I’m a Missouri girl, born and raised. When I got married, our first duty station together was Ft. Leonard Wood. I was only 3 hours from home, so it wasn’t a huge change for me. We made many weekend trips to St. Louis to see my family or to my hometown. A lot of people don’t like Ft. Leonard Wood and think there is nothing to do. There isn’t, if you never leave Pulaski County. There is a lot to do in the surrounding area though. Everything listed below is around a 2 hour drive or less from post.
The obvious right? About 2 hours east of Ft. Leonard Wood, St. Louis has a lot to offer. Visit downtown and see the Arch, the City Garden, the City Museum, take a tour of the Anheuser Busch Brewery, and take in a baseball game at Busch Stadium. Head farther out and visit Forest Park, the home of the 1904 World’s Fair, which is now home to museums like the Missouri History Museum and the St. Louis Art Museum and the zoo (which is free). Grant’s Farm, which is the former land of Ulysses S. Grant and now owned by Anheuser Busch, houses a large number of Clydesdales. St. Louis is one of the best cities when it comes to free things to do and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
About an hour in the opposite direction is Springfield. While not as big as St. Louis, it still has a lot to offer. The Cardinals have a minor league team in town. Take a trip to the Dickerson Park Zoo, the botanical garden, the Mizumoto Japanese Garden, or the Discovery Center. If all you are interested in is shopping and restaurants, this is an easy drive for both.
Lake of the Ozarks
About an hour northwest of post, the lake has tons to offer. Lake of the Ozarks Recreation Area (LORA) is part of MWR. They offer cabin rentals, swimming, boat storage, and boat rental. Recreational activites can also be found in other areas of the lake. Off the water, visit the Osage Premium Outlet Mall, play a game of mini golf, and grab dinner.
If you are lover of wineries, Hermann is where you need to go. Located a little less than 2 hours northeast, the adorable town has almost a dozen wineries and a few breweries in town. This leads to lots of boutiques and specialty shops.
Johnson Shut-Ins State Park
This is where you want to go on a hot summer day. About 2 hours southeast of post, the park is named after the rocks in the Black River. The rocks slow the river down and create little pools and ‘shut-ins‘ where the water collects. It’s great to play in and climb around on. The park also offers trails for walking and horses, as well as camping. We were there last summer, first time I’d been there since I was little, but it did not disappoint. My dad told me stories about how he and his friends used to go out there when they were younger too.
Elephant Rocks State Park
This is pretty much located on the way to Johnson Shut-Ins, so you could do it all in the same day. The park is named after the large rocks, rocks that are as big as elephants. The rocks are granite and at one time, it was mined. There is a pretty easy walking path through the rocks and you can climb around on them which gives you a pretty awesome view. There are a few quarries full of water in the park too. I remember people swimming there in my younger years, but I don’t think it’s allowed anymore. There are picnic areas though.
Taum Sauk Mountain State Park
Don’t laugh (my husband did, but he’s from California), but Mt. Taum Sauk is the highest point in the state at 1,772 feet. The park has a series of trails, a waterfall, camping, and picnic areas. It’s also not too far from Johnson Shut-Ins and Elephant Rock.
Ste. Gen is about an hour south of St. Louis, but your GPS knows a shortcut so it won’t take as long as you think. The historic town, which also happens to be the oldest town in Missouri, is full of shops, historic homes, and French Colonial architecture. There are also a good number of wineries, breweries, a distillery, and cute bed and breakfasts if you drink too much.
Located about 2 hours southwest of Ft. Leonard Wood, Branson has tons to offer. During the day, visit the outlet mall, the Titanic Museum, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the Hollywood Wax Museum, and then see a show in the evening. Table Rock Lake is also close by. We made a lot of trips out that way when I was little and the husband and I spent out 2 day honeymoon there. It was fine at the time, but I think we need another honeymoon.
You can’t drive through the area without seeing a sign for Meramec Caverns. It is the largest commercial cave in the state, did you know Missouri was known as the Cave State, and only about an hour east on 44. It’s home to a cave system that is over 4 miles long. The rumor is that Jesse James hid out there for a while during his hay day, which may or may not actually be true (I don’t think it is, but it’s good advertising).
Onondaga Cave State Park
Since we’re discussing caves, the Onondaga Cave is on the way to Meramec Caverns. Take a tour of the cave or stay above ground and check out the views. Camping, fishing, and hiking are also available.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park
Ha Ha Tonka is in Camdenton, a little south of Lake of the Ozarks. The main highlight of the park is the ruins of an early 20th century castle. The park also has a lot trails, natural bridges, and leads to the lake.
I told you it was the cave state. Located in Springfield, this one likes to go on about how it’s the ride through cave. No walking required for this one, they’ll drive you through in a tram on an almost hour long guided tour.
2 hours north of Ft. Leonard Wood, Columbia is another city to frequent. Home of the University of Missouri (Mizzou for those in the know), there is plenty of shops, gardens, and restaurants or just pick your favorite college sport and score yourself some tickets. SEC football, anyone?
The Meramec runs 229 miles from Salem to where it dumps into the Mississippi in St. Louis. Meramec State Park is located in Sullivan. It also runs through Castlewood State Park in Ballwin. Best thing to to on the Meramec though? Float it. There’s multiple places where you can float on tubes (we called it tubing in my day), kayak, or canoe.
The Current River starts in Montauk State Park and runs down into Arkansas. This is another good one to float. The Current River State Park is about an hour and a half southeast of post, but there are multiple places to get in and out. Again, you can float, canoe, and kayak.
The trail starts at the Katy Trail State Park in St. Charles, north of St. Louis. It covers 240 miles heading west across the state. Parts of the trail follow the path of Lewis and Clark. The trail can be biked or hiked in sections across the state.
The Cahokia Mounds is the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico. Estimates put the population at its peak between 10,000 and 20,000 residents around the year 1100. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site includes 51 platform, ridgetop, and conical mounds; residential, public, and specialized activity areas. It is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s right across the river from St. Louis, in Illinois.
This would be cave number four if you’re keeping track. This one is a lot closer though. It’s in Camdenton. Legend says that Native American weddings were held in the cave. You can still get married there today! Hence the name, Bridal Cave. I don’t know how your pictures would turn out, but it makes a good story.
Dogwood Canyon Nature Park
Dogwood Canyon is a 10,000 acre nature park with tons to do. They have walking and biking trails, horseback riding, fishing, guided tours, an educational center and treehouse for kids, and waterfalls. My favorite part. This one is in Lampe, south of Branson, so it’s pretty much in Arkansas, but it’s only a little over 2 hours away.
I have to say it. Six Flags is located in Eureka, west of St. Louis. It’s right off 44 and easy to get to.
Silver Dollar City
I have nothing against Six Flags, but if you are going to have a family outing at an amusement park, go to Silver Dollar City. We went a lot when I was younger. It’s located outside of Branson and has all the rides, games, and food of a normal amusement park. This one is set up like an 19th century Ozark mining town though and everyone is dressed the part. There’s a waterpark as well.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Home
Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family moved to Mansfield, Missouri in 1894. The town is about an hour and half southwest of post. Their farm is where she wrote the Little House books. Visit Rocky Ridge Farm and tour the house and museum.
A trip to the state’s capitol is a must!It’s only an hour and a half north of Ft. Leonard Wood. Visit the capitol, the Governor’s mansion, the Museum of Missouri Military History, and the state penitentiary, which was in use from 1836 to 2004.