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U.S. travel--Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri

Last year, a few of you helped me plan a trip for my parents to New Orleans and then from there home to MN. If you recall my parents are in their mid 80s, frail and with a small, also old, dog. With your help, it was a memorable trip and they want to do similar this year on their way back from their month on Alabama's gulf shore. I'm exhausted from the logistics already! ;)

My dad had a blast in New Orleans so it was worth the difficulties with the dog, bathrooms, etc. We did spend time at a favorite jazz bar (Fitzels) and spent a long time wandering on the streets, people watching and listening to street musicians. They have a favorite band, "Doreen the clarinetist" who often plays on Royal. Unless I find something within the French Quarter or less expensive, we will be staying at the same place, the Best Western just off Canal. Restaurants with the dog is still an issue. Last year, we ended up doing some take out and Cafe du Monde. This year, on "Bring Fido", I've found a few ideas. Anyone been to any of the following:

Palace Cafe
Creole House Restaurant and Oyster bar
Gazebo Cafe
Cafe lafitte in Exile
New Orleans Creole Cookery
The Joint (a few miles from the French Quarter, any parking here?)

Last year we came home thru Mississippi and found some things to do and pretty drives. (thanks for the suggestions!) This year, dad has promised mom a stop in Hamilton, Missouri, known for many quilt shops, I'm told. Hopefully they have antiques or wine or something. . . . So I'm looking for suggestions for SHORT detours, small museums, historic sites, scenic overlooks, pretty areas along the route from Vicksburg, Mississippi, to Hamilton, Missouri. I've been looking at possible areas in the Ozarks and haven't found much that seems viable for our circumstances, and I have very limited knowledge of Arkansas and Missouri outside of a two hour radius from St. Louis.

This all takes place approx. the first week in April.

Thanks!

Posted by
1478 posts

A lot of people like Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which is an hour west off your route. An hour west of Eureka Springs, you come to Bentonville, Arkansas, home of the Crystal Springs Museum of American Art. I haven't been to either of these places, but hope to at least visit the museum someday.

Posted by
4947 posts

jules m, I can give you a lot of suggestions. I'm guessing you'll be heading west on I-70 from St Louis (?), and Hamilton is fairly close to Kansas City. You might already be familiar with Hermann Missouri, an old German town, with lots of wineries, just west of St Louis. The Ozark attractions are mostly in the SW of the state (like Branson), but there are parks, whitewater streams and caves all over south Missouri. NW, by Hamilton, there are some Amish settlements (Jamesport) and you're in Jesse James, Pony Express, and the Lewis & Clark country. In Kansas City area, there is the Truman Presidential Library, The National WWI memorial and Museum, a world class art collection (Nelson-Atkins), civil war sites, pioneer trailheads, and much other things. PM and I can give you more.

Posted by
3283 posts

Stan, thanks for the great suggestions. My son lives in St. Louis and raves about Herman. I will plot your suggestions on a map, but actually, I think the shortest route is 65 out of Vicksburg thru Little Rock so we won't be in St. Louis this time.

Posted by
2703 posts

If you haven’t seen Cahokia Mound near St Louis that is top of the list.

There’s another UNESCO site in NE Louisiana that may interest https://www.crt.state.la.us/louisiana-state-parks/historic-sites/poverty-point-state-historic-site/index

In the Vicksburg battlefield watch out for fire ants! They latch onto the skin and are capable of multiple painful venomous stings like wasps. My son was allergic and had 2 days of hives, swollen feet, and all night itching. Really nasty.

Hot Springs NP is interesting but overall rather peculiar, fine if in area.

The Clinton presidential library is worth seeing. The Little Rock Central HS NHS is free and also worth seeing.

The art museum mentioned by Stan is free and highly recommended.

Posted by
63 posts

The suggestions above are excellent. Here are a few more:

1) A tour of the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City which often includes the murals of Thomas Hart Benton.

2) Hannibal, Missouri along the Mississippi is entertaining.

