Any way you pronounce it, Missouri knows how to camp. Native sons include Daniel Boone, Mark Twain and Jesse James – and that adventurous spirit lives on in the prosperous land left in their wake. From the gentle slopes of the northern plains to the rolling Ozarks in the south, Missouri offers lush and varied forests, an intricate web of hollowed caves for exploring, and steely blue rivers flush with trout.
Who needs Napa? Not St. Louis folk, who can head out to the Hermann Wine Trail (an hour or so west of the city) for their own storied wine trail, tucked with 80-plus vineyards and wineries, some of which date back to the 1800’s.
If you’ve got bouldering on your list, make your way to Elephant Rocks State Park, a 129-acre preserve with enormous, billion-year-old rocks perfect for all kinds of scrambling. Several hikes wind their way through the area, including a unique "Braille Trail" for the visually impaired.
Nearby, St. Francois State Park offers a dreamy forest getaway with more hiking trails (one allowing equestrian access), intense rock climbing routes, and canoeing along Big River; while the Katy Trail, the nation's longest rails-to-trails bike path, offers over 200 miles along the Missouri River, taking bikers past sunlit prairies, vineyards and picturesque farms.
You can canoe your way through a guided cave tour at Meramec State Park in the Mark Twain National Forest, but you’ll have to travel a few hours north to visit Mark Twain’s (aka Samuel Clemens’) Boyhood Home and Museum. Nearby, you can wander the underground tunnels of his youth, memorialized in his books, at the Mark Twain Cave Complex.
Just beyond Kansas City limits, you’ll find the Somerset Wine Trail, which features four wineries; and the Heartland Harvest Garden, a 12-acre edible garden (the largest of its kind in the country) offering over 2,000 varieties of fruits and vegetables. Don’t miss watersports at Smithville Lake, which boasts 175 miles of shoreline for fishing, biking and more; or Jackson County's Lake Jacomo, where colorful sailboats and windsurfers cruise across the 970-acre lake. Twenty minutes away, you can sink your teeth into some of Kansas City’s finest brisket, ribs and burnt ends (it’s a K.C. thing) at Harp Barbecue, recently named one of the best BBQ spots in the country by Thrillist.
In Southern Missouri, the winding valleys and rolling green mountains that make up the Ozarks (which stretch into northern Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma) are a striking vision. Branson's Theater District lights up the inky night sky like Vegas, offering dozens of theater options alongside antique shops and galleries – but for those looking for a quiet outdoor escape, there are caves to be explored, historic sites to uncover, and national forests to hike.
Not to mention some very grand lakes. The grandest of them all being Lake of the Ozarks, the largest lake in the state with over a thousand miles of shoreline. Campers who find their way to this area make short work of enjoying its legendary fishing, beach and watersport scene. Ha Ha Tonka State Park is best known for its early 20th-century stone mansion ruins (modeled after a European castle), but hikers will want to check out its caves, sinkholes, and bluffs overlooking the lake.
Marvel Cave at Silver Dollar City, near Branson, is the deepest cave you can explore in the state, diving spelunkers over five hundred feet beneath the earth’s surface. Tours begin in the jaw-dropping Cathedral Room, one of the largest cave entrances on the continent, with ceilings over 200 feet high. Keep an eye out for the Liberty Bell, a 55-foot stalagmite with a cracked side; or the red-stained walls of the Dungeon. Nearby, at Table Rock Lake you’ll find 750 miles of shoreline rimmed with hiking trails, caves and hidden beaches.