Close to home, state parks and historic sites offer everything that a busy family is seeking in a vacation - recreation, relaxation, solitude, education, adventure and value - all rolled into one. Spend a couple of days in St. Louis, where a variety of state parks and historic sites will appeal to the wide assortment of interests commonly found in families.
Start your St. Louis are excursion where Missouri's state government got its start -- at First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site in St. Charles. Amid St. Charles’ historic district, this two-story Federal style building served as Missouri’s Capitol from 1821-1826. Tour guides will take you through seven restored rooms including a residence, general store and the legislative chambers, where Missouri’s first legislators filled the upstairs rooms with heated debates over state’s rights and slavery. The kids will probably find the furs in the general store to be really "cool" and the entire family will walk away with a history lesson to boot. A two-story interpretive center is free and features exhibits and an orientation show. Cost: Tours are $4 for adults and $2.50 for children ages six to 12.
Speaking of beginnings, your next stop should be where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark began their epic journey up the Missouri River -- at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Edward "Ted" and Pat Jones-Confluence Point State Park provides access to the point where these two great rivers merge into one. Take a stroll down a shaded sidewalk learning about each river and the role it played in the Lewis and Clark Expedition along the way. Looking up, you may see birds flying by, as the Mississippi River corridor attracts millions of migrating birds each spring and fall. Before you reach the confluence point, a flood pole gives you an idea of how high the water got during the flood of 1993. At the point, sit and relax as the two greatest rivers in the nation, the Mighty Mississippi and the Big Muddy, roll by on either side of you and flow together in front of you. Cost: Free.
While in the rhythm of history, pick up the tempo with a visit to Scott Joplin House State Historic Site. Tap your toes to the pulsating beat of ragtime music composed by the "King of Ragtime" Scott Joplin. In his turn-of-the-century style St. Louis flat, where he lived from 1900 to 1903, he composed "The Entertainer." Tour his home and try your hand at playing some ragtime music or let the player piano do it for you. Complementing the restored Joplin house is the New Rosebud Café, a replica of the turn-of-the-century bar and gaming club that once operated in the area. Cost: Tours are $4 for adults and $2.50 for children ages six to 12.
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and head for the outdoors. A short 20-minute drive from St. Louis, your family will find an outdoor oasis at Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park near Wildwood. The rustic stone gate, bridges and shelters, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, blend well with the park’s mature old-growth forests. You won’t have any trouble finding a quiet place to have a picnic lunch, as there are more than 200 secluded picnic sites scattered about the park. Your kids will also find plenty of room to run, getting them ready for a good night’s sleep in the park’s campground. The park also offers more than 13 miles of hiking and equestrian trails and a paved walking/bicycling trail. Before calling it a night, you and your family may choose to take in an interpretive program; check at the park’s visitor center for dates and times. While at the visitor center, also check out the exhibits, which interpret the plants and animals that make the park their home. Cost: Park admission is free. Camping: $13-$21.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources preserves state parks and historic sites to give visitors the opportunity to rediscover Missouri’s unique landscapes and heritage. State parks and historic sites are funded primarily by the one-tenth-of-one-percent parks, soils and water sales tax, which allows visitors to enjoy these resources at little or no cost, making them a great value. Your family will also value their time together exploring and enjoying Missouri’s fascinating natural and cultural resources while creating lasting memories.