Family Road Trip - Scenic Drives in Missouri

7 Superb Scenic Drives in Missouri Not to Miss

With a rich history and a diverse landscape, Missouri is full of surprises when it comes to traveling. From iconic landmarks like the Gateway Arch to incredible natural scenery like the Ozark mountains, driving in Missouri will never be a boring experience.

To make the most of a road trip in Missouri, we’ve put together a list of some of the best scenic drives the state has to offer. Many of these byways are also historically important. They played a role in the times when pioneers were making their way west in covered wagons or during significant events like battles in the Civil War.

Many of these drives in Missouri could be short excursions or turn into longer day trips if you want to include activities like hiking or visiting museums. One of the best things about Missouri’s scenic byways is the variety of activities you can include in your trip! 

Let’s see why some of the best vacation spots in the Midwest can be found right here in Missouri!

1. Missouri Scenic Drives: Cliff Drive

Distance: 5 miles

Time Needed: 20 minutes to a few hours if you plan on stopping

Starting out short and sweet, the Cliff Drive located in Kansas City, is one of Missouri’s designated state scenic byways. Although it may not take long to drive, this stretch of road is packed with history and beautiful views.

USA Scenic Drives in Missouri - Missouri River

Winding its way along the Missouri River Valley, you’ll get to see great viewpoints of the limestone bluffs and natural vegetation of the area without ever leaving city limits!

To explore some other attractions of Kansas City, you can stop by the Kansas City Museum or if you want to stretch your legs you can hike the Indian Mound Trail which is a paved trail perfect for walking or biking. 

When to go: Spring through fall are the best times of year for this scenic drive in Missouri.

2. Missouri Scenic Drives: Old Trails Road

Distance: 16 miles

Time needed: 30 minutes to 3 hours, depending on stops

Winding its way along the mighty Missouri River, the Old Trails Road is one of the best historic scenic drives in Missouri.

The route starts just west of Napoleon on state highway 224 and then follows the river bluffs and forests along the Missouri River to a little east of Lexington. This scenic drive is close to Kansas City, which makes it convenient to reach for a lot of travelers.

The route traces its origins back to the time of early settlers when it was used by travelers in covered wagons making their way west across the United States.

In Lexington, you can also visit a number of unique historic sites, including the Civil War battlefield, which is the location of the largest battle which took place in the western portion of this horrific war. Visitors can see the original battle trenches, and some war relics like old cannons are on display in the artifacts museum.

When to go: Spring through fall are good times to travel this road. The fall colors make this tree-lined scenic drive particularly beautiful.

3. Missouri Scenic Drives: Ozark Mountain Highroad

Distance: 7 miles

Time needed: 30 minutes to 2 hours

The Ozarks are one of the crowning treasures of Missouri; driving through these mountains, you’ll get some of the best scenic views Missouri has to offer!

USA Scenic Drives in Missouri - Ozark Mountains

This Missouri byway will lead you right into Branson, which is one of the most popular destinations in the Ozark Mountains. The Highroad is state highway 465, which is accessible about five miles north of Branson.

One of the most exciting things about driving the Ozarks Mountain Highroad is the opportunity to spot wildlife. Deer, turkey, and possibly even a coyote are all known to inhabit the area!

Even if you don’t get to see many animals, the beautiful mountain scenery and forested landscape make the drive well worth it.

When to go: Fall is considered a particularly beautiful time of year thanks to the autumn colors. This road can become a bit trickier to drive in the winter since road conditions can be more challenging.

4. Missouri Scenic Drives: Glade Top Trail

Distance: 23 miles

Time needed: 1 hour to 1 day, depending on how much you want to explore

Glade Top Trail stands out as being one of Missouri’s best scenic byways thanks to its standing as the state’s only National Forest Scenic Byway. Set within the Mark Twain National Forest, this route is excellent if you’re looking to escape into nature and see the wilderness of Missouri.

The Glade Top Trail was completed in the 1930s, and the route is mostly unchanged since this time. One thing that makes this Missouri scenic drive unique is that the road is gravel-paved, giving it a more historical and natural feel.

Even though it’s not as modern as some roads, it’s still a safe and easy drive to take and is two lanes throughout the length of the trip. You’ll wind your way along a narrow ridge through the forested landscape, and there are numerous vistas with pull-off spots where you can stop your car to get some photos or just take in the view.

There are also some other trails leading farther into the Mark Twain National Forest if you want to explore the landscape from beyond the windows of your car.

When to go: Wildflower enthusiasts will want to take this drive in the spring when countless flowers are in bloom. Otherwise, summer and fall are also great months to travel this Missouri scenic byway, but winter road conditions can become a bit more challenging.

5. Missouri Scenic Drives: Crowley’s Ridge Scenic Byway

Distance: 14.2 miles

Time needed: 30 minutes to 3 hours

Crowley’s Ridge is one of the most impressive natural formations in Missouri. This geological formation provides a singular habitat for certain types of plants and animals that aren’t found in other places in the state.

The drive through Crowley’s Ridge itself travels along Missouri State Route 25, beginning at the Stoddard County line. If you have more time, we’d highly recommend making this drive into an afternoon or day trip to explore the Crowley’s Ridge Conservation Area, which covers about 1,900 acres!

There are several hiking trails to explore in the conservation area, as well as two small lakes and a few ponds where you can go fishing. For serious outdoor enthusiasts, you can even camp in the conservation area at one of the designated campgrounds.

It’s a great spot for families to visit for an afternoon to let kids explore and enjoy a picnic meal while driving through Missouri.

Pro tip: Keep in mind that parts of the conservation area are open to hunters for deer, bear, turkey, and other hunting seasons. It’s a good idea to check which areas are open to visitors before you go to visit.

When to go: Spring through fall are great times to visit Crowley’s Ridge.

6. Missouri Scenic Drives: Ozark Mountain Parkway

Distance: 28 miles

Time needed: 45 minutes to 1 day if you want to explore

The Ozark Mountain Parkway is truly a stunning scenic byway in Missouri, thanks to the incredible views of the mountains and wide range of wildlife. Plus, there are lots of places to stop and explore, making it easy to spend a day or longer on this drive!

USA Scenic Drives in Missouri - Missouri River

If you enjoy fishing, you’ll want to check out spots like Crane Creek and James River, which are particularly well-known for their fishing opportunities, especially for catfish.

The drive crosses right through Branson, making it a must-include activity if you’re visiting this famous city in the Ozarks. It also offers access to other hiking trails through the Ozarks if you’re hoping to do some more on-foot exploration.

When to go: Fall is considered a stunning time of year to visit the Ozarks, but spring and summer are also great.

7. Missouri Scenic Drives: Little Dixie Highway of the Great River Road

Distance: 300 miles

Time needed: Up to 1 day to drive the length

The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River from north to south and passes right through the state of Missouri. Traveling the Little Dixie Highway section of this famous scenic drive is great to include in your road trip in Missouri, whether you’re just passing through the state or spending a longer period here.

USA Scenic Drives in Missouri - Hannibal

The drive covers a diverse landscape, including forests, limestone cliffs, and prairies. You’re also in for a cool historical experience since the route passes through Hannibal, which is famous for being Mark Twain’s hometown!

Along the river, you’ll also find other recreational activities like hiking and cycling along the pathways, visiting some of the islands in the river, or going on boat rides.

We’d also highly recommend checking out the Eagle Center in Clarksville, which is a great place for families to visit to see some of these majestic birds up close and learn about their important role in the ecosystem of the Mississippi River.

When to go: Any time of year is good, but summer is best if you’re hoping to include some outdoor activities in your trip.

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