10 Awesome Weekend Road Trips from St. Louis, Missouri

Posted by
Sarah Boles
November 04, 2021
Updated May 21, 2024

weekend road trips from st. louis missouri
Photo: John Jacobson / Unsplash

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St. Louis is called the “Gateway City” for good reason. Its central location makes it the perfect place to road trip from, with a variety of big cities, unique outdoor experiences, and historical locations all within a weekend’s drive.

St. Louis has no shortage of things to do: legendary Italian food on the Hill, a city park larger than Central Park full of free museums in Forrest Park, and the tallest freestanding arch in the world right on the river. But, we all need to get away once in a while.

Our Top Picks for Road Trips from St. Louis

Next time you have a free weekend, move beyond the staycation and check out these epic weekend road trips from St. Louis.

Related Read: 10 Secluded Cabin Rentals in Arkansas for Your Next Getaway

1. Lake of the Ozarks

lake of the ozarks
Photo: Colton Lee Garcia / Shutterstock

Lake of the Ozarks truly has something for everyone, on and off the water.

Rent a kayak, canoe, jet ski, or boat (or bring your own). After a day on the water, head to Bear Bottom Resort. The resort sets off fireworks every Saturday night from Memorial Day to Labor Day. They also have the two longest water slides in Missouri and a swim up pool bar that non-guests can use for a fee.

Take a break from the water in Osage Beach, which has an outlet mall, mini-golf, go-karts, as well as restaurants and bars. Explore all the strip has to offer at Bagnell Dam, including an arcade, restaurants, a marina, and even parasailing. Or, hike to the ruins in Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

Learn about the legend behind the name in walking tour of Bridal Cave. Saturday evenings during the summer you can take a guided lantern tour of the cave to experience it as its first explorers did.

  • Distance from St. Louis: 190 miles
  • Drive time without stops: approx. 3 hours

Related read: 9 Must-Hike Trails in Kansas City, Missouri

2. Mark Twain National Forest

Mark Twain National Forest
Photo: Randy Kostichka / Shutterstock

Just under two hours from the city lies the Mark Twain National Forest, home to some of best camping, fishing, and hiking in the region. The area is also home to three unique state parks that make for a perfect weekend of exploring and relaxing outdoors.

Play on rock slides in natural swimming holes at Johnson Shut-Ins State Park. A unique place to cool off in the summer, the state park also has hiking trails and a campground with everything from full electric to primitive hike-in sites. When the river runs too high in the spring, splash around in the creek that runs through the campground located near the primitive site parking lot.

Elephant Rocks State Park is a unique geological area perfect for geology buffs, boulderers, and adventurers of all ages and abilities. Named after a series of 1.5 billion year old granite boulders standing end on end similar to a line of circus elephants, the park features miles of rugged trails through the rocks.

The state park prides itself on its accessibility, featuring a main asphalt trail lined with frequent benches, moderate inclines, and braille signage. It’s the perfect place for a shady picnic, and less than a half hour drive from Johnson Shut-Ins.

Be sure to stop by Taum Sauk Mountain State Park on your national forest road trip. If you’re short on time, check out the highest point in Missouri at 1,772 feet above sea level via a short, wheel-chair accessible trail from the parking lot. If you have more time, hike to the tallest waterfall in Missouri, Mina Sauk Falls, at 132 feet tall.

  • Distance from St. Louis: 100 miles
  • Drive time without stops: approx. 1 hour and 45 minutes

Related Read: 10 Best Tiny House Rentals in Missouri for Big Adventure

3. Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City, Missouri
Photo: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

If you love jazz, history, baseball, or barbecue, you will not regret a weekend spent in Kansas City. Visit the city’s 18th and Vine neighborhood to check out the American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Museum, and top off the day with barbecue from Arthur Bryant’s.

Just a short drive from 18th and Vine is Midtown, where you can visit the WWI Museum. Climb or ride to the top of the tower for 360 views of the city. Union Station is right next door, which is great for kids. Take them to the free miniature train exhibit and let them run around indoors and outside at Science City. Walk across the covered bridge for a chance to watch the real trains and eat at another famous KC barbecue joint: Jack Stack. Or, take the free streetcar to the River Market neighborhood if you’ve had your fill of barbecue for the day.

Haven’t had your fill of great barbecue? Check out arguably Kansas City’s best at Joe’s KC. It’s unarguably the best food you’ll ever eat from a gas station!

  • Distance from St. Louis: 250 miles
  • Drive time without stops: approx. 3 hours and 50 minutes

Related Read: 9 Must-Hike Trails in Kansas City, Missouri

4. Branson, Missouri

branson missouri weekend trip
Photo: Lilith Munck

Branson is known as the best place in the Midwest for live entertainment for good reason. The city features shows year-round for all ages and interests. Dolly Parton’s Stampede is a must see and includes a four-course meal to enjoy while watching the show.

The 1880s amusement park Silver Dollar City has water rides, live performances, restaurants, and rollercoasters. An Old Time Christmas runs from the second week of November through the end of the year. It features 6.5 million lights and 1,000 decorated trees in addition to the rides, shows, activities, and food. If you can, take a long weekend and visit on a Thursday. It’s the least crowded day during the holiday season, and you can purchase heavily discounted tickets at area grocery stores.

In addition to the shows and theme park, Branson is situated in the Ozarks. It has access to gorgeous lakes — Lake Taneycomo and Table Rock Lake — as well as lots of hiking. Rent a boat, charter a fishing experience or head out on a trail to escape the crowds at some of the more popular attractions.

