What’s your pleasure for a great weekend getaway? The great outdoors? Total relaxation? Learning about history? What about an underground adventure? You’ll find all of these options and more just a few hours from The Gateway City. If you’re planning your next weekend trip out of town, consider one of the following five destinations, which are all within 175 miles of St. Louis:
Arthur, IL – 150 miles
Just outside of Arthur is the largest and oldest Amish community in Illinois. The first Amish settlers arrived here in the 1860s. Today, they number more than 4,000. If you’re ready to leave the hustle and bustle behind for a weekend, this is the place to be.
Enjoy a breakfast, lunch, or dinner buffet at Yoder’s Country Kitchen. Browse the local shops, where you can find carefully crafted solid wood Amish furniture that will last for generations. Take pictures of Amish crafts and creations if you wish, but remember to respect their desire to not be in pictures.
Every October, The Great Pumpkin Patch offers an amazing display of pumpkins, gourds, and squash. There are more than 300 species in all. Test your navigation skills in one of the mazes or sample the tasty treats at The Homestead Bakery.
If you’re looking for an exotic adventure, take a quick 10-mile trek east to Aikman Wildlife Adventure, a drive-thru safari. There are more than 70 species of animals from six continents. The mile-long route takes you past zebras, camels, water buffalo, and more.
Springfield, IL – 100 miles
Springfield is an easy drive north via I-55. However, if you prefer to enjoy a weekend adventure by time, there are daily departures from downtown St. Louis. Springfield’s Amtrak Station is within walking distance of many attractions.
Springfield is the capital of Illinois. A 405-foot dome sits atop the State Capitol. The Renaissance Revival and Second Empire building dates to 1888. A short walk away is the Governor’s Mansion, which was built in 1855. It is the third oldest continuously occupied governor’s mansion in the country.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum animates the life and times of the 16th President. Re-live the Lincoln-Douglas debates, the White House years, and much more. Twenty miles northwest of Springfield is the New Salem State Historic Site. Young Lincoln lived here from 1831 to 1837.
Springfield’s Dana-Thomas House is the work of America’s most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. It is a 35-room, 12,000 sq ft masterpiece. It is home to the largest collection of original furniture and art glass of any Wright property. The Washington Park Botanical Garden is also worthy of a visit. A 50-foot glass dome houses 150 plant species. Stroll the 10 gardens scattered across 20 acres.
Meramec Caverns – 65 miles
How many caves have been discovered in Missouri? More than 6,000! The largest of all of Missouri’s caves, the Meramec Caverns, is northwest of Sullivan and a quick ride west via Interstates 44 and 64.
A labyrinth of underground rooms stretches for 4.6 miles. Some are seven stories high. A 1.25-mile guided tour takes about 80 minutes. Delight in inspiring mineral formations in the Stage Curtain, Ballroom, and Theater Room. The latter is home to a light show paying tribute to America’s Armed Forces. The Hollywood Room appears in the 1973 film, “Tom Sawyer.”
Contrast your underground tour with one amid the treetops at Caveman Zipline. The four rides range in length from 250 to 1250 feet. Top speeds reach a hair-raising 50 mph.
Some believe that Meramec Caverns was a one-time hideout for the bandit Jesse James. In nearby Stanton, you’ll find a wax museum paying homage to this bad boy of the frontier West.
Hannibal, MO – 115 miles
The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum is a complex of five historic buildings and two museums. You’ll see his iconic white jacket. There’s also the gown he wore as he received an honorary doctorate from Oxford in 1907. The Museum Gallery features 15 original oil paintings by Norman Rockwell. His art illustrated famous literary works like “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn.”
The Molly Brown Birthplace & Museum is also in Hannibal. Learn of the rags-to-riches story of Margaret “Molly” Tobin Brown. She parlayed her fame as a survivor of the Titanic sinking into advocating for women’s rights. The 1964 film “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” chronicles her story.
Compliment your exploration of history with invigorating outdoor activities. Go hiking or biking at the 73-acre Steyermark Woods Conservation Area. Or, enjoy a scenic hike at the Sodalis Nature Preserve. The Mark Twain Cave Complex includes caves and the Cave Hollow West Winery. Enjoy a cool summer escape in an environment where temperatures hold steady in the low 50s.
Historic Hannibal is also home to some wonderful bed and breakfasts. Relax amid elegant examples of 19th-century architecture. You’ll find Italianate, Victorian, and Georgian Revival styles among them.
Shawnee National Forest – 75 miles
The Shawnee National Forest is a massive playground for outdoor enthusiasts in southern Illinois. Go hiking, biking, or hit the water in a canoe or kayak. Try your hand at rock climbing or zip-lining. You might even see a bald eagle during your visit.
At Garden of the Gods, enjoy unique rock formations along with panoramic views. The Pomona Natural Land Bridge is another popular attraction. In the Heron Pond area, venture into a cypress/tupelo swamp aboard a floating boardwalk. The Jackson Falls recreation area offers a beautiful waterfall. There’s also hiking, rappelling, bouldering, and rock climbing. Some of the routes up the 30- to 70-foot walls boast grades of 5.10 or higher.
Enrich your weekend stay with a visit to one of the area’s wineries. Stroll among the vineyards, or attend a wine tasting. Accommodations include forest cabins, camping, and traditional lodging. As you head back to St. Louis, cruise the Great River Road along the Mississippi River.
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