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Here are a few easy driving trips you can take from a St. Louis base. Some work as day trips, some better for an overnight stay:
Grafton , IL and the Great River Road . This is where the Illinois river meets the Mississippi . Grafton is set up for day-trippers. Pere Marquette state park has some great hiking trails and a very nice lodge. This area features some beautiful views and is especially fun in mid-winter, when the bald eagles visit the area. You'll love driving through Elsah, just east of Grafton and maybe stay at a B&B there. Alton has some very interesting antique shops, a few haunted mansions, the Alton Belle Casino and Fast Eddies, a renowned watering hole..
Augusta and Hermann , MO – this is beautiful country just west of Metro St. Louis. Either place could be a day trip or it makes a great weekend. The major attractions here are the wineries, each town with a set of 5-6. They are both charming little towns to visit anyway and a beautiful drive, especially in the Fall. The Daniel Boone home is on the way and Hermann has the Deutchheim Museum . In either town, you can also rent bikes and ride along the Katy Trail . Situated between the two is Washington , which has a couple nice restaurants and shops.
Steelville , MO – About an hour southwest on Interstate 44. Although this is a cute little town, it’s included here as one of the hubs for the many, many float trip destinations in Missouri . For about $40 a day, you can rent a canoe from one of dozens of outfitters in the area. The most popular rivers for floating are the Jacks Fork and Current, part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverway, but there are maybe twenty other floatable 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
Ste. Genevieve and Kimmswick , MO - Interstate 55 south about an hour. Ste. Genevieve is the oldest town west of the Mississippi , featuring home dating back hundreds of years, plus antiques, restaurants. A hugely popular attraction in Ste. Genevieve are the local wineries. These wineries feature some beautiful settings and live music on weekends. Most people bring a picnic snack. Stop by Kimmswick on the way down or back for lunch at the Blue Owl and a stroll through a few of the town’s shops.
Maeystown , IL – Maybe an hour southeast of St. Louis across the Jefferson Barracks bridge. Maeystown is a sleepy hillside burg with many buildings dating back to the 1800's. There is a nice B&B there called the Corner George. Check out the town’s museum too, plus a couple nice shops. Maeystown has a great Octoberfest every year in early October. Unfortunately, the town is too small to support a nice restaurant, so you’ll have to make the 10 mile drive back to Waterloo and eat at Gallagher’s, a charming restaurant in the town square. A couple miles east of Waterloo is Redbud, where you can visit Lau-Nae winery for a casual meal and wine tastings. Then make your way to town center about a mile further down the road to see the town center that's hasn't changed much in the last century. An alternate to this trip would be to visit downtown Belleville for antique shops and lunch before heading south to Redbud, then over to Waterloo and Maeystown. If you do visit Belleville, stop by the Ravissant winery.
Arrow Rock, Blackwater and Rocheport , MO - Three charming towns just past Columbia , maybe 3 hours from St. Louis . Arrow Rock has a museum telling the story of the town and a few quaint shops and restaurants. Nearby Blackwater has a revitalized town center with a couple nice shops. Their mayor has done a nice job of upping the charm factor to put this little town on the tourist map. Rocheport is an old riverside town that features a couple nice B&B's, it's also on the Katy Trail , so you could rent bikes and enjoy a ride along the bluffs of the Missouri river. If you want to take a sidetrip on the way out or back, swing by Mexico , a very pleasant town with an interesting history. Jefferson City is another potential sidetrip to see the state capital and its gorgeous riverside setting.
Arcadia Valley , MO – Southwest of St. Louis, about 2 hours. For scenic beauty, it's hard to beat this area, which features both Elephant Rocks, Johnson's Shut-ins, Hughes Mountain, Pickle Springs and Tom Sauk Mountain. On the way down, you can visit the covered bridge just north of Hillsboro and Caledonia, which has a couple B&B's, a general store on the historic registry and a couple of antique shops. There several B&B's in the Arcadia Valley area, or you can stay in Farmington, about 20 minutes east and close to wineries and Hawn State Park, which has some gorgeous hiking trails.
Hannibal , MO and Quincy, IL – 2 hours north of St. Louis . Take Highway 79 north along the Mississippi through Clarksville, home of the Crown Valley Port House and Louisiana, whose downtown includes four blocks on the National Register of Historic Places. Hannibal is the boyhood home of Mark Twain. It has a very nice museum, a riverboat cruise, cave tours, several decent restaurants. There are a also few B&B’s in the area. Quincy is across the bridge and about 20 minutes up the road from Hannibal. It claims to be one of the "100 best art towns in America" and features four historic districts. It's a larger, more bustling town than Hannibal and a better bet for dining and lodging options.
Springfield , IL – Two hours northeast of St. Louis up Interstate 55. The Presidential Museum, Lincoln 's home, law office and tomb are all prime destinations here. Also check out New Salem, a rebuilt little village that demonstrates what life was like in Lincoln 's time. There's a lot of history in this Illinois state capital and several nice B&B’s. Being the state capital, there are some good restaurants for the politicians. For a nice side trip, take a tour through the revitalized downtown Edwardsville just outside of St. Louis. You might also want to take the scenic route through Carlinville, home of Prairie Farms dairy.
St. Clair, MO - About an hour from St. Louis you will find the small town of St. Clair. A great access point for floating on the Meramec River. Bring your own tube or canoe. A public boat ramp is off highway 44 at the 242 exit. For those wanting to rent, canoes, kayaks and tubes are available for rent from Old Cove Canoe.
Carbondale , IL area – 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. and the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail - 12 wineries surrounding the town of Cobden. The area features several B&B's, many of which opened over the last few years. Just driving the trail is quite an adventure. On your way down, although it’s not the fastest route, you might enjoy crossing the Jefferson Barracks bridge to take Highway 3 south and stop in Chester, birthplace of Popeye. There is a small museum and several statues, most notably the Popeye statue by the Mississippi bridge. Murphysboro is a nice little town just before Carbondale. Come home through DuQuoin, which hosts the Illinois state fair.
Curryville, MO or Arthur, IL - These are the two closest Amish towns. Curryville is about an hour from St. Louis, just west of Bowling Green up highway 71, but is nearly a ghost town, and the general store is closed. The Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce has info on Amish shops at www.bgchamber.org. You can easily incorporate a visit there with a trip to Louisiana and Clarksville for a nice daytrip. Arthur is over two hours east (150 miles), but is a much larger and tourist-friendly, with an Amish Interpretive center to get you started. Learn more about Arthur at www.arthuril.com Either place offers opportunities to purchase Amish-made goods, which are known for high quality and organic ingredients. Tips: Don't go on Sunday - the stores are all closed. Also, it's a good idea to brush up on your etiquette before visiting these towns (e.g. pictures of faces are not appreciated).