The Missouri River is full of cool towns and scenic spots to explore. Here is our guide | KCUR 89.3
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The Missouri River is the longest river in the United States and North America. Yeah, we were years today when we learned that too.
Depending on how you measure a river as tricky as the Missouri, our state’s namesake beats the Mighty Mississippi by a few miles, though it empties into the Mississippi at a junction near St. Louis.
This confluence, called Edward “Ted” and Pat Jones-Confluence Point State Park, comes to a literal point at the mouth of the Mississippi. Due to the vastness of the two rivers and their differences in color, it is a sight to behold.
The river has long been considered the “centre of life” of the Great Plains, flowing 2,341 miles long through seven states. And the river basin is a place of “indigenous spiritual practice and burial” for many Indigenous peoples, including the Shawnee, Wyandot, Delaware, Munsee, Potawatomi, Sac and Fox and Kiikaapoi, who were forcibly relocated to Kansas. City in the 1830s.
Plus, the Missouri River is pretty good at escaping its borders. The Great Flood of 1993 – caused by above-average rainfall and snowfall in the Midwest – caused the Missouri to breach a levee and join the Mississippi “about 20 miles upstream from their normal junction”.
Residents of towns along the river had to move their possessions to higher ground, and residents near Quincy, Illinois, where the levee failed, could not cross the river on steep slopes. kilometers. The bridges were all covered with water.
So, for those who stay on dry land, read on. You may find yourself taking a day trip to one of the many historic river towns mentioned below. And for those looking to paddle the river a la Lewis-and-Clark (sort of), have you heard of the annual water race across Missouri?
The MR340 is 340 miles of “wind, heat, bugs and rain” from Kansas City to St. Charles. No rapids, no dams, no locks or portages. Some participants train all year for the race, while others arrive very well last. This year’s race was held July 12-15 — participants had to finish in 85 hours.
Like we said, just like Lewis and Clark.
First, we should talk about our starting point.
Incorporated as a city in 1850, our beautiful City of Fountains was once a port city near the point of another confluence, where the gentle Kansas River meets the Missouri. You may recall that Strawberry Hill sits above this meeting place, now known as Kaw Point.
There, the Kansas River ends its course, flowing into the Missouri, and the Missouri turns east toward St. Louis. Lewis and Clark camped at Kaw Point en route to the Pacific Ocean.
The confluence of the rivers, along with other iconic landmarks, can also be seen from the other side – from Ermine Case Junior Park, which overlooks West Bottoms, River Market, Strawberry Hill, several bridges and the downtown airport – town.
It turns out that Kansas City was established on this south side of the river, purely for accessibility reasons. The river was a “barrier to the north,” writes Donna Vestal. “Even when crossing was possible with early bridges, its floodplain and lack of grassland hampered its development.”
As always, things change. For less than $50, you can rent a kayak and hop on a 5.5-mile float from the confluence point to Riverfront Park near the Chouteau Bridge.
Or, you can do the 15.5 mile float, which starts upstream in Parkville and ends at the same spot. Transportation is provided, and you’ll see the glittering Kansas City skyline from the water.
As the crow flies, St. Joseph is one hour north of Kansas City. It is the eighth largest city in Missouri and, surprisingly, Eminem was born there. (Sorry, Detroit.) Additionally, notorious bank robber and Confederate sympathizer Jesse James died there after being shot by a member of his own crew who worked with the government.
In the years following its settlement by Joseph Robidoux in 1851, St. Joe had earned a reputation for being tough and ready. The bustling river town served as a jumping off point for settlers looking to go west in search of gold:
“St. Joseph became the source of the westward journey as hundreds of thousands of settlers arrived by steamboat and hundreds of wagons lined the streets waiting to be transported across the Missouri River.
The river and railroad – along with the Pony Express, which was eventually replaced by the telegraph – put St. Joe on the map as a transportation hub and portal to the new frontier.
But westward expansion has its drawbacks, one being the destruction of tribal lands in the name of manifest destiny. The river itself has been reshaped and dammed. Despite these changes—and according to the Missouri River Water Trail—”the lower Missouri still retains much of its isolated natural beauty.”
When it comes to activity in St. Joseph, the town is still as bustling as it was during the gold rush days. There are a number of intriguing cultural sites to discover, including the Patee House Museum and Jesse James Home, once a luxury hotel built by John Patee. The structure housed the headquarters of the Pony Express and housed offices for the Union Army.
Also on the list are the Glore Psychiatric Museum, the Black Archives Museum, the Doll Museum and the Native American Galleries, all housed in a historic complex on Frederick Avenue. Nature lovers can get out and hike along the river at Remington Nature Center and River Bluff Trails Park.
The phrase “hidden gem” is used ad nauseum, but Rocheport takes the cake. Or the glass of wine. Or both.
This small river town is home to Les Bourgeois winery and bistro, some of which sit on a bluff above the Missouri River. The views from the winery’s famous A-shaped vineyard garden – also known as the best place to meet friends for a picnic among the trees – are out of this world.
Other popular sites include an old railway tunnel, which cuts through the nearby limestone cliffs for 73 meters. Sure, you can see the light on the other end, but it’s still scary. The tunnel is said to have been used in the Stephen King movie “Sometimes They Come Back”.
The Rocheport Tunnel is also quite special as the Katy Trail runs through it, and the glorious section of trail between Rocheport and Columbia alone may be worth the two-hour trip from Kansas City. As a whole, the trail begins in Clinton, Missouri, ends in Machens, and follows the river for most of the way.
But if you’re traveling by water, you can’t miss the Manitou Bluffs, “one of the most scenic parts of the lower Missouri.” Made of Mississippian limestone, these cliffs—along with the river—line the Katy Trail, with the A-frame at the top.
Kayakers can stop in Rocheport and paddle to Cooper’s Landing in Columbia, an approximately 16-mile float that crosses two sandbars.
You’ll want to take a long weekend for this one. Trust us.
Colombia and Jefferson City
Hey, we understand. Columbia cannot be considered a “traditional” river town. It is known for Shakespeare’s Pizza, Mizzou, Unbound Book Fest and the always excellent True/False documentary film festival.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t keeping one of the best river rides in the state a secret.
If you take the scenic route to the aforementioned Cooper’s Landing Campground and Marina, you’ll be delighted to see fields of sunflowers and sweeping river cliffs, as well as the infamous 400-year-old McBaine Burr Oak. He survived a recent lightning strike.
The best section of the gravel river road appears just past Cooper, if you follow it south towards Hartsburg, Missouri. The river is so close to the road that it becomes impassable at the slightest sign of flooding.
And of course, kayakers (as well as drivers and cyclists) can follow the river from Hartsburg to Jefferson City, which offers its own stellar glimpse of the Capitol building and the twin Missouri River bridges.
The pedestrian section of a bridge leads to the Noren Access Point, a conservation area. It’s the perfect place to hike the wooded and winding trails, reserve a campsite, put your boat or start a driftwood collection. Not that we’ve ever done that.
And if you’re looking to escape the city for a few days, consider taking Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner further east to another historic river town. From Jefferson City to St. Louis – where the Missouri and Mississippi rivers meet – the passenger train virtually follows the river, allowing for multiple stops.
Hermann, a quaint town founded by the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia, is famous for its thriving wine culture and adorable bed and breakfasts. It takes about four hours to get there from Kansas City by train. But hey, you can drink wine. (If that’s your thing.)
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