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 Southwest Missouri that are ideal for your next day trip.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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


Mere minutes from Roaring River State Park, Beebe’s Roaring River Waterslide in Barry County features a natural waterpark built into the Ozarks hillside. Charged by the hour and cash-only, admission to Cassville’s 300-foot aquatic attraction allows guests to wind their way down the distinctive blue slide carved into the landscape to a waiting three-foot splash pool. Serving up fun and soft-serve ice cream for 45 years, Bebee’s is the place to cool off on a hot summer’s day. Open Memorial Day to Labor Day, except on Tuesdays.


It’s an experience that becomes rarer every year, but in Lamar, you can still catch a movie at a drive-in theater. The Barco Drive-In opened in April 1950, and has been entertaining movie fans by the carload ever since. The longest operating drive-in in southwest Missouri has the elements you always loved—a massive screen and a concession stand stocked with popcorn, candy, and hotdogs. Gone are the clunky speakers that hooked to your window. Now you can listen to the latest blockbuster on a dedicated FM radio station, so you can tune in on a car radio or a portable stereo propped next to a comfy lawn chair. “Families bring play pens, tents, all sorts of stuff,” says Scott Kelley, who manages the theater with his wife, Pam. Missouri weather permitting, the theater is open from mid-March until November. LamarMovies.com


Rich Hill defines itself as “The Town that Coal Built” and celebrates its coal-mining heritage with a unique photo op spot. The gigantic Big Mouth Coal Bucket, located in the town’s Caboose Park, weighs in at a whopping 88,000 pounds and is considered the world’s largest coal bucket. Back when it was a working piece of equipment, this super scooper could hold 73 cubic yards of coal in one bite. These days, this big mouth is open wide for tourists to stand in and feel dwarfed by the mega-sized jaws.


At Stockton Lake, there is something for everyone in the family. With 300 hundred miles of shoreline and no commercial or residential development except for three secluded marinas and various swimming beaches and campgrounds, Stockton Lake is the cleanest lake in the state. With its elevation and north-to-south flow, the lake is one of the top 10 sailing lakes in the United States. There are 10 public use areas; each has boat ramps and there are beaches at five of those areas. Horse-riding trails and walking trails are scenically located around the lake. Stockton welcomes fun-seekers to the Black Walnut Festival in late September, and also hosts the Annual Stockton Lake PRCA Rodeo in June. StocktonMoChamber.com


Missouri has more show caves available for visitors than any other region in the United States. Your exploration of Missouri’s underground places should include Smallin Civil War Cave, just south of Springfield in Ozark. The cave holds a notable spot in Ozarks history and has sheltered early Indian tribes, Civil War troops, and festive social gatherings. The attraction offers guided tours year round on concrete walkways that are easily navigable for wheelchairs and strollers. It’s an experience the whole family can enjoy. SmallinCave.com


The town of Greenfield has celebrated Buffalo Days for more than half a century, and this year is no exception. The one-day festival takes place on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend on the Greenfield town square. The day is packed with activities, including turtle races, a cake walk, live music, food vendors, and a parade. According to Missy Netzer with the Greenfield Chamber of Commerce, the early festivals featured buffalo chip chucking, where participants competed to see who could fling a dry patty of buffalo manure the farthest. The contest rules remain the same, but she says the “equipment” has shifted to bull or cow manure. It’s a down-home celebration of Americana that draws attendees from hours away—some who are returning for a visit to their hometown and others who make the trip simply to find out how far they can chuck a chip. GreenfieldMoChamber.com


When you list all the things Missouri is famous for, don’t forget that our state is the home of the Missouri Fox Trotting horse, which originated in the Ozark Mountains region. It officially became the state horse in 2002. The 130-acre Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association World Headquarters, organized in 1948 in Ava, is found in Douglas County. The facility features the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Hall of Fame and Museum (free admission), gift shop, restaurant, multiple arenas, 850 covered stalls, and more than 300 full-service rental RV sites open annually April through October. The county seat doubles in size twice a year for the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breed Association spring and fall festivals. MFTHBA.com

Photo courtesy of Connie Rhoades Hinds


Historic Commercial Street, affectionately called C-Street, uniquely combines a recognition of the past, appreciation of the present, and hope for the future. This Springfield district offers a diverse mix of locally owned shops and small businesses, international restaurants, quaint overnight stays, and beautiful event venues. Plus, something’s always going on with activities hosted at individual businesses or entire street-wide events. As an added plus, C-Street is one mile of fun! Get your steps in as you stride from one end of the historic route to the other and back again, starting either at White River Brewery or Askinosie Chocolate.


The town of Diamond is home to a museum that touts itself as the “world’s largest small electrical appliance museum,” and it’s hard to argue that distinction. JR’s Appliance Museum owner Richard Larrison amassed a collection of more than 3,500 appliances that he displays in a 1,200-square-foot space next to JR’s Western Store on Highway 59. You’ll find appliances that spark memories—coffee pots, waffle irons, and hundreds of toasters—and plenty of gadgets that Mom never had in her kitchen, including a device that “electrocutes” hot dogs. WorldsLargestSmallElectricalApplianceMuseum.com

Photo courtesy of Lawrence County


Billed as “The Biggest Little Festival in Southwest Missouri,” Howdy Neighbor Days is held each August in Pierce City. For more than 30 years, this annual event has featured live music, a carnival, festive food, and vendors that draw a crowd seeking family-oriented fun. Whether you live locally, are returning to Lawrence County for a homecoming, or are looking for a friendly fair, Howdy Neighbor Days is for you. Facebook.com/hndfestival

