Voted the #1 Thing to Do in Jefferson City and recipient of the 2022 Travelers’ Choice on TripAdvisor, the Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) is worth exploring in Missouri’s capital city. It was named the “Bloodiest 47 Acres in America” in 1967 by Time magazine and is a beloved treasure to history buffs and thrill-seekers alike. Guests walk through once-overcrowded housing units and the gas chamber where 40 inmates took their final breath. See why a trip to this infamous prison should be on your bucket list!

A 3-hour history tour includes the Women’s Unit in Housing Unit #1. Photo credit: Missouri Division of Tourism

This article is presented in partnership with Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Missouri State Penitentiary was the oldest continually operating prison west of the Mississippi River

As the only prison closest to the Western Territories in 1836, the penitentiary accepted any type of inmate, which led to severe overcrowding. At its peak in 1935, there were a recorded 5,300 inmates who resided on the property. Although Alcatraz is one of the most renowned prisons, it didn’t become a federal penitentiary until 1934 – MSP had already been in operation for 98 years. Surrounded by limestone walls with Jefferson City growing around it, MSP operated for 168 years until it was decommissioned in 2004.

Housing Unit #4 was constructed in 1868 and is known for its dungeon cells. Photo credit: Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau

Visitors have full access to the oldest housing unit once again

In May 2019, an EF-3 tornado went through the penitentiary, which left Housing Unit #4 without a roof for two years. Tour guests were only granted access to the main floor and the dungeon cells while the upper walks required further cleanup. A new roof was installed in the summer of 2021 and all debris has been removed from the cells as of spring of 2023. Due to these preservation efforts, visitors now have full access to all floors and the catwalks in this fan-favorite housing unit!

Grab your favorite ghost hunting equipment and investigate the abandoned prison. Photo credit: Missouri Division of Tourism

The prison goes bump in the night… all year long

Contrary to popular belief, the penitentiary is haunted year-round. Whether you want to learn the ghostly stories of inmates that some say still roam the halls or roll up your sleeves and learn to hunt or investigate paranormal activity, ghost and paranormal tours are a great way to experience the otherworldly side of MSP. There’s a reason why MSP is featured on popular shows like Ghost Hunters, Destination Fear, Portals to Hell and many others.  See for yourself why people return year after year hunting for the unexplainable!



Tours of the Missouri State Penitentiary are offered March-November. Lock up your tour today!