The American road trip is a time-honored tradition in the Show-Me State — after all, the iconic Route 66 runs through the state from St. Louis to Joplin. But epic drives are far from the only way to get out and go, as there are many ways to travel in Missouri without a car.
Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, Missouri is an easy destination to explore by vehicle. But if you prefer to not spend hours in a car, mass transit is an easy and affordable alternative in many parts of the state. While en route to your destination, you can catch up on your favorite TV show or finally read that book that’s been collecting dust on your bedside table. Plus, you can reduce your carbon footprint and travel more sustainably by using mass transit. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy claims travel on Amtrak is 46% more energy efficient than traveling by car and 34% more energy efficient than flying domestically.
Long before the interstate system dominated the landscape, trains were one of the most efficient ways to travel across America’s vast expanses. The tradition continues today — passengers can relax and watch rolling hills, mighty rivers and serene farmland zip by.
Amtrak offers convenient access to a number of destinations across the Show-Me State. The Missouri River Runner line provides daily service between St. Louis and Kansas City, with eight stops in between. Visit historic wine country in Hermann and Washington, the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum in Independence, and much more.
Amtrak’s Lincoln Service travels daily between Chicago and St. Louis. In addition, the Texas Eagle, running from Chicago to Los Angeles, makes a stop in St. Louis, where you can explore a multitude of attractions including Gateway Arch National Park, Busch Stadium, the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station and the Missouri Botanical Garden. The train also stops in Arcadia — surrounded by the beauty of the Ozarks and several state parks, and Poplar Bluff — located near a section of Mark Twain National Forest.
The Southwest Chief, another Chicago to Los Angeles line, stops in Kansas City — filled with museums and entertainment venues, including the National WWI Museum and Memorial, Union Station Kansas City, and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
Amtrak allows riders to bring their bicycles aboard, making it easy to hop off the train and pedal your way around towns and along trails.
Buses provide another mass transit option in Missouri. Kansas City and St. Louis are major hubs for Greyhound buses that make multiple stops, including Springfield, home of Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium, and St. Joseph, the place where the Pony Express began and infamous outlaw Jesse James met his end.
Trailways provides bus service to cities and small towns throughout the Show-Me State, including Kansas City, St. Louis and Hannibal — where you can tour the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum and board a riverboat for a ride on the Mississippi River.
Jefferson Lines offers bus service in western Missouri including St. Joseph, Kansas City, Joplin, Springfield and Hollister — located just 2 miles south of Branson, known for its live entertainment, theme parks and numerous other attractions.
Two-wheeled transit is good for the body and environment. The Katy Trail — extending 240 miles across the midsection of Missouri — is the longest developed rail-trail in the country and one of the most accessible cycling trails in the region. Along the crushed limestone path, you can find bike-friendly restaurants, like Meriwether Cafe in Rocheport, and nearby lodging options, including Hotel Frederick in Boonville. For more information, check out our article on how to experience the Katy Trail.
For a more rugged adventure, head to Mark Twain National Forest. You’ll likely need to drive to reach the forest, but then you can cycle for miles on service roads throughout the 1.5 million acres of secluded and protected land. Reserve a cabin or campsite in the area if you plan to stay overnight. For the ultimate out-in-nature experience, dispersed camping is allowed in many areas of the forest — just be sure to check regulations on the United States Forest Service website.
While other forms of transportation can help you get from place to place quickly, traveling on foot slows things down a bit and gives you more time to savor scenic escapes, small-town charm and urban adventures. You’ll need a car to reach more remote locations, but once you’re there, pull on a pair of hiking boots or comfortable shoes and explore the destination.
The Ozark Trail winds through the state for 390 miles of mostly connected trails. Spend a relaxing afternoon on the trail or embark on a multi-week hike in the backcountry. Use our How To: Backpack the Ozark Trail guide to start planning your own adventure.
Taking a stroll is a great way to see Missouri’s small towns. Founded in 1735 by French colonists, Ste. Genevieve is a charming community located on the banks of the Mississippi River. Tour Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park and shops and restaurants lining the downtown. Take the whole family to see life-size dinosaur models at the Ste. Genevieve Museum Learning Center.
If you’re looking for a true urban experience, stretch your legs in Missouri’s two biggest cities, where many neighborhoods are easily accessible without a car. In Kansas City, explore the Crossroads Arts District, with its historic charm and eclectic art scene, where you can shop, eat and sample beer at a number of local breweries. For a day of culture and entertainment, visit Mill Creek Park and the shops and restaurants at Country Club Plaza to the west and the acclaimed Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to the east.
In St. Louis, discover galleries, museums and theaters — including the historic Fabulous Fox Theatre — in the Grand Center Arts District. Check out the iconic Blueberry Hill restaurant and music club and dozens of other restaurants and entertainment venues in the Delmar Loop. And don’t miss the Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis Zoo, The Muny and other attractions in Forest Park.
Are you ready to have a car-free getaway in Missouri? Let us know how you plan to get around by connecting with us on our social media channels.