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Best St. Louis Area Day Trips

Updated on November 25, 2014
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Ready for a Road Trip from St. Louis?

Great road trips to take from the Gateway City of St. Louis Missouri! These travel guides were compiled by a native of STL who is passionate about this midwest Missouri area of eastern Missouri and western Illinois.

  One-of-a-kind and off-the-beaten-track kind of unique destinations. These are the kind of day trips from St. Louis you may never have heard about, but are sure to enjoy and want to remember. Most of these will work well as day trips, while some are better for an overnight stay.

Top 3 St. Louis Area Road Trips:

#1 The Great River Road

#2 Augusta and Herman

#3 Arcadia Valley

The Great River Road - Road Trip #1

"by FAR my FAVORITE day trip from St. Louis!" ~crosscreations

The Great River Road area north of Alton, Illinois is the closest thing the St. Louis area has to a beach. The spectacular views along the river bluffs are quite worth the trip during ANY season of the year. The fall colors are delightful against the river bluffs in this area. In mid-winter, the area is quite popular for eagle-watching. It is in this area where the Illinois river meets the Mississippi, and that confluence is the largest of many in this River City area.

Getting there: I-270 northeast from airport area to 367 north. That takes you directly across the bridge into Alton, then left turn. You will pass the Alton Belle Casino on the left and wind through Alton till you see signs for 'The Great River Road' heading north along the river.

Alton is well known for great antique shops, a few haunted mansions, and the Alton Belle Casino. You'll want to stop in at Fast Eddies in Alton, a wildly popular watering hole and restaurant with a really great outdoor dining area.

Heading north from Alton, you'll enjoy driving through the quaint riverside village of Elsah. North from Elsah you'll pass Raging Rivers Water Park and then make a stop in the town of Grafton.

In Grafton you might antique shop, have ice cream, go on a river tour or dine. Despite the many floods Grafton has endured, the town has managed not only to thrive but even to grow in recent years.

The Finn Inn is filled with HUGE aquariums of fish to watch as you dine. Kids of all ages love it. Another favorite is the Loading Dock in Grafton where you can dine outside on the deck right next to the Mississippi and watch the boats. The Loading Dock has live music on weekends, too, and a flea market once a month, GREAT place, very casual.

North from Grafton is Pere Marquette State Park, where there's a beautiful lodge and restaurant overlooking the Mississippi River. The lodge has modern amenities such as an indoor pool, game room, and the famous giant chess set in the main lobby (each piece is about 5 ft. tall). The park has some great hiking trails as well as driving lookouts from the cliffs above the river.

The River Road

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BEST Beach in River City!The Confluence - Mississippi & Illinois Rivers"Hakuna Matata" River Cruise
BEST Beach in River City!
BEST Beach in River City!
The Confluence - Mississippi & Illinois Rivers
The Confluence - Mississippi & Illinois Rivers
"Hakuna Matata" River Cruise
"Hakuna Matata" River Cruise
The Great River Road north of Alton, Illinois
The Great River Road north of Alton, Illinois

The River Road Trail

North of Alton along the Mississippi River

The Great River Road trail is very popular for bicyclists and walkers. A good start is at the Piasa Bird parking lot just north of Alton (Piasa is pronounced PIE-uh-saw) . Bicyclists often ride from Alton area north to Grafton, or even all the way up to Pere Marquette State Park.

Grafton, Illinois is a must stop on the Great River Road for lunch, ice cream, shopping & more. Favorite restaurants in Grafton surely include The Loading Dock, great views on the Mississippi, live music on weekends & very casual however seasonal. The Finn Inn is also a favorite restaurant in Grafton during any time of year, filled with giant aquariums of live fish to stare at you while you dine.

The trail is flat and the scenery is absolutely gorgeous, with tall bluffs on one side and the Mississippi River on the other. You will pass quaint little river villages like Elsah and Chatauqua. The flat trail is an easy ride, the only possible challenge being a very windy day, since riding against the wind on this trail can be tough. The river boats will vary from huge barges pushed by tug boats to speedboats and small sailing vessels.

Arcadia Valley - Road Trip #2

About 2 hours southwest of St. Louis, the Arcadia Valley is highly recommended. For scenic beauty, it's hard to beat this area.

Drive south on the winding two lane (snake) highway 21 to Elephant Rock and Johnson's Shut-ins, both popular natural swimming holes in the summer months. Hughes Mountain and Tom Sauk Mountain are known for great scenery and hiking.

