While Missouri may not be the first state to come to mind when you think of planning your next outdoor student travel adventure, think again. Missouri may not have mountain ranges or coastal beaches, but it has plenty of unique opportunities for student groups of any kind. People outside of Missouri may think it's a boring, flat prairie, but these people have never experienced the gorgeous bluffs of the Ozarks or the mind boggling wonder of Missouri springs or the magnificence of Missouri's many caves. The 87 state parks located in Missouri offer almost 1,000 miles of trails and over 3,500 campsites. Missouri truly ranks as a top location in the U.S. for outdoor adventure enthusiasts. Here are the top 7 outdoor attractions that Missouri has to offer:
Castor River Shut-ins.
You may have heard of Missouri's more popular Johnson's Shut-ins, but the Castor River Shut-ins are Missouri's best kept secret. Accessible only by a gravel road and subsequent hike, the breathtaking view when you finally reach the shut-ins is unlike any other in Missouri. This is because the shut-ins are the only shut-ins of their kind formed by pink granite. The rocks have been worn smooth by the flow of water in their 1.5 billion-year history. The Castor River flows through the shut-ins creating multiple pools, small rapids, and waterfalls. This is a great destination for exploring year-round, but the temptation to wade and swim during the summer months is irresistible.
The pinnacle of Haha Tonka state park is a mansion that was built in the 1920s and modeled off of European castles. It was destroyed by a fire in 1942. Now, the castle provides a serene outlook over Haha Tonka spring and Ozark bluffs as it serves as a blank canvas for an avid imagination. 316 wooden steps take you from the Haha Tonka spring up to the castle, so be prepared for a climb. The park offers several other trails including Devil's Kitchen and Island Trail. You can also enjoy boating, swimming, fishing, and picnicking.
You may know Missouri as the "Show-me State" but did you know that it is also "The Cave State." Missouri has nearly 6,400 known caves and new caves are being discovered each year. The state allows four of the largest, most magnificent caves to be toured in season. Ozark Caverns is one of these caves. If you take advantage of the 1 hour guided tour, you can expect to see typical cave formations such as stalagmites and stalactites, cave animals such as bats and salamanders, and "Angel Showers" - the crowning glory of Ozark Caverns is a flow of water from the cave ceiling to a pool below.
The centerpiece of this state park is a spring. An astonishing 100 million gallons of water flow from the spring daily. This creates a stream that flows into the Niangua River. This peaceful location is the perfect place for some summer R&R. But if you're ready to go, there are also enough activities to burn energy for days. While the stream is famous across America for its prime trout fishing, the park has much more to offer even non-fishing aficionados. Take a hike on some (or all) of the 12 miles of hiking trails, set up camp at one of several campgrounds, feed the fish at the fish hatchery or float down the Niangua on the 9 mile Ho Hum float trip.
The Devil's Icebox, located in Rockbridge Memorial State Park, is a hiking trail like no other. The trail offers several lookout points with magnificent views, but the main reward for your effort on a hot summer day is the descent into Devil's Icebox. Named for the cool temperatures present even on the warmest days, the icebox is near two cave entrances. Connor's cave is open for hikers to explore along with an underwater stream and a vast amount of off-trail terrain. The trail is only about half a mile, but if you want to keep hiking, there are many more nearby trails that can keep you occupied all day.
The Katy trail is the longest trail ever to be converted from train tracks. The 240 miles that cross the state are easily accessible for anyone. While there are opportunities for hiking and camping, you'll make the most of your time and cover the most territory if you bike the trail. You can even make it a week or weekend trip by staying in some of the many B&Bs located in towns along the trail.
Dogwood Canyon Nature Park.
This 10,000-acre privately owned park was purchased in 1990 by the owner of Bass Pro Shops. The goal of the park is to preserve the natural environment of the canyon and the surrounding land while making it accessible to the public. Breathtaking Wish Bowl Falls is just one of the amazing elements for visitors to see at this park. You'll definitely want to take advantage of the horseback riding tour in order to see the most remote areas of the park. They also offer archery and fishing lessons as well as tram, bike, and Segway tours of the park.
Between hidden caves, horseback riding, float trips, endless hiking, and spectacular views, what more could Missouri have to offer? Why not put all of these destinations on your school trip itinerary as you make your way around the state of Missouri? It will be a trip that students never forget.