By Bill Clevlen
Road trip season is upon us, and most of us are looking for ways to save a few dollars while we travel this year. Missouri has plenty of free and fun attractions, along with roadside attractions the entire family can enjoy the next time you hop into your car to drive around the state.
Saint Louis Zoo
Take it from someone that literally drives full-time, all across America: there is no better zoo than the one in St. Louis. And it’s free! If you can arrive early, you’re likely to also be able to grab a free parking spot in Forest Park. St. Louis has plenty of other free attractions while you’re in the area. The St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Science Center, Missouri History Museum, City Garden, and the Gateway Arch Museum – all free for visitors.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park
Having spent the winter in Florida where every state park charges a fee, it’s especially welcome to know that, in Missouri, state parks don’t charge admission. One of my favorites is Ha Ha Tonka State Park in Camdenton. The old ruins of a turn-of-the-century stone castle, combined with beautiful trails, bluffs, and a natural spring, make this a terrific place for a visit.
Branson Landing Fountains
Branson is always full of great attractions, shops, and shows. My favorite attraction in Branson just happens to be absolutely free! The Branson Landing Fountains are so much fun to watch! They mix music, fire, and of course water – reaching heights of 120 feet in the air. The shows start at the top of the hour, beginning at noon with the Star-Spangled Banner, and every hour until 10:00pm.
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
One of the best collections of art in the Midwest is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. You’ll find wonderful permanent exhibits, but also intriguing revolving displays throughout the year. The Rozelle Courtyard is a great place to grab lunch and dine around the city’s oldest fountain. (FYI: It’s thousands of years old!) Outside, you’ll find the world’s tallest badminton shuttlecocks, which make for fun Instagram photos! Also be sure not to miss the Glass Labyrinth by artist Robert Morris.
Precious Moments Chapel
Located in the town of Carthage, this quirky attraction will take you back to the days when someone in your family (maybe you!) had a display case or mantle full of Precious Moments statues. The chapel is actually quite beautiful, and the property includes a gift shop where they still sell new statues. There’s no admission fee to stop by and/or stroll through the gardens with oversized versions of the statues that line the walkways.
World’s Largest Fork
Many people are stunned to learn that this roadside attraction (which really isn’t on a main road) is located in Springfield. At 35 feet high and weighing 11 tons – it’s the largest fork (at least by mass) in the world. It was originally designed in the 1990s for a restaurant but was later moved, when the restaurant closed. It now sits at 2215 W. Chesterfield Street.
St. Charles Historic District
It costs you absolutely nothing to stroll the streets of historic St. Charles – home to Missouri’s first Capitol building, which you can still tour. While you’ll probably want to grab a bite to eat at one of the great restaurants along Main Street, or at least a snack from Sweet Poppins Gourmet Popcorn, it’s free to wander this town full of Missouri history.
Pickle Springs Natural Area
As a kid, this was a hidden gem that almost no one knew existed. Pickle Springs is a wonderful place to enjoy nature – or perhaps just to stretch your legs in the middle of a road trip through the state. The trails wind you past some small waterfalls, cool box canyons, and hundreds of various plants and wildlife. It’s located just east of Farmington near Hawn State Park.
Chillicothe Sliced Bread Innovation Center
Sliced bread was invented in 1928, at 100 Elm Street in the town of Chillicothe. You can visit the historic original location of the bakery that invented and sold sliced bread! They even have one of the original bread slicers and several interactive exhibits, along with a documentary on Chillicothe and sliced bread.
Bill Clevlen is a contributing writer from St. Louis.