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Best Attractions Along Route 40 in Missouri, a National Road Trip

An educator and researcher, Patty has degrees in psychology, sports, and medicine.

Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis MO

Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis MO

Historic Highway Tours Through Missouri

Running parallel to one another, US Route 40 and Interstate-70 take you 250 miles through the state of Missouri, beginning at the eastern border with East St. Louis and St. Louis.

The western end of U.S. Route 40 in Missouri is found in Kansas City. Coincidentally, U.S. Route 40 also passes through Kansas City, Kansas.

There are famous arguments about famous Wild West shootouts and on which side of the street and in which Kansas City these gunfights occurred, making the town(s) even more interesting.

The trip from St. Louis to Kansas City is roughly 250 miles and takes about four hours by car.

Many Route 40 guides on the internet offer sites where something "used to be" along the highway, with most of the spots not marked in any way. However, there are hundreds of places to visit along Route 40. Even some of the old motels from the "car vacation era" of the USA are still intact.

When the automobile became a popular American possession after World War II, national highways were named and summer vacations became a national treasure. These vacations took people through the National Parks System and along famous highways like Route 66 and Route 40 by car.

The motels, automobiles, and small towns along these historic and kitschy highways are commemorated in the Disney films Cars and Cars 2. Related photo and postcard books can be purchased showing the sights seen in the 1950s and 1960s.

Of the four major metro areas in Missouri, three lie along the National Road, Route 40: St, Louis, Columbia, and Kansas City. Springfield, the fourth, sits just to the southwest on Route 66. Travels to Missouri have been some of my best experiences and the Mother Road, Route 66, which runs through the state offers an additional agenda for vacationing.

Eastern Gateway to St. Louis and the American West

St. Louis and its Arch symbolize the portal to the American West ever since the Louisiana Purchase became part of our country. The area around the Arch has developed widely in the last few decades to become a heavy tourist draw on the Mississippi River spanning about a mile in the north-south direction.

East St. Louis in Illinois is a gateway to St. Louis, Missouri on the National Road (Rt. 40) or Route 70. Olympic athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee works with youth in athletics at her own foundation centered here and gives youth, adults, and families athletic lessons to improve their lives in East St. Louis.

The center is 37 acres and includes a tech center and science labs as well as track and field and swimming venues. Her success in this campus has surpassed that of the After School All Stars enrichment programs, part of the Inner City Games across the nation.

Jackie has been voted the World's Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century by Sports Illustrated for Women, passing Babe Zaharias (#2), who seemed to participate in all sports and often won against the men in golf until her death in 1956 at age 45. Born in 1962 and named for Jackie Kennedy, Joyner-Kersee retired from sports in 2000 at age 38, but trains youth and families in her own gym.

Visit at 101 Jackie Joyner-Kersee Circle; East St. Louis, IL 62204
Call 618-646-3119

The Jefferson National expansion memorial is also on the Illinois shore of the Mississippi River, across the water from the St. Louis Arch.

The Eastern Gateway to Missouri

Jefferson Expansion Park

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is located on both sides of the Mississippi in the central city of St. Louis and East St. Louis. Interstates 44, 55, 64 and 70 meet near the park and US 40/I-70 run across the Poplar Street Bridge to the park. The Museum of Westward Expansion near the Gateway Arch contains a number of old artifacts from the days of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Several bridges with interesting architectural styles take you into St. Louis, but if you fly into the airport, the approach gives the illusion of the St. Louis Arch spinning. The city is a fabulous place full of culture, history, sports, shopping, dining, and other attractions that include museums and a zoo sitting around Forest Park, the site of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

One installation you will enjoy is the Museum of the Dog at 1721 South Mason Road in West Saint Louis, MO and Phone (314) 821-3647. You can see all sorts of pedigreed dogs celebrated by the American Kennel Club and your dog is welcome to join you on your visit, on a leash. A dog park, treats, and water are provided.

East St. Louis to Danville

Small Towns Westward

St. Charles, O'Fallon and Wentzville are northwest suburbs of St. Louis that are growing and expanding in population, jobs, and business. They are some of the best places to stop for sightseeing as well and have many places to relax and eat.

Beginning at Wentzville and heading west, you will find history from the 1950s back to the American Civil War at these places:

  • The Lustron Home and 7 Acres Motel next door.
  • The remains of a US 40 Truck Stop that was quite popular: King Gas and Diesel.
  • In Danville: the Baker Plantation (National Historic Register) and the Danville Female Academy (1853 - 1865), which was a girl's college.
  • NostalgiaVille USA in Danville on 5501 Old US 40, Kingdom City MO - celebrates the 1950s and later pop and rock icons.

