Year-round, Missouri’s southeast region, filled with forests, spring-fed streams and exciting activities, is a dream for anyone who loves the outdoors. We have covered five general categories here, all of which offer different pursuits as the seasons change; but this is by no means a complete list. The key is, get outdoors and take advantage of nature’s abundance.
1 — Camping:
Southeast Missouri is filled with conservation areas and state parks, all of which offer a variety of camping options. Montauk State Park (30 minutes southwest of Salem) and Onondaga Cave State Park (seven miles south of I-44, exit 214; five miles south of Leasburg), are prime examples of family friendly parks, with attractions to explore and modern camping conveniences.
The seven springs in Montauk form the headwaters of the Current River, with excellent trout fishing during trout season (March-October). Duck Creek Conservation Area (nine miles north of Puxico) offers primitive camping, boating, hunting and fishing. Duck Creek is adjacent to the 21,592-acre Mingo National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness: hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife observation and wildlife photography are encouraged in the Wilderness Area.
2 — Floating:
Experience the Current River and the Jacks Fork River the best way you can, by canoe, kayak, tube or raft. Akers Ferry Canoe Rental (20 miles south of Salem) is an excellent location to start your adventure. At this point, the last two-car ferry operating in Missouri takes you across the Current River. In addition to the floating outfitter, Akers has dining, general store, hot showers, modern restrooms, camping, RV sites and cabins. Floats can be arraigned ranging from a couple of hours to as long as two days.
Spend some quality time on the river with a three-day float (one-hour floats are available) from The Landing River Store Outfitters in Van Buren. Bass' River Resort (12 miles east of Steelville) serves three rivers: the Courtois, the Huzzah and the Meramec.
These three outfitters, along with many others, offer camping, shuttle service, food and supplies, plus all of the equipment needed for a great time on the water.
3 — Caving:
Missouri is called the Cave State, thanks to our 6,100+ mapped caves (that number grows every year). Onondaga Cave is a registered National Natural Landmark located within Onondaga Cave State Park (see camping above). It is recognized as one of the most spectacular caves in the nation. Guided tours are given mid April thru mid October. Also in the park, tours through Cathedral Cave are held during the same time period.
The Ozark National Scenic Riverways is America’s first congressionally designated national park for the preservation of a wild river system. The park encompasses more than 80,000 acres containing two of America’s clearest and most beautiful spring-fed rivers: the Current River and the Jacks Fork River. The park is famous as an area of exceptional caves and springs; more than 300 of each are known to exist within the park.
4 — Horseback Riding:
Whether you have your own horse or wish to rent one, there are facilities ready to accommodate you. Golden Hills Trail Rides & Resort (three miles east of Raymondville) offers picturesque rides, which include spring fed streams, forest, massive bluffs and some caves large enough to ride your horse into.
At Meramec Farm Trail Riding (about ten miles southeast of Bourbon), you can choose from several horse breeds for rides along the Meramec River (with swimming and picnicking sites along the way), through the river valley, along wooded trails and pastures. Yes–your horse is always welcome.
5 — Hiking:
Hike past some of the largest trees in the United States at Big Oak Tree State Park (14 miles south of East Prairie) and see Missouri as it looked when the first explorers arrived.
At Trail of Tears State Park (11 miles north of Cape Girardeau) hike through 3,000+ acres of what serves as a memorial to the Cherokee Indians forced march westward.
For more adventure, you can hike to the highest point in Missouri, at the Taum Sauk Mountain State Park (nine miles west of Ironton) and visit the tallest “wet-weather” waterfall in Missouri.
Summing up . . .
As you can see, these five activities often overlap. There are more than 30 floatable streams scattered across Missouri, most in the southern half. They are serviced by upwards of sixty canoe outfitters who will set you up with everything you need; most have camping/lodging facilities. For information and listings, check the website of the Missouri Canoe & Floaters Association.
They don’t call Missouri “The Cave State” for nothing. Caves are everywhere. Nearly twenty “show caves” are open for public tours. Two are available for scuba-dives. For details, check the Missouri Caves Association.
Every state park in Missouri has some sort of hiking and walking trails; most have camping/RV sites and/or cabins. Find information on them all at the MoStateParks.com. In fact, the title “Best Trails State” was bestowed upon Missouri by American Trails, a national, not-for-profit organization working on behalf of the nation’s hiking, biking and riding trails. The award, announced in April 2013, is presented every two years to the state that has made tremendous contributions to promoting and improving its trails.
As we say: Missouri . . . enjoy the show.