3) St Charles, Missouri, south of Hannibal & west of St. Louis, has a lovely old town worth seeing

I would avoid the Lake of the Ozarks area which is a congested tourist trap.

Roads and towns east of Jefferson City along the Missouri River are scenic.

Happy Trails!

Garrison

Posted by
4947 posts

jules m, so I'm guessing you'll be coming up through Springfield. Branson is either a place you love or hate, or are just plain wondering "what the heck?!". But there's nothing much worth stopping for north of Springfield (home of cashew chicken). If you're going all the way on Hwy 65, just a warning that while it is pretty hill and forest country, the distances are deceiving, and it'll take longer than it looks. If you shift over west to faster I-49, then via Kansas City, there's still nothing worth seeing until you get to KC. Hwy 13 is a better road than 65, but even less interesting.

Posted by
3283 posts

Great suggestions so far! The shortest route to Hamilton from Vicksburg looks to be thru the middle of Arkansas and Missouri. I agree that Cahokia is a must see. we were there again recently, the remodeled visitor center is wonderful. Have been to Hannibal and we drive thru in frequently on our way home from my son’s place in St. Louis.

Re. Vicksburg, in light of my parents, how much time to get the flavor of it? How big is the visitor center and in terms of the actual battlefield, is there a short drive with some stops that might work for dog and older folks?

Yes, on avoiding the really touristy stuff. My parents have been to Branson, and I have no interest.

Plenty of time for more ideas. Many thanks!

Posted by
4684 posts

Two quite famous major fine art museums are in Bentonville (Crystal Bridges) Arkansas and Kansas City MO (Nelson-Atkins.) More quirky, in Bentonville, are the Walmart family history museum (with a wedding dress and a pickup truck), and a very interesting indigenous peoples/geology/anthropology museum. It's only worth a trip for those devoted to Laura Ingalls Wilder, but the last two houses she lived in are on exhibit (on site) just over the Arkansas border, in Mansfield, MO. (Note that there are other, equally authentic, Wilder museums, in other states where they lived.)

I found Baton Rouge an interesting visit, but except for the chance to see the river levees, maybe not a must-do. There's the political history of Huey Long, the LSU campus, and a small art museum. There are also some plantations I didn't have time to investigate. (Baton Rouge/LSU is one of the many places that spent months and months processing and caring for refugees from New Orleans.)

I won't enter a restaurant that has dogs in it.

Posted by
664 posts

Holy smokes folks, you have these people traveling all over the map. The OP's route is State Rt 65, and nowhere near the Mississippi River valley once it hits the Arkansas. Not sure why this is the chosen route, as Interstate 55 would be a lot faster, but they're going to see some country.

I would stop in Natchez. It's an old plantation town with a history going back to the fir trade in the late 1700's, when it was very much a frontier outpost and the Natchez Trace was possibly the most dangerous place in North America.

I'd pass on the Vicksburg battlefield. It's not an easy one to see, requiring a lot of parking in turnouts and walking, and probably not the best for frail folks in their 80's. The recovered ironclad is (IMHO) the neatest thing on display.

Just north of Vicksburg is the Lakeport Plantation, one of the best preserved pre-Civil War properties.

Pine Bluff has the Arkansas Train Museum if your dad likes that kind of thing.

The MacArthur Military Museum in Little Rock is free and not on most tourist lists. It was darn near empty last time I was there.

A couple miles north of Clinton there's a State Park with a natural stone bridge formation that would be a good place to stretch the dogs legs.

Just south of Springfield, MO is the Wilson's Creek Civil War Battlefield. Less famous, but very important, it was the first major battle in the "West" and a Confederate victory. It's a easy, fairly flat, walk around the small visitor center. (The battle was important enough that it's a mandatory Staff Study for most officers stationed up the road at Ft Leonard Wood.)

In Springfield I recommend the Bass Pro Shop, which is the original site, and has a major hunting and fishing museum along with the store. They also have the factory outlet store, where they sell everything that's been returned after it's been reconditioned, as well as out of season stuff, at a major discount.

