Road trips are one of the best ways to explore the outdoors in Missouri. You don't have to drive far to find rolling hills, rugged terrain, fields, forests and wildflowers as far as the eye can see. Just add water – with a stop at one of the state's beautiful rivers, lakes or springs – for an adventure you won't soon forget.
Here are a few places you can find water views on your next Missouri road trip:
The Show-Me State has long been known for its rivers – the mighty Mississippi running along the eastern border, the Missouri River cutting a path through the middle of the state and dozens of sparkling streams crisscrossing the Ozarks.
In south central Missouri, add a float trip to your road trip at the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the first river system in the U.S. to be protected by the National Park Service. Travel downriver in a canoe, kayak or raft on two of the country's most pristine rivers - the Jacks Fork and the Current - or enjoy the view from river access points and a network of hiking trails.
If you're seeking solitude, make your way to the Eleven Point River near Missouri's southern border. The river's alternating rapids and deep pools cut through steep bluffs and forested valleys. A 44-mile stretch was one of eight initial waterways chosen to be part of the National Wild and Scenic River System in 1968. You can reach the river at 11 designated access areas.
Lakes are plentiful in the Show-Me State. And where there are lakes, there are state parks, conservation areas and other public lands that provide plenty of places to explore.
Central Missouri's Truman Lake attracts nature lovers, hikers, mountain bikers and anglers in search of bass, crappie and catfish. Truman Lake State Park, 17 Corps of Engineers Recreation Areas and local parks offer picnic areas, beaches, trails, campgrounds and boat ramps.
Table Rock Lake in southwest Missouri is a popular place for scuba diving, but it's the expansive views above the water that make it a top road trip destination. It's also a favorite fishing spot. With more than 800 miles of shoreline, the lake has many "arms" that create dozens of tree-lined coves. Table Rock State Park, 20 Corps of Engineers Recreational Areas, and city and county parks provide areas for picnicking, swimming, hiking, camping and boating.
Nestled in the Salt River Hills of north central Missouri, Mark Twain Lake offers scenic views and great crappie fishing. Bluffs covered by stands of oak, hickory and maple are filled with deer, turkey and other wildlife. You can find campgrounds, picnic areas, boat ramps and hiking trails at Mark Twain State Park and 29 Corps of Engineers Recreation Areas.
Missouri is home to some of the largest springs in the country. The turquoise, teal and aqua pools pour millions of gallons of cool, clear water into some of the state's most beautiful rivers every day.
Take a short hike in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways area to see Blue Spring – with water a shimmering shade of aqua you have to see to believe. Walk out onto the wooden deck at the edge of the pool and peer into one of the deepest springs in the United States. The 310-foot deep spring – the state's sixth largest – sends 90 million gallons of water into the Current River each day.
Alley Spring, also located in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, is surrounded by a lush oak and pine forest. A 0.75 mile trail circles the spring – the seventh largest in the state, pumping out more than 80 million gallons of water every day. Historic Alley Mill sits at the edge of the spring. An old one-room school house, general store, picnic area and campground are close by.
Trout fishing attracts thousands of people to Maramec Spring Park each year, but you don't have to be a fisherman to enjoy the scenery. The centerpiece of the park is the spring, the fifth largest in the state, producing an average 100 million gallons of water each day. Walkways take you throughout the park, past rock bluffs and around the spring. Operated by the non-profit James Foundation, the park also includes a trout hatchery, two museums, picnic areas, playgrounds and camping.
Written by Liz Coleman