Weldon Spring Conservation Area

This designated conservation area and the August A. Busch conservation area lie southeast of St. Louis and Wentzville along parallel US Route 40/I-64/US Route 61 south of I-70/Route 40 at the Wentzville exit. The Busch area is named after the long time brewing family in St. Louis. Hiking trails are abundant in both areas, full of wildlife, native plants and trees.

Patriotic Cave. During the tour, a recording is heard of the famous Kate Smith singing "God Bless America."

Patriotic Cave. During the tour, a recording is heard of the famous Kate Smith singing "God Bless America."

Missouri Caverns

The Meramec Caverns in Missouri are off Route 40 and present memorable, undergound entertainment for the family. Kids love the place, with its caverns and magical colored lighting - some caves play music as well.

Well trained park rangers take visitors on guided tours and tell great stories along very well lit walkways. One of many stories is about a seven-story mansion that was built underground or how a couple won a honeymoon from TV's Art Linkletter long ago if they agreed to dress as cave people and entertain guests at the caverns.

Special events include concerts, Easter services, lantern tours and a lot more, all in ADA appropriate surroundings so that everyone can enjoy the caverns. In addition, the caverns maintain a nearby motel for reasonable rates, a campground, and nearby canoe rides.

LOCATION: 1135 State Highway W, Sullivan, MO 63080. On Interstate-44 southeast of St. Louis, just north of Meramec State Park.

Danville To Columbia

Missouri Tigers play at Faurot Field.

Missouri Tigers play at Faurot Field.

Mizzou, a University and a Garden

The University of Missouri at Columbia, or Mizzou, is the largest local research school. Founded in 1839, it is also the first public university west of the Mississippi River and the first state university founded after the Louisiana Purchase.

At this writing, the school offers at least 280 degree programs, with 75 online degrees available, all the way through PhDs, MDs, and DVMs.

The campus in Columbia is a designated botanical garden, with several buildings preserved as National Historic Sites.

Some of the school's most forward looking programs include Food for the Future and Sustainable Energy. An associated university researcher won the National Medal of Science for developing the successful Boron Neutron Capture mode of cancer treatment.

Historical walking tours of the campus area are available with a brochure to match. Visit the many sites around campus and enjoy the observatory, reptile/amphibians installation, architecture, museums, garden spots and sites of other types.

You will even see where Mort Walker invented the comic Beetle Bailey. Spend the day and begin at: 103 Jesse Hall; Columbia MO 65211; Phone 800-856-2181

The Strollway

Downtown Columbia Historic District

This is the central part of Columbia, situated in the center of three different colleges. Everything happens in The District: shopping, dining, entertainment, culture, and sports. Different regions keep everyone busy and happy. These are West End Flat Branch, the government area, North Village, and the Strollway, with Broadway running east-west through the center.

The historic Missouri Theater is located at 203 South Ninth Street in the Strollway and is still in operation. The huge art deco Novus bookstore sits at 22 S. Ninth and dozens of other attractions will keep you busy all day.

Mizzou's Avenue of the Columns represents the university's core values and runs along Eight Street north-south through the center of The District, while Stephens College and Columbia College are nearby.

Columbia To Kansas City

Last Leg of the Journey

  • Just west of Columbia lie several nature areas and three large ones grouped together. Overton Bottoms (right on Route 40), Big Muddy National Fish and Widlife Refuge, and Eagle Bluff are close together.
  • Boonville is next on the route westward, with significant war history and a marker placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution.
  • Odessa - Home of the I-70 Speedway and the 351st Missile Wing LGM-30 Minuteman Missile Launch Sites (south of Odessa). This area in Central Missouri is filled with missile launch sites connected with Whiteman AFB (see the photo below).
  • Blue Springs and Lee's Summit are fast-growing Kansas City suburbs.
  • Independence, MO - This town is largely a historic district with dozens of attractions and landmarks. Several National Historic Register Sites that honor President Harry S. Truman are there, including his boyhood and adult homes, his Presidential Library and Museum, and the Truman National Historic Site.
  • Kansas City, MO - This in the end of the road for Route 40 in Missouri, ending with several interesting sites that include the location of the old Kansas City Stockyards where trail drives unloaded their cattle for market. Famous shootouts are also commemorated.

© 2013 Patty Inglish MS