Nestled in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks, Shannon County encompasses most of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways — over 134 miles of spring-fed rivers, scenic bluffs and caves established in 1964 as the USA’s first scenic riverway. A major draw for water sports thanks to its beautiful riverscape, the county seat Eminence — a quaint, small town of 600 — unsurprisingly dubs itself the ‘Canoe Capital of the World.’ Landlubbers may prefer to stick to one of the county’s many trails, which include a portion of the Ozark Trail, but whether exploring by water or land, visitors will want to keep their eyes peeled for Shannon County’s famous wild horses — a 20-strong herd that have been roaming the local lands for over 100 years.
Located in central Missouri, Gasconade County boasts miles of beautiful Missouri River Valley scenery and fertile farmlands that have placed it as one of the state’s best wine-producing regions. Its county seat Hermann, named one of The Culture Trip’s most beautiful Missouri towns, is a picturesque riverside town brimming with German heritage whose charming 19th-century architecture and lively cultural scene make it a favorite destination for day-trippers. The pretty town is also a great base for exploring the county’s vineyards and wineries — the award-winning Stone Hill Winery and Adam Puchta Winery, Missouri’s oldest farm winery, are just two must-sees for visiting oenophiles.
With its beautiful location on the edges of Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, it isn’t hard to see why the Camden County area is one of the state’s most popular tourist destinations. Miles of stunning shoreline give visitors access to an abundance of recreation — fishing, waterskiing and jet-skiing to name but a few — and scenic spots like Bridal Cave, an awe-inspiring cavern home to towering columns, stalactites and stalagmites. South of the lake, visitors to Camden County will find even more natural beauty at Ha Ha Tonka State Park. Its 3,700 acres feature over 15 miles of trails and the ruins of a turn-of-the-century castle.
Over in western Missouri around 50 miles north of Kansas City lies Buchanan County, a haven for history buffs and lovers of arts and culture alike. Its county seat St. Joseph, founded in 1843, is nestled on the banks of the Missouri River and home to some of the state’s finest historic architecture and most legendary landmarks, like the former home of American outlaw Jesse James where he was assassinated in 1882. Thirteen museums, including the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, and twelve annual festivals celebrate the region’s history and culture, while to the south of the county, the Lewis and Clark State Park is a scenic spot for camping and birdwatching.
High up in the Missouri Ozarks and nestled in the beautiful Arcadia Valley, Iron County is a charming region with bragging rights to some of the state’s most scenic spots. The town of Ironton makes a great base for exploring the region’s unique landscape. Elephant Rocks State Park, with its giant granite boulders, Taum Sauk Mountain — the highest point in the whole state — and the stunning Mina Sauk Falls are just three local must-sees. The rugged Bell Mountain Wilderness lies to the north of Iron County and is especially scenic during the spring and fall when its changing colors are in full glory.
From rolling hills to river bluffs, Marion County is a must-see when visiting northeastern Missouri. Its county seat Palmyra has been called the ‘handsomest city in north Missouri’ thanks to its beautifully preserved collection of over 200 antebellum buildings, while the riverside city of Hannibal should be a stop-off on any dedicated bookworm’s itinerary. Nestled on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, the town is where iconic American author Mark Twain spent his formative years and home of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum and the Mark Twain Cave — which some may recognize as McDougal’s Cave from the writer’s classic novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
With over 500 miles of Table Rock Lake’s shoreline, it’s easy to see why thousands of visitors flock to Stone County each year. The county boasts the biggest number of square miles covered by water in the whole state and is naturally a top destination for fishing, boating and waterskiing, but with such stunning views and gorgeous lakefront resorts, simply taking in the scenery is a joy in itself. Stone County is also the location of the beautiful Dogwood Canyon Nature Park — 10,000 acres of rugged, unspoiled Ozark Mountain terrain where visitors will find crystal clear streams and cascading waterfalls.
Sainte Genevieve County
Located some 60 miles down the Mississippi River from Missouri’s second biggest city St. Louis, Sainte Genevieve County is one of the state’s most historic and charming regions. Its county seat of the same name, which dates back to the early 18th century when French settlers made their home in the region, is Missouri’s oldest town and retains its historic charm in its French Colonial-style architecture and centuries-old traditions like La Guiannée. Further into the county, natural attractions like Hawn State Park, a popular destination during fall, and Hickory Canyons Natural Area, with its wet-weather waterfalls, offer plenty of hiking opportunities and scenic views.
Just downriver from Missouri’s state capital Jefferson City lies Osage County — a scenic region of rolling hills and fertile farmland fed by its rivers and countless creeks. Naturally, agriculture and agritourism play a big part in Osage County’s appeal, and visitors can get a taste of rural life via a tour of its farms, the weekly farmers’ market in the tiny town of Chamois or the annual Taste of Osage County festival. With 3,000 acres of protected natural land, including the Painted Rock Conservation Area with its breathtaking views over the Osage River, the county is also a destination for hikers and nature lovers.
Largely rural and home to just a handful of small towns, Ozark County is the ideal destination for getting away from it all. With over 38,000 acres of the Mark Twain National Forest and the tranquil waters of Bull Shoals Lake waiting to be explored, Ozark County is perfect for lovers of the outdoors, and history buffs won’t be disappointed either — no trip to the county is complete without a tour of its historic grist mills, three of which have been restored and are open to the public. For a real taste of local culture, make a stop at the annual Hootin an Hollarin festival — a celebration of Ozark heritage held for the past 55 years in the county seat of Gainesville.