On the way, you can visit the covered bridge just north of Hillsboro. There several unique Bed and Breakfast Inns in the Arcadia Valley area. You might also stay in Farmington, about 20 minutes east and close to wineries and Hawn State Park, which has some gorgeous hiking trails.

Wine Country - Road Trip # 3

Augusta and Hermann

Wine Lovers will love the Augusta area, a beautiful area just southwest of St. Louis. It could be a day trip or a great weekend. Beyond the beautiful countryside, the major attractions here are the wineries, and each town has several of them.

Augusta and Hermann are both charming little towns to visit and a beautiful drive, especially in the fall. The Daniel Boone home is on the way and you might visit the Deutchheim Museum in Hermann. In either town, you can also rent bicycles and ride along The Katy Trail. Make it a weekend by staying at one of the unique Bed & Breakfast Inns near Augusta, Hermann or Washington, MO.

The Katy Trail once was railroad tracks, now paved into bicycling trails that line the Misourri River for hundreds of miles through wine country. Built in the late 80s, the Katy Trail is a popular bicycling route. Starting at Frontier Park in St. Charles, you can now ride all the way through to mid-Missouri by bicycle through some most beautiful countryside, wineries, river bluffs and quaint small towns like Defiance and Herman, MO.

Kimmswick and St. Genevieve, Missouri

Shopping and History Tours on the Mississippi River

Take Interstate 55 south from St. Louis about an hour to get to this area. St. Genevieve is the oldest town west of the Mississippi , featuring homes dating back hundreds of years, plus antiques and restaurants. The local wineries in St. Genevieve feature some beautiful settings and live music on weekends. Many people bring a picnic basket.

Stop by Kimmswick on the way for lunch at The Blue Owl and a stroll through some of the town's numerous unique shops.

If art fairs are your thing, Kimmswick hosts the biggest Art Fair I've ever seen in this area every year in the early fall. Just about every street in town is lined with arts and crafts tents, one amazing event! After spending an entire afternoon in Kimmswick, I doubt I saw even half of it - it is truly THAT big. Popular annual weekend event with artists, crafts, live music, food & drink, the works! The Kimmswick Art Fair and Apple Butter Festival draws a bigger crowd every year.

Carbondale, IL

College Town in Southern Illinois

Carbondale is a college town about two and a half hours southeast of St. Louis. Highlights of this area are:

* Giant City State Park, with great scenery and a historic lodge

*The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail boasts 12 wineries surrounding the town of Cobden, an interesting drive whether visiting the wineries or not.

* Unique Bed and Breakfast Inns, many of which opened over the last few years.

Although it's not the fastest route, on the way down you might enjoy crossing the Jefferson Barracks bridge to take Highway 3 south and stop in Chester, Illinois - birthplace of Popeye. There is a small museum there and several statues, most notably the Popeye statue by the Mississippi bridge.

Missouri Ozark Waterways - Canoe Trips

You're in Missouri on a Summer Day? Let's Float!

Go on a float trip! St. Louis is 'River City' and many a native will say you've not been to Missouri unless you've gone on a float trip. Float by canoe, kayak or raft, but tour Missouri rivers.

About an hour southwest on Interstate 44 is Steelville, MO. Steelville is one of the closest hubs to St. Louis for canoeing float trips. For about $40 a day, you can rent a canoe or raft from one of dozens of outfitters in the area. The most popular rivers for floating are the Meramac or the Current, part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

Float trips are a popular getaway for St. Louis natives, so the rivers closest to town such as the Meramac tend to get pretty crowded and rowdy with float trip partying on sunny summer weekends.

While the Meramac is close by, as a St. Louis native it is my least favorite of Missouri Rivers for canoeing. Two reasons: crowds and river debris. That river tends to rise and fall quickly during heavy rains, and so it is not uncommon for trees to end up tipped over across the river. Debris gets washed downriver, making a canoe trip sometimes less than relaxing.

Not up for a float trip? You can also tour Meramac Caverns and they offer a Zip Line experience there, too.

There are many other rivers within a few hours drive of St. Louis, and the drives alone are worth the trip. Check out www.missouricanoe.org for more information about canoeing on Missouri Rivers.

Eminence, MO

The Jack's Fork River and River's Edge Resort

It's a bit farther from St. Louis, but one of the BEST floats ever can be enjoyed floating the Jack's Fork River near Eminence, MO. The Jack's Fork is a gorgeous river for canoeing along quiet steep bluffs!

