Missouri State Penitentiary

Missouri State Penitentiary

Missouri State Penitentiary
5
About
The Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) opened in 1836 along the banks of the Missouri River in Jefferson City, Missouri, the state capital. The prison housed inmates for 168 years and was the oldest continually operating prison west of the Mississippi until it was decommissioned in 2004. The prison was already 100 years old when Alcatraz began taking inmates.The Jefferson City Convention & Visitors Bureau now offers a wide variety of tours at the site, once named the "The bloodiest 47 acres in America" by Time magazine. Visitors can choose to take a History or Ghost Tour, among others, and will walk through several incredibly historic housing units, the vast upper yard of the property and the gas chamber, where 40 men and women were executed. The tour also showcases cells of infamous inmates such as Sonny Liston, and James Earl Ray, who escaped from MSP before assassinating Martin Luther King Jr. Tour Season runs March - November each year. Tour Season: March - November
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  • Tatiana L
    Port Chester, New York3 contributions
    Good experience
    Great tour! Informative and good activity to do if you are interested in old jails. The guides were fun and had tons of personal stories to share along the walk. It made the whole tour more personal and i teresting.
    Visited March 2023
    Traveled as a couple
    Written March 4, 2023
  • Marie S
    O'Fallon, Missouri1 contribution
    Impressive tour of MSP
    Our guided tour, headed by Mike, was exceptional. During our 2 hour tour, Mike gave us an impressive amount of information and insight into the history of Missouri’s penitentiary and penal system. The physical structure is decaying, but still a stark reminder of what the prison population endured until 2004. The day of our tour was unseasonably FREEZING, so Mike tried to keep us out of the wind as much as possible. But this is a concrete and metal building with multiple broken windows and No Heat. Dress accordingly!
    Visited March 2023
    Traveled as a couple
    Written March 20, 2023
  • Laura T
    Saint Louis, Missouri2 contributions
    Great historical tour
    My daughter and I took the two hour tour. It was well lead and informative. The tour started in the building that used to hold the women's unit, then we went to one of the older buildings followed by the unit where the 1954 riot occurred. It was an amazing tour because the guides, Kathy and James were both former guards and really knew the history of the buildings and could answer questions.
    Visited March 2023
    Written March 25, 2023
  • krislori99
    Springfield, Missouri84 contributions
    Must See-Tons of History
    Our tour guide, Michael, was entertaining and knowledgeable. He had a wealth of stories about all the aspects of the prison. He was funny, engaging, and he knew how to keep us listening. He gave us time to explore, too. I highly recommend this attraction! It’s chilly, so bring a jacket —even in the summer.
    Visited April 2023
    Traveled with family
    Written April 1, 2023
  • Sue J
    1 contribution
    Missouri State Penitentiary Tour
    That tour was one of the most memorable tours I have ever taken. To see prison life from the 1830's to when it closed is remarkable. It was well worth my time. Our tour guide, Kathy and Nadine presented prison life as it was "back in that day" They were awsome!
    Visited April 2023
    Traveled as a couple
    Written April 1, 2023
  • Kasey E
    3 contributions
    Don’t think about going, just go!
    From my 11 and 7 year old “ Randy was the best tour guide ever and thank you for making sure we had fun”. My kids talked about this our entire 2 hour ride home. They were never bored and loved every second of the tour. I never knew my kids had such interest in history. They wanted to look up the inmates as soon as we got home. We can’t wait to go back for the 3 hour tour with my husband.
    Visited April 2023
    Written April 8, 2023
  • Nicole M
    3 contributions
    Do the ghost hunt!
    Do the ghost hunt and the history tour! I’ve been here several times and done all the tours except the full overnight one. They are all amazing! The guides know everything about the prison and truly love the place.
    Visited April 2023
    Traveled with friends
    Written April 9, 2023
  • Keisha B
    1 contribution
    Awesome
    This is an amazing place. Lots of things to see. We had great tour guides. Larry and Randy were exceptional. The answered all of our questions. Larry worked in the prision when it was up and running. And told many stories of things that happened behind the walls. If you have not taken this tour you need to do so. We probably would have thanken the 3 hour tour if available. It consist of death row, womens facilities and isolated cells that were no bigger than arms length.
    Visited April 2023
    Traveled as a couple
    Written April 17, 2023
  • San D
    3 contributions
    Imagine lunch for 5,000 inmates!
    What an institution that housed notorious, well-known criminals. Learned daily routines, the inmate culture, along with the Correction Officer culture. See how 5,000 men (and women) were jamb packed into an old, block building. See the "dungeon" where offenders were placed for days, weeks, months, years where it was pitch dark, and given bread & water. Finally, witness for yourself the 2-seat "gas Chamber", a small 25 x 25 block building where the inmate would be walked in 1 door and strapped to the chair, and the other door was for witnesses to watch.
    Visited April 2023
    Written April 19, 2023
  • Janet R
    Kansas City, Kansas1 contribution
    Wonderful experience
    My husband and I did the two hour tour yesterday (April 21). It was informative, interesting, and so worthwhile! Our tour guide was Green, who has in the past been a guard there at the prison. He was humorous, and very knowledgeable! Would love to take our two oldest grandkids there.
    Visited April 2023
    Written April 22, 2023
These reviews are the subjective opinion of Tripadvisor members and not of TripAdvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

