Hospital, and Lamar’s century-old City Park. Fish in the lake, walk or bike the trail and, if you’re at City Park  on a Thursday from March through July or in September or October, grab something to eat at one of several food trucks. On weekends, enjoy a movie at the Barco Drive-In. One of the few drive-ins left in Missouri, it’s getting a new, larger screen tower.

And what will you find if you take I-160 west to Pittsburg, Kansas? Gorillas. Thousands of them. This city of almost 21,000 is home to Pittsburg State University, the nation’s only college with a gorilla for a mascot. Have fun spotting primate statues and even murals in the Gorilla Capital of the World. Downtown is the hub for fun, too, with live entertainment and locally owned eateries. From spring through fall, Pittsburg hosts several festivals, including two art festivals and, in late August, the Little Balkans Day Festival to celebrate the area’s immigrant heritage.

Revitalization in Action
Harrisonville, Missouri, to Ottawa, Kansas
Travel Time: 1 hour

You’ll step back into the past and have fun in the present in downtown Harrisonville, a city of about 10,000 just south of Kansas City. Around the historic Cass County Courthouse, paved roads give way to original brick streets, and if you love history, your scavenger hunt starts there. Look for points of interest like a log cabin built in 1835, a lone, yet mysteriously full toilet paper roll still attached to an old building—the last artifact of the 1883 Harrisonville Hotel—and the Burnt District Murals, which depict the 1863 edict that drove thousands of area residents from their homes before the Civil War. Today, with Missouri Main Street revitalization in full swing, downtown is also a shopping and dining hub. Find local arts and crafts at Artisan’s Corner on Wall or boutique items at Azure Hollow. Bite into a fancy European pastry at Bona Fide Bakery & Cafe or sip a drink with your meal at The 1886, the city’s first craft cocktail and wine bar. Special events also bring the square to life: On Saturday mornings until noon from June through September, there are handmade crafts and homegrown produce at the Farmers & Artists Market on Lexington Street. There’s also a summer wine crawl in June and, in October, Harrisonville’s annual Log Cabin Festival.

An hour’s drive west of Harrisonville on Missouri Route 2 is Ottawa, Kansas, a designated “tree city.” At the Ottawa City Park downtown, visit the 1859 Dietrich cabin to learn about early settlers. About a mile away, The Old Depot Museum chronicles Franklin County railroad history and houses a model train room and pioneer schoolhouse. Don’t miss the museum at the Plaza Cinema, the world’s oldest operating movie theater. And if you feel like cycling or taking a hike, hop onto the 33-mile Prairie Spirit Rail-Trail or the nearly 120-mile Flint Hills Nature Trail: They converge one block from Main Street.


Photo courtesy Museum of Toys and Miniatures

Playgrounds for Grown-ups
Kansas City, Missouri, to Bonner Spring, Kansas
Travel Time: 30 minutes

In a playful mood? How about a trip down memory lane to visit some of the trinkets and treasures of childhood? You may want to begin your journey back to simpler times at the world’s largest smallest collection, found on the campus of the University of Missouri Kansas City in Jackson County, Missouri. The campus building, located at 5235 Oak Street, houses the biggest ever museum of tiny toys. The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures features exhibits of vintage toys, miniatures, and special collections that are sure to strike a nostalgic chord. 

The Museum’s collection currently numbers more than 95,000 objects, and counting!

If you aren’t too exhausted from your playdate, it’s time to hop on I-70 West and cross the state line into Kansas for more playful delights. Kids at heart of any age will find themselves over the moon at Moon Marble Company. Ranging in size from Pee Wees to Toe Breakers, marbles galore can be found near the intersection of K-32 and Highway 7 in Bonner Springs, Kansas. Here visitors will find wooden toys and board games for sale and on exhibit, along with thousands of handmade and assorted marbles, books, and accessories. Frequent marble-making demonstrations are hosted each week.

