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 Northeast Missouri that are ideal for your next day trip.

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


Snuggled amongst Kirksville’s eclectic downtown array of local businesses and historic buildings sits “America’s Oldest Record Store,” Rinehart’s Music and Video. A longtime name in the construction and expansion of Kirksville businesses, the Rinehart family started this business with wax cylinder recordings, players, and sheet music in 1897, and today, owner Karl Hilderbrand offers movies, music, video game systems, and pop culture collectibles from the store at 114 South Franklin Street. Visitors can spend an afternoon thumbing through all the treasures, then head down the block for a bite to eat at locally popular Pagliai’s Pizza. Facebook.com/rinehartsmusicandvideo


Hosted every other year in the fall, with 2023 being an “on” year, Mexico’s Walk Back in Time Festival is a fun-focused event worth the trip for all those interested in discovering the history of Audrain County. This highly anticipated biannual event is hosted on the third weekend in September (September 22-23 this year) by the Audrain County Historical Society and the City of Mexico. Guests can see various historical artifacts and costumed figures representing everything from Vikings and pirates to mountain men and cowboys. See an authentic Lewis and Clark keelboat, look at one of Ulysses S. Grant’s uniforms, and even take an up-close-and-personal peek at a real World War I biplane. Facebook.com/walkbackintimefestival


Saint Patrick, a small village sitting in the southeast portion of the Jackson Township in Clark County, was first settled by Irish Catholics in 1833. The Shrine of Saint Patrick itself was built in 1956, the design mimicking the Saint Patrick’s Memorial Church of Four Masters in Donegal, Ireland. It’s an authentic Celtic design with rose windows, semi-circular doorways, and a round bell tower. This is the only town in the world named for the patron saint of Ireland and boasts a one-of-a-kind postal cancellation mark that more than 50,000 people have sent self-addressed envelopes to request. SaintPatrickShrine.com


As the center for zither music, Franklin County is home to a melodic hidden gem. By definition, a zither is a stringed instrument whose strings equal the length of its soundboard. Washington Historical Society Museum zither display features over a dozen zithers and musical instruments manufactured in Washington, Missouri, by Franz Schwarzer’s factory. After winning the 1873 Vienna Exposition Gold Medal of Progress, Schwarzer Instruments became known worldwide, and Schwarzer earned the nickname “The Zither King.” Today, the Schwarzer Zither Ensemble continues the tradition of zither playing in Washington, Missouri, through educational living history programs, lessons, and performances at the Washington Historical Society Museum. Every Sunday afternoon, the ensemble assembles to strum and pluck, even giving lessons and loaning instruments to neophyte zither players at the Washington Historical Society Museum. WashMoHistorical.org/zither-display


Welcome to Mount Sterling’s historic 130-year-old mercantile, Schaeperkoetter Store. This business satisfies hungry guests with food specials from the deli counter, offers up essentials and groceries in the store, and even provides an impressive array of farming tools and animal feed on site. The entire mercantile experience is a delightful visit to a simpler time.


Get a modern perspective on ancient history with a visit to Mastodon State Historic Site, home of the 431-acre archaeological and paleontological site located at Imperial. The site is home of the Kimmswick Bone Bed, one of the most famous and extensive Pleistocene ice age deposits of fossils, including a number of giant mastodons’ bones. The museum, which tells the natural and cultural story of the Clovis people from 10,000 years ago, displays artifacts, fossils, and a giant replica of a mastodon skeleton. There are picnic sites, a playground, interpretive trails, and a wildflower garden at the site located 20 miles south of St. Louis. MoStateParks.com


One of the most unique historical villages in Missouri, the Ravensborg Viking Longfort at Knox City, puts on two main events each year: the Return of the Sun in April, and the Return of the Dead in October. Both events are living history events with members from major Viking-era groups attending. See descendants of Vulksgaard, Skjaldborg, Regia, and more fight, feast, and befriend each other during what is considered to be the largest Viking event in North America. Ravensborg itself is one of the most realistic depictions of what a Viking Longfort along the Scandinavian trade routes of the 10th century would have been like. Ravensborg.org