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Detailed Reviews: Reviews ordered by recency and descriptiveness of user-identified themes such as wait time, length of visit, general tips, and location information.

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5.0
1,392 reviews
Excellent
1,194
Very good
143
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26
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14

Cryptic_Tourist
Saint Louis, MO742 contributions
Mar 2021 • Friends
My friend and I love spooky/historical buildings so we were very much looking forward to this tour. I’ve heard that the overnight tour is the best, but, my friend and I wanted to try the basic tour first because it was so much cheaper (plus we have a two hour drive) and we didn’t know if we were going to like it or not. I’ll say this, I wouldn’t recommend the basic 2 hour ghost tour. Here’s my pros and cons:

Cons:

We had a very large group of people (about 45 is my guess) and it was very hard to hear the guide as they don’t use microphones and people would not shut up on our tour. I’d say about 30% of the people on our tour were wearing masks and no one was keeping their distance. Which, to be fair, it’s very cramped and crowded in the old prison so it seemed very hard to. It was also freezing cold so make sure you dress appropriately. I wish I would’ve worn a second coat. Our tour guide also seemed kind of out of it and uninterested, but it is the beginning of the season so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Pros:

The building is pretty cool looking and we did learn some interesting things. The paranormal investigation was the most fun. We didn’t experience anything creepy, but I would love to come back and do the more in depth tour. After all, you get what you pay for!
Written March 22, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

morganlily
Saint Louis, MO542 contributions
Apr 2021
1st: Masks not required or encouraged. The guide was not wearing a mask, and had no problem talking inches from your face. No social distancing.. most were not wearing masks.
2nd: NOT a historical tour. It was 2 hours of hearing rambling stories about being a prison guard in the 70s and 80s. If it had been "Stories from a Guard at the MO State Pen" then it would have been great, but we paid $20 for a historical tour, and we did not get that. The stories were also not cohesive or did not seem to go anywhere. When asked a specific questions, the guide would ramble onto another story, and the question would end up not being answered.

After a tour, I should want to get MORE information, and run to the gift shop to purchase a book for more information. After this tour, I was left with no information.. and needed to pull up a Wikipedia article to just get the basics (that should have been covered in the tour.
Written April 25, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Mizzou214
The Villages, FL43 contributions
Jun 2020
We took the 2-hour tour. A group of us, our local Harley Owner's Group, did a ride from Kansas City to Jefferson City for the tour. Before hitting the prison, we stopped for lunch at Prison Brews, just a few blocks from the prison. Lunch (no beer this time) was great, and the prison tour was terrific. Our tour guide, Mr. Green, had been a guard at the prison for over 30 years. Lots of firsthand insight.

It became quickly obvious that conditions in the prison would have been awful. But, actually, I'm okay with that...prison is supposed to be punishment, not a cozy vacation. Kudos to the State of Missouri for leaving this institution in place, and letting the public tour the grounds. The 2-hour tour, reservations recommended, is only 15 bucks, and is well worth it. If nothing else, sitting in the chair in the gas chamber will surely give you the creeps.
Written June 15, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

jbwhitehouse
Dallas, TX1,861 contributions
Oct 2021
I don’t often say this, but this site is worth going out of your way to see. Our over 2-hour tour by Kathy with her assistant Paul provided history, setting, and stories of the place, its inhabitants—inmates and guards—during its 168 year of active existence. Fascinating to hear how the penitentiary came to be, the development of Jefferson City, the riots of 1954, and even how it came to be a tour site. After seeing the location of the executions be sure to visit the nearby Missouri State Penitentiary Museum which is included in the ticket price. We took the history tour, not the ghost tour.
Written October 31, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Bondsei
Ballwin, MO2 contributions
May 2021
The experience was well worth the money paid!!!! Two docents, (we believe their names were Larry and Roger), and they were awesome. Larry was a former employee who was well versed with the operation of the prison.