The River's Edge Resort is one amazing place to stay in that area, a gorgeous and very unique lodge. Wait til you see the upscaled art surrounding the place from antique recycled objects such as old woodstoves complete with faces and body parts, eyes made of old clear glass doorknobs and other whimsical creations. Upscale rooms for that area, some with hot tubs and adjoining rooms to accommodate larger groups. A long deck lines the lodge on the river side, giving all rooms a nice view.

The river once ran right alongside the lodge and later extreme flooding changed the course of the river bed some, making it now flow farther from away the lodge. This left a wide flat field in front of the lodge, now used by guests for exploring, sunbathing, bonfires, and volleyball. Many nights there are huge bonfires glowing in the old river bed, lighting the way to the new one.

St. Louis Area Favorites

No time for a full day roadtrip?

Here are some nearby attractions for short road trips.

Lone Elk Park is worth the 40-minute drive from downtown, west on Interstate 44. You'll find driving trails through wooded areas where wild bison, elk and other animals live and roam free. The park is a peaceful setting for a picnic or bird watching.

Laumeier Sculpture Park in Sunset Hills is not a place you would just stumble upon. The huge sculptures found there, some over 40 feet tall, make it a one-of-a-kind destination. There's a walking trail and plenty of greenery and solitude. Dog friendly. Bring the camera!

About 20 miles west in Chesterfield's Faust Park, find the Butterfly House . The variety and sheer number of butterflies in a relatively condensed area is amazing. It also can be a great place to warm up if the weather is cold. You can also stroll through the historic village at Faust Park, consisting of buildings relocated from throughout the area. Don't miss seeing the 1921 Denzel vintage Carousel.

Creve Couer Park - St. Louis can boast many beautiful parks, but this one is by far a favorite among many natives. Located in northwest county, I'd say it is the closest thing St. Louis has to a beach (the Great River Road north of Alton being a close second). Creve Couer Lake is the largest lake in the area, with a trail that goes all the way around it - perfect for walking or bicycling while you enjoy views of sailboats out on the lake.

Also don't miss "The Lake House" Restaurant, which is close by on Creve Couer Mill Road. The staff wears shirts saying 'St. Louis' Best Kept Secret' and I concur. The restaurant is right on the trail, so is popular for bicyclists and very casual. Visitors may dine inside or out, but the outdoor area is particularly nice. No traffic noise, just a serene view, and in cold weather each table is stoked by its own small fire to keep you warm. Live music on weekends for outdoor dining at its best!

Enjoy these St.Louis Road Trips? Join the discussion below.

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    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 7 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Very nice lens. You've hit a lot of my favorite spots. The Alton River road is particularly beautiful in the fall and I volunteer at The Butterfly House so that too is one of my favorites.

      5* and Blessed by a SquidAngel

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image

      WindyWintersHubs 7 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

      Great List of Day Trips in St. Louis. I love traveling and will add to my favorites! :)

    • Sensitive Fern profile image

      Sensitive Fern 7 years ago

      I love Elephant Rocks and Johnson's Shut-Ins! Just made it to Carbondale for the first time a couple weeks ago. There is really so much to see in and around St. Louis. 5*

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 6 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      I just spent today on the Great River Road...a wonderful day trip.

    • Violin-Student profile image

      Violin-Student 6 years ago

      I moved from Missouri twenty four years ago, but still have many fond memories of the St. Louis area. I really enjoy Augusta and Hermann (2 n's if you want to find it on Google maps!)

    • Wonder-V profile image

      Wonder-V 6 years ago

      What a great compilation....I love the river road, too but I have to say the wine country area is by far my fave, especially in late spring and in early fall. So pretty! I am linking this to St. Louis food lens! Great info!

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 6 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Stopping back by to give you a blessing.

    • profile image

      flipflopju 5 years ago

      I love your ideas. #3 is my favorite but I've always wanted to do #1.

    • profile image

      Travelclubcouk 5 years ago

      I love your St. Louis Area Day Trips lenses... I'll be printing them out and taking them along when I go! A very good information about the road trips. thank you for sharing

    • AlwaysCurious LM profile image

      Ashley 5 years ago from St. Louis

      Great ideas! Thanks! I'm definitely going to have try some of these!

    • CrossCreations profile image
      Author

      Carolan Ross 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      @Travelclubcouk: Hey thanks, glad you like this St. Louis Raodtrips collection. I add to it every now and then, so maybe consider a bookmark to get future updates.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

      I went to Kimmiswick a few times when visiting friends near St Louis. Fun shopping place.

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