Back to the Barn
Platte City, Missouri, to Leavenworth, Kansas

Barns have always been ubiquitous in rural America, but these days some of those outbuildings dotting the farming landscape have educational and recreational purposes, as well as agricultural ones. One such venture is Weston Red Barn Farm in Platte County. Just off Wilkerson Road outside Platte City, Red Barn Farm has activities from Memorial Day to late fall to educate and delight visitors. Whether they be school children on field trips or families looking for a festive outing, the Barn has much to offer. 

In the spring the farm blossoms back to life after the dormancy of winter. Baby animals make their debut and garden produce ranging from tomatoes to melons peak above the soil. Spring also brings fields of flowers visitors can pick on their own. Summer offers grain trains and pony rides and home grown produce. Autumn is a busy time of year with hayrides to the pumpkin patch and apple picking. Get lost in the hay maze or check out the 150-year old mule barn where gourds galore are on display. 

No matter the weather, the country store, complete with pinewood floor and pressed tin ceiling, offers jams, candies, soaps, candles, teas, and linens. Rustic beams support bushels of peaches, sweet corn, tomatoes, and apples in season. Goats, sheep, pigs, alpacas, ponies, cows, and geese wander the barnyard. Get a taste of the country with an apple cider slushie. You can even bring your dog provided he stays on leash and on his best behavior.

More farm fun awaits just across the river. Hop on 92 and follow the Oregon Trail across the Centennial Bridge to points west where you will arrive in Leavenworth, Kansas. Home to the namesake fort with its historic sites, museum, and Buffalo Soldier monument, Leavenworth also has spectacular views of the river.  It is in Leavenworth that another farm awaits. Next to Nature Farm is a small family farm committed to offering all of their products in their most natural form. Visitors are encouraged to wear comfortable shoes and casual clothes for their encounter with goats, chickens, peacocks, bee hives, and fantastically friendly livestock guardian dogs. At the agricultural and educational center, the farm offers classes and learning opportunities to find out more about bees, canning/preserving foods, pollinators, and small-scale agriculture.

Photo courtesy of Glory Fagan

Presently in the Past
St. Joseph, Missouri, to Troy, Kansas
Travel Time: 18 Minutes

The past is always present and time stands still for this journey that has its origins with the Pony Express in Buchanan County and travels westward to a Native American sculpture with signposts along the route. St. Joseph, the jumping off point for the famed equine mail delivery service and has attractions commemorating its history, including the Pony Express Museum.

“The City Worthwhile,” as a sign atop the Corby Building proclaimed in the early 20th century, is also home to a meandering 26-mile parkway system that begins at Krug Park in the north and passes Bartlett Park on Noyes Boulevard before ending at Hyde Park on the city’s south side. St. Joseph is also the Tenderloin Capital of the World, for it was here the saltine cracker was invented, and when used as a coating for pork loin, results in a gastronomic marriage made in heaven. Several local favorite diners and dives offer this delicious sandwich, the oldest of which is First Ward House, established in 1878 and self-proclaimed oldest saloon West of the Mississippi.

Traverse the Pony Express Bridge to the Kansas side and continue westward along the Pony Express Memorial Highway 36. Stop by the Dairy Barn in Wathena for ice cream. If it’s around Memorial or Labor Day, take a detour on Highway 7 for a stop by Sparks and White Cloud, small towns noted for their semi-annual flea markets. White Cloud also has the distinction of being home to the piggy bank, according to local legend and there’s a monument to the boy Wilbur and his pig Pete. 

Resume your journey along Highway 36 and when you are in your final stretch to our destination, Troy, Kansas, look to the left for a silhouette of a Pony Express Rider in full gallop on the south side of the road. Travel to the town square. Your destination is on the courthouse lawn. Tall Oak, an imposing Native American statue carved from burr oak by Peter Toth, towers over visitors.

Featured photo courtesy of Mark Twain Riverboat Cruise.