We took the $30.00 tour which included a former convict James (Jelly Roll) Cochran and the extra $10.00 was well spent. He added an additional inside look through the eyes of a former convict, which just heightened the experience. Definitely spend the extra $10.00 for the full understanding of what it was like to live there.
Written May 17, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Megan A
1 contribution
Jun 2020
We LOVED every minute of our 2-hour historical tour! Michael is a phenomenal tour guide, every minute was packed full with details and stories from the prison's past. Nadene let me hang back a little when I got slightly claustrophobic and told me additional facts about the prison's history - they made a great team! I wasn't sure what to expect but after the tour we talked about what we learned for hours. And still a few days after! I recommend this as a great outing for anyone!
Written June 17, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

David B
2 contributions
Mar 2021
Took our 3 kids to MSP as a day-trip from the Kansas City area. Had Larry and Randy as our tour guides and everybody in the family had a good time learning about the long history of the prison. I had no idea Sonny Liston had done time at MSP. Larry’s stories were great. To hear from somebody who had worked there for so many years, right in the middle of all of the prisoners, was eye-opening and added a ton to the tour. There were probably 5 or 6 families on the tour and everybody but one family wore masks the whole time. I was surprised they weren’t forced to put on their mask but there was pretty good space so it was less of a concern. Just a note in case you are worried about COVID during your tour. You really should visit the museum across the street as well (for free if you do the MSP tour).

The stories of what happened there, will be eye-opening. We also bought Larry’s book, “Unguarded Moments” and look forward to reading about other things that happened in the prison as well. Definitely worthy of its #1 ranking!
Written March 20, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Heather L
2 contributions
Jul 2020
Mr. Green and Aloha were our guides for the tour. Mr. Green was a former guard at the prison. He had amazing stories from his time working at the prison. The insight he provided to the history of the prison was fantastic!!! I took the tour several years ago and wanted to bring my family members back for a tour. I was hoping Mr. Green would be our guide, and he was! Currently A hall, the oldest portion of the prison still standing, is closed to tours because of roof damage from a storm. However, we were able to tour another portion of B and C Halls. I highly recommend this tour to anyone staying in the area! We purchased our tickets ahead of time online, which I would recommend, in case the tour fills up. We took the 2 hour tours, but would enjoy coming back for the 3 hour tour at some point. With it being July, they understood that it would be hot and provided personal fans to help keep us cool. In the past I had taken this tour in late October, which was comfortable in a jacket and jeans. Be sure whatever time of year you go, dress for the weather.
Written July 20, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Julie C
23 contributions
Jun 2020
This is one of those unusual places that you have to visit. It's history spans over 150 years and gives you an intimate look into prison life over much of that period. Michael is a superior guide, a fun story teller and a great historian of Missouri prisons. The two hour regular tour flew by and people had great questions which drew more stories. From the Civil War era through most of the 20th century, this penitentiary has been a landmark, built of locally mined stone, it resembles a castle. Be sure to stop by the museum after your tour to see a nice collection of photographs and artifacts.
Written June 28, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Phillip
Chicago, IL149 contributions
Apr 2022
This 3-hour tour we took was fun to do, although it seemed cramped and that there were too many people on the tour. There were times the guide started speaking before everyone got within earshot and some people in the back started talking to each other trying to figure out what was being talked about, which made it even more difficult to hear. It seemed that there were over 40 people on this tour. If they capped it at 20 and charged $10-$15 more I think it would be a better experience.

Toward the end of the tour, we were told to move our vehicle for the last part, which was the gas chamber. It was a very small space, so I waited just outside the door on the front step for several people to exit, then several people pushed past me to enter and crammed in there. These are adults, strangers to each other, doing this. Makes me think people don't care if they don't know who these other people are and don't care if they might get sick brushing up against a stranger in a close space, not to mention they are not listening to the guide telling us it was a small space. They are oblivious to someone looking inside, waiting to go in, and push past them. This is not home, this is a shared area. Rather than say something, I just left without seeing it. Might be my loss in not seeing the final place, but I learned more about other people's behavior at the end of the tour, so at least I learned something. I can't say that anyone else there learned what I did.
Written April 3, 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

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