There are 13 National Park Services in the state of Missouri. The state has just one National Park, Gateway Arch and the rest of the national park services is comprised of a scenic National Scenic Riverway, a National Historic Park, as well as many epic National Historic Trails. Missouri is also home to fascinating National Historic Sites, a National Monument and a National Battlefield. So, whether you are into hikes, history or heritage, rivers, parks or trails, there is a beautiful spot just waiting for you to explore. Ready to experience the scenery of the “Show Me State”? Here’s our list of the best national parks in Missouri.
7 Best National Parks in Missouri
1. Trail of Tears – National Historic Trail
The Trail of Tears takes you on a journey of injustice, as it follows the route that American Indians took when they were illegally forced to move from their ancestral homelands in the Deep South to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. During the Cherokee removal, historians estimate that 3,000–4,000 of them died during the passage – this is how the route got its name the Trail of Tears. Today, the 5,000-mile Historic Trail passes through nine states (N.C., Ga., Tenn., Ill., Mo., Ala., Ky., Ark. and Okla.) and marks the forced removal of Cherokee people. En route, there are plenty of certified sites to help you learn more about American Indian culture and heritage and this dark period in history. In Missouri, you can stop and visit the Trail of Tears State Park, a beautiful, scenic, and tranquil spot where you can acquaint yourself with nature.
2. Santa Fe – National Historic Trail
As you follow the Santa Fe National Historic Trail, you’ll traverse through five states and discover adventure and evidence of the travellers of long ago who made this remarkable journey. Along the trail, you pass historic places of importance. Those in Missouri include Arrow Rock Ferry Landing and the Arrow Rock State Historic Site visitors’ centre, as well as Santa Fe Spring. For a panoramic stop, head to the Harley Park Overlook in Boonville which has terrific views of the Missouri River and several important Santa Fe Trail sites.
3. Pony Express – National Historic Trail
The Pony Express National Historic Trail traces the route that men once rode on horseback to deliver mail from Missouri to California. It took the men just 10 days to cover the 1,800-mile trail. The route crosses through eight states with plenty of places en route to stop where you can admire the scenery and learn more about this historic route and company. In Missouri, you can stop at Alexander Majors House, which once was the western outpost for many military freight caravans on the trail. You can also visit the Pony Express Stables, which was built in 1858 to accommodate the horses used by the Pony Express company. It is now a fascinating museum.
4. Lewis and Clark – National Historic Trail
The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail extends for some 4,900 miles (7,900km). It stretches from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. It is the third-longest National Historic Trail after The Trail of Tears in North Carolina and the California Trail. The trail commemorates the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which took place from 1804 to 1806. Lewis and Clarke were American explorers and soldiers. They set off to cross the newly acquired western portion of the country after the Louisiana Purchase. Following the Missouri portion of this trail takes you past many beautiful and historical landmarks, for instance, the bridge crossing Apple Creek. This is the only iron bridge of its kind in Missouri still in its original location. Constructed in 1879, the bridge connects Perry and Cape Girardeau Counties. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
5. Ozark – National Scenic Riverways
Ozark National Scenic Riverways is the first national park area to protect a river system. It protects The Current and Jacks Fork rivers. These spring-fed rivers are home to a vast array of caves, trails and historic sites such as Alley Mill. The beautifully clear and clean river system attracts visitors from all over. They come to enjoy boating, canoeing, swimming, fishing and tubing. The surrounding area provides wonderful opportunities for hiking and bird watching.
6. Oregon – National Historic Trail
The Oregon National Historic Trail stretches 2,170 miles. It was laid by fur traders and trappers from about 1811 to 1840. The east-west trade route and emigrant trail connects the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon. It cuts through six states: Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. Emigrants tackled the original Oregon Trail on foot, horseback or in wagons. They wanted to move to Oregon with its lush farmlands and hopes of a new beginning. As you journey the route today, you can visit museums, historic sites, and churches. These all help retell the story of these early American settlers. Along the Missouri section, you can visit the Historic Truman Courthouse, which is the official start of the Oregon National Historic Trail.
7. California – National Historic Trail
The California National Historic Trail covers 5,665 miles across ten states. It is the longest National Historic Trail in the United States of America. By following this trail, you are following in the footsteps of thousands of emigrants before you. They travelled along this trail in wagons in the 1840s and 1850s. The route took them from the Midwest toward the Pacific in search of gold and opportunity. This was the greatest mass migration in American history. Along the Missouri section of this trail, you can stop off at many historical sites of interest. There are also lots of beautiful natural landmarks en route, for instance, Westport Landing. This is where many eastern emigrants ended the first leg of their journey via riverboat. They then began preparations for their long overland journey.