  • Distance from St. Louis: 250 miles
  • Drive time without stops: approx. 3 hours and 45 minutes

Related Read: 6 Unique Places to Go Glamping in Missouri

5. Hermann, Missouri

Hermann, Missouri road trip
Photo: RellMade / Shutterstock

Hermann is the heart of Missouri wine country. Located less than an hour and a half from downtown St. Louis, you can spend a day or an entire weekend here exploring. In fact, you don’t even have to drive – the Amtrak train stops here.

The town puts on several extravagant festivals throughout the year to celebrate its German heritage, including Oktoberfest, Wurstfest, Maifest, and Christmastime. The wineries are open year round. Check out Stone Hill Winery, which features the largest underground cellars in North America.

Hermann also features several stops on the Hermann Wine Trail, a group of six family-owned wineries located along a route from Hermann to New Haven, Missouri.

  • Distance from St. Louis: 80 miles
  • Drive time without stops: approx. 1 hour and 25 minutes

6. Chicago, Illinois

chicago illinois weekend trip
Photo: Sawyer Bengtson / Unsplash

Every season’s the best season to visit the Windy City. From museums to festivals to sightseeing tours to sporting events, Chicago has a year’s worth of road trips all in one place.

Catch a concert, explore a festival, and take your picture in the reflection of the Bean at Millennium Park. If you have kids, head next door to Maggie Daley Park for a unique outdoor play experience at the play garden.

Get up close and personal with the most complete T-rex skeleton at the Field Museum, watch divers feed sharks at the Shedd Aquarium, reenact the scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off inside the Art Institute, and experience what it’s like to live in a submarine at the Museum of Science and Industry. Consider purchasing a CityPASS, which gives you access to your choice of five of the most popular museums and two sky decks, and is good for nine consecutive days.

To enjoy Lake Michigan, take an architectural boat tour. Enjoy a relaxing ride on top of a Wendella Boat, which will take you on the Chicago River, through the locks, and out onto Lake Michigan before heading back down the river. Purchase tickets for a ride an hour before sunset so you can see the skyline from the lake with the setting sun and enjoy the city lit up at night as you return.

And that’s all just downtown. Branch out to experience more of what Chicago has to offer in its many unique neighborhoods like Chinatown, Ukrainian Village, and Northalsted.

  • Distance from St. Louis: 300 miles
  • Drive time without stops: approx. 4 hours and 30 minutes

7. Meramec Caverns

Meramec Caverns
Photo: Keiki / Shutterstock

At just over an hour from the city, a trip to Meramec Caverns works as a day trip or a weekend adventure perfect for all ages. Meramec Caverns were allegedly used by Jesse James and his gang as a hideout.

Now the largest commercial cave in Missouri (the “cave state”), the caverns offer hour and a half guided tours along 1.25 miles of lit walkways underground. Other activities on-site include a zipline, climbing wall, and panning for gold.

In addition to the caverns, spend time on the gorgeous adjacent Meramec River. Enjoy a relaxing half-hour tour aboard the river boat the Cavern Queen. Looking for something more adventurous? Rent watercraft (canoes, kayaks, rafts) on-site and choose from a 6- or 11-mile float on the Meramec River, complete with a shuttle service.

  • Distance from St. Louis: 65 miles
  • Drive time without stops: approx. 1 hour and 5 minutes

8. Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville, Tennessee
Photo: Jonathan Ross / Shutterstock

Known as the home of country music, Nashville boasts a thrilling live music scene, most famously at the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium. Fans of the genre should also swing by the Country Music Hall of Fame while in town.

If country music is not your thing, never fear. Nashville celebrates good food, beverages, and art, and has very unique ways for you to experience it. Take a tour to see all the city has to offer via a trolley, helicopter, Segway, riverboat cruise, sightseeing golf cart, or even a party tractor that includes an onboard dance floor and cash bar.

  • Distance from St. Louis: 310 miles
  • Drive time without stops: approx. 4 hours and 30 minutes

9. Springfield, Illinois

Lincoln National Historic Site
Photo: Randall Runtsch / Shutterstock

A weekend road trip to Springfield is a must for history lovers of all ages.

Abraham Lincoln lived and worked in Springfield prior to becoming the nation’s 16th president. As a result, Springfield is the place to immerse yourself in all things Lincoln. Take a free, guided tour of the Lincoln National Historic Site, his home for 17 years leading up to his presidency. Restored to its 1860 appearance, here you can get a rare glimpse into the daily life of Lincoln as a father, husband, and citizen.

Other Lincoln must-see sites include the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Old State Capitol (where Lincoln famously delivered his “House Divided” speech), and Oak Ridge Cemetery, his final resting place.

There’s more to Springfield than the land of Lincoln. Fans of unique architecture will want to explore the Dana-Thomas House, a 12,000 square foot., 35-room house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Looking to spend time outdoors while in town? Check out the Washington Park Botanical Garden. Open during the afternoons only, it’s free and features a greenhouse, extensive rose garden, outdoor cactus garden, and a conservatory, as well as seasonal gardens.

  • Distance from St. Louis: 100 miles
  • Drive time without stops: approx. 1 hour and 30 minutes

10. Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis weekend road trip
Photo: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

Calling all sports fans! Check out a race or take a tour of the home of the Indy 500 — Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Indy is also home to the Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers professional sports teams.

Everyone will appreciate all that White River State Park has to offer in downtown Indianapolis. Take a walk, go for a run, or rent a bike and pedal along the Central Canal. You can also explore the canal on the water via a gondola tour or by renting a pedal boat. The state park also features museums, gardens, an amphitheater, and the Indianapolis Zoo, all along the banks of the river.

  • Distance from St. Louis: 243 miles
  • Drive time without stops: approx. 3 hours and 45 minutes

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