Photo courtesy of Missouri State Parks


When you hike the Ozark Chinquapin Trail that winds through Big Sugar Creek State Park near Pineville, you’ll see flora and fauna not common in other parts of the state. The extreme southwest Missouri site is ideal for those seeking an escape to an unspoiled landscape. Follow the trail beside a bedrock stream that flows between steep hills, then ascend into wooded glades. Along the way, you may spot plants like the Ozark Chinquapin tree, Ozark corn salad wildflower, mock orange, and low prickly pear cactus. Be on the lookout for scarlet tanagers and graybelly salamanders. You might even catch a glimpse of a speedy roadrunner. MoStateParks.com


The Undercliff Grill & Bar near Joplin is literally built into the side of a cliff. It’s a unique destination tucked into the rugged Ozark Mountains in Newton County. The family-owned-and-operated restaurant serves up fresh food made-to-order, like the Round Barn Breakfast, build-your-own omelets, and giant Cliff Cakes with peanut butter and bananas. Lunch and dinner options include the Saginaw Hill Meatloaf, Boomtown Fried Chicken, burgers, salmon, salads, hand-breaded onion rings, and The Cliff, which is grilled pastrami, ham, and provolone topped with sweet and tangy slaw. Guests can enjoy food and great views from inside or outside on the covered patio. Facebook.com/undercliff


A building that was once a bustling 1920s-era general merchandise store on the west side of Gainesville has been reborn as the Ozark County Genealogical and Historical Society. There are changing displays, exhibits, and presentations throughout the year. Especially popular are talks given by people with special interest in the heritage and culture of the Ozarks. Upcoming presentations will feature a poet and musicians who focus on old-time music. The society also hosts special-interest groups, including quilters, basket-makers, and others. Hours are Wednesdays through Fridays from 10 AM to 2 PM. OzarkCountyHistory.org


The Ella Carothers Dunnegan Gallery of Art is located in downtown Bolivar and is named for the mother of the two benefactors, brothers Thomas Dunnegan and John Dunnegan, who started the gallery in 1983. The 26,000-square-foot gallery has an extensive collection of contemporary fine art including sculptures, paintings, and woodcrafts. There are permanent and traveling exhibits. Entry to the gallery at 511 North Pike Street is free and open to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 1 to 4 PM. DunneganGallery.org


The Prier family of Golden took over the collection of the Trail of Tears Museum in Huntsville, Arkansas, and combined it with their stunning glassware, rare mineral specimens from around the world, and Native American and pioneer artifacts to create the Golden Pioneer Museum. The Stone County museum houses one of the largest collections of Carnival Glass in the Midwest and what is believed to be the world’s largest turquoise carving, a 68-pound nugget made in China. There are additional collections of baseball cards, lunch boxes, watches, Civil War battlefield items, and more. The museum is open from April to October. Admission is free. GoldenPioneerMuseum.org

Photo Courtesy of Brad Thomas


Branson’s world-class entertainment keeps the crowds coming, but for a quiet respite, visit the Ruth & Paul Henning Conservation Area. You’ll find this peaceful spot along Highway 76 on the city’s west side. The 1,534-acre area consists of steep hills and scenic glades that make up the White River Balds Natural Area. The glades, locally referred to as “balds,” played an important part in the region’s history because\ post-Civil War vigilante groups met on the balds and became known as “baldknobbers.” A small section of bottomland forest stretches along a half-mile stretch of Roark Creek. There are trails, a scenic overlook, and a 40-foot lookout tower that offers a commanding view of the Ozark Mountains. Site namesake Paul Henning is known as the creator of TV classics including The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres. He and his wife, Ruth, donated much of the land that makes up this conservation area. MDC.mo.gov

Photo Courtesy of Kathy Abele


Beef, namely steak, is what’s on the menu at Vernon County’s Gobblers Roost Restaurant, a quaint dining experience located near Nevada. A common thread of excellence runs through online reviews with recurring phrases such as “out of this world,” “amazing,” and “wonderful service.” Open Thursdays through Saturdays by reservation only, the Gobblers Roost aspires to offer diners the best five-course dining experience in an intimate setting. The building resembles a rustic cabin with barnwood walls and turkey tracks embedded in the concrete floor, and the food wows even finicky urbanites. Site tours are available upon request, but visitors are told, “We are out in the ‘sticks,’ so don’t rely on Google Maps.” GobblersRoostRest.com

Photo Courtesy of Ryan Rosenquist


Nestled in the heart of Fordland, Schofield + Gray is a one-of-a-kind destination home for seasonal markets, private events, and unique classes. This Webster County venue celebrates its Ozark heritage by hosting multiple antique and vintage markets each year, seeking out the region’s best vendors for a beautifully curated market full of wonderful antiques, home decor, handcrafted gifts, and delicious food and desserts. SchofieldGray.com

Photo Courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Shop & Village


Planted in the beautiful Ozark hills, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company started in 1998 as a hobby and is now North America’s largest heirloom seed company. Founder Jere Gettle initially offered 70 varieties of heirloom seeds. Now, the company sells 1,000 heirloom varieties through catalogs distributed to avid fans. Even better than the coveted catalog is visiting the Mansfield headquarters where there are greenhouses, trial gardens, a seed store, authentic pioneer village, animals, a farm-to-table restaurant, bakery, mercantile, herbal apothecary, blacksmith shop, and more. There is no charge to visit the farm but there is a parking fee during special festivals. RareSeeds.com

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