The six clear and sparkling lakes of Wakonda State Park at LaGrange were left behind as a result of many years of gravel excavation. Today they offer a seasonal haven for migratory waterfowl and migratory beach-goers. Boasting a rare sand prairie landscape, this park is a home for flora such as sand grass, sand drop seed, and prairie sunflower. Resident fauna includes woodchucks, coyotes, and abundant waterfowl like great blue herons, snowy egrets, and mallards. Come enjoy the scenery, hike, bike, swim, camp, picnic, or play! MoStateParks.com


Officially Lock and Dam No. 25, the Winfield Lock and Dam sits along the Upper Mississippi River near the town of Winfield and provides guests with over 3,000 acres of unique riverside architecture. The movable portion of the dam is around 1,300 feet long. The lock and dam became operational in 1939, and has been sitting on the National Register of Historic Places since 2004. Come check out the views, enjoy a picnic, or take a stroll along the hiking and biking path beside the Mississippi River.


Providing professional theater experiences in rural northern Missouri for 20 seasons, Maples Repertory Theatre in Macon is a true treat for performance lovers. Located in the historic Royal Theatre, Maples Rep was founded in 2004 and has been helping Macon become a haven for professional actors, directors, designers, and technicians. Catch a performance within the six-show main-stage season, or pop in for any of the myriad performances for youth and families and other special events throughout the year. MaplesRep.com


The Gardner House, a Palmyra historic home located at 417 South Main Street, offers guests a fascinating history lesson and a unique architectural facade, both worth the visit. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, the Gardner House has a history tracing back to 1828, beginning as an inn and tavern, a stagecoach stop between St. Louis and Des Moines, and then serving time as a boarding house, a school, a warehouse, and now a museum. Guests will see historic items from the Marion County area, such as 1800s wedding attire, original bedroom outfitting, and Pony Express memorabilia. The house is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10 AM to 2 PM. ShowMePalmyra.com


Union Bridge is a rare example of the Burr Arch Truss design for covered bridges. This 120-foot-long bridge boasts 99 years of usability and is a true Paris, Missouri, landmark. A peaceful spot to admire picturesque Monroe County, Union Bridge was named after a nearby county church and was first constructed in 1871 using timbers from local oak trees. It was restored in 1968 and then closed in 1970 for pedestrian use only. Locals remember it as an emergency shelter and signboard, adding to its integral history. MoStateParks.com


When a state park also carries the distinction of being a National Historic Landmark, you know you’ve found someplace special. Graham Cave State Park near New Florence was the first archaeological site in the United States to earn that vaunted landmark title. Walk into the cave at the heart of the 386-acre park and you’ll be walking in the footsteps of Paleo-Indians who found shelter there more than 10,000 years ago. Campsites, picnic areas, and access to the Loutre River make the park a comfortable place to linger for days of exploration. MoStateParks.com


A charming, Victorian-esque Mississippi River town, Louisiana in Pike County is home to the Lay Center for Education and the Arts. Sitting on a total of 350 acres, this St. Louis University-owned area features a 20-acre sculpture park with larger-than-life works of art amid meadows, streams, and rolling hills. The Story Woods allows guests to read, play, and picnic, and the historic McElwee-Stewart-Carr Cemetery is the final resting place for Revolutionary War hero James McElwee and his family. SLU.edu/lay-center


Commemorating the lives and challenges of blue-collar immigrants, the Village of Ilasco Memorial near Hannibal illustrates the unique ethnic heritage of Ralls County. In the early 1900s, 3,000 ethnically diverse residents from eastern and southern Europe came to work at manufacturing giant Atlas Portland Cement, which sent cement to such projects as the Panama Canal and various Mississippi River locks and dams. These workers overcame harsh conditions and language barriers, and today their descendants memorialize their hard work and struggle to find the American Dream. On your visit, you can view the remnants of the cement company ghost town, including the 1909 jail, various monuments, and eight national flags on display. VisitHannibal.com


Filled with heartwarming memories, Moberly’s 4th Street Theatre is a historic gem worth visiting for a quick look or a show. This performing arts center and meeting space was first built in 1913, today boasting the accolade as the “Oldest Vaudeville stage in Mid-Missouri.” Designed by famed architect Ludwig Abt and built originally as a movie house, the 4th Street Theatre was called The Cinema when it was showing major motion pictures. Some of its rich history can be seen in the physical building itself, with original and meticulously restored features throughout the grand building. The theater hosts numerous events during the year including classic movie nights every month, 4th Street Players theatrical productions, and live musical entertainment. Facebook.com/4thstreettheatre


A hidden gem at the edge of Schuyler County, Sebree’s Restaurant in Greentop provides locally sourced and, when possible, locally grown fresh ingredients made into delicious dishes presented artfully and, pun very much intended, tastefully. The rustic-chic roadside delight boasts the skill of chef Brian Boultinghouse and his partner in both business and marriage, Cindy Boultinghouse.Beef bourguignon sourced from neighboring Adair County Primmer Farms, local Midwest Artisan cheese charcuterie boards, and from-scratch crème brûlée with fresh-picked berries are among some of the many tempting options that will greet you. Sebrees.com


Seasonally open on the second Friday and Saturday of each month between March and October, the Rutledge Flea Market offers up a myriad of treasures at what is considered to be Missouri’s oldest and largest consecutive flea market. Started in 1948 as a simple set of dog and gun exchanges, this market has exploded into 80 acres filled with custom crafts and wares. Shoppers can enjoy local food vendors, camping options, and golf cart rentals to make a visit easier. (Eighty acres is a lot of ground to cover!) The market is close to Scotland County’s Rutledge Meat Market and Zimmerman’s Bulk Food Store, both excellent side trips while you are there! RutledgeFleaMarket.com


Experience an accurate depiction of what life was like when Historic Bethel was first founded as you explore an authentic Missouri-German colony in Shelby County. Founder Wilheim Keil chose this North River Valley site as his religious communal colony in 1844, though he soon moved on to Oregon after fearing outside influences were affecting his town. Today, guests can walk among historic buildings such as the Bair House, the J. G. Bauer residence, the Latimer House with its looms, and more during a leisurely stroll or tour, or come during any of the many annual events onsite such as markets, fiddle camps, and holiday celebrations. HistoricBethel.org


The combination of history and river scenery makes the Lewis & Clark Boat House and Museum a worthwhile stop on your hidden gems journey. Visitors learn about the Lewis and Clark expedition, Native American inhabitants, and Missouri River habitats, and can view the Missouri River Walk, one of the largest indoor murals in the state. There are also full-size replicas of boats used by Lewis & Clark displayed below the museum. The second-floor visitors’ center allows guests the chance to retrace the travels of Lewis & Clark and enjoy the stunning view of the Missouri River and nature trail. The museum is located in St. Charles’s Historic District and is open seven days a week. LewisAndClarkBoatHouse.org


Faust Park is located on land once owned by Frederick Bates, Missouri’s second governor. One of the park’s most prominent features is Thornhill, the home Bates built in 1818. The park also includes Faust Historic Village with 16 structures and four homes; St. Louis Carousel, with 60 hand-carved horses and deer built in 1921; the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House; Governor Bates walking trail; and a large playground. Educational programs and guided tours teach guests about the park’s historic areas. The “Farmsteading at Thornhill” tour provides students with the opportunity to perform physical chores expected of a 19th-century child. The 200-acre park, created in 1968 on land donated by Leicester and Mary Faust, is located in the heart of Chesterfield. StLouisCountyMo.gov


The Schowengerdt House, a Victorian gem at 308 Booneslick Road in Warrenton, is an eye-catching National Register of Historic Places site, first built in 1866 for Ernst Schowengerdt and his wife. The home was kept in the family until 2002 when the Warren County Historical Society stepped in to preserve this grand home and its history. Take a tour and see the intricate details of the recently restored Queen Anne-meets-Classical Revival architecture, then head to the museum to see dozens of interactive displays, models, and artifacts such as photos, documents, arrowheads, and more in seasonally rotating displays. WarrenCountyMoHistory.com

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