Quilting is big business in this area. It's not uncommon to see quilts displayed along the road for sale. There are a bunch of shops in Springfield if your mom can't wait to get up to Hamilton. She might want to look down around Hollister (south of Springfield) too.

Antiques - Just about every small town will have a shop or two. The bigger "malls" advertise on billboards along the highways. Lots of farm implements and stuff like that, not a lot of "high end" furniture, etc. Lot's of local handicrafts usually mixed in. your folks would be better off looking around Mobile Bay while they're at the beach. Fairhope is good, as is Mobile itself.

Wine? The less said about wine from MO the better. It's mostly grown from Concord grape stocks and unless you like sweet stuff not very good. (I'm picky. I've lived in wine country (Napa/Washington/Oregon/Europe, etc) most of my life. When I lived in MO I had friends in CA send me care packages.)

You're going to want to take State Rt 13 out of Springfield. There's not much up that road except farmland and bass fishing spots. But it will take you to Hamilton.

Posted by
1962 posts

Re: Vicksburg - We just drove through it, admiring the memorials and reading the markers. It was a foggy day, which made it feel kind of eerie.

The information center was the only place we got out of the car. I don't remember the accessibility, but as a national park it should be good to go.

Posted by
4947 posts

Au contraire! I don't think I've seen a concord grape wine since I was old enough to drink it. New wineries have been popping up all over the state in recent years - probably a couple of dozen just in the KC area, and Norton is the most common wine grape (and considered the best) in Missouri. Missouri used to be the number two wine producing state, pre-prohibition, mostly due to the German-style white wines in the eastern part of the state.

Posted by
837 posts

If Springfield, MO, is on your route, I loved the Best Western Rail Haven Route 66 there.
It’s a refurbished motor court with a lot of atmosphere and freshly refurbished rooms. Your parents may get a kick out of it and if they have pet-friendly rooms, it’d be convenient for taking the dog out.

Have a good trip!

Posted by
3283 posts

I appreciate all the suggestions. I'm still working on planning the route so anything on the central/western parts of Missouri and Arkansas are most welcome. I've never been in or through Arkansas and have only really been to St. Louis and surrounding area and up the eastern border in Missouri. We travel down to Gulf Shore thru Wisconsin and Illinois and then Paducah/Nashville/Birmingham, etc. so I'd like to do the return differently. I also have done the "Avenue of the Saints" thru Missouri and Iowa so no need to drive that route yet again, plus we do need to get to Hamilton. Last year we did the Highway 55 route

I've been checking multiple planners. I continue to get something like Vicksburg through Jacksonville and then either up the center of Arkansas/Missouri or up the western borders of the two states. Our main objective is to get them home in a reasonable time, but some site seeing along the way makes the travel more pleasant. Additionally, its good for them to be able to get out of the car for a stretch, bathroom break and to see/learn something interesting.

The Springfield/Mansfield area sounds interesting. Dad is an avoid fisherman and mom and I are Laura Ingalls Wilder devotees. I actually have been (I think) to every site other than Mansfield although while a route could go thru Springfield, Mansfield is about an hour out of the way.

KCG, thanks for rec for Wilson's Creek Civil War Battlefield. I will have to agree with others that Missouri does have some lovely noncorcord grape wines. We've been to the Augusta area near St. Louis quite a few times and we'd like to get to the Hermann area. I've done a lot of wine tasting in California, New York, Virginia and in quite a few places in Europe. The Missouri wines are worth exploring.

Posted by
10 posts

In addition to the sites already listed for Kansas City, you might consider Weston, Missouri. It is a smaller town located northwest of Kansas City’s airport with several wineries and antique shops.

Posted by
14 posts

If you're headed to Hamilton, Missouri, there are two spots I'd recommend visiting that are relatively nearby (within an hour's drive):

1) The General John J. Pershing Boyhood Home State Historic Site in Laclede, MO. Learn more at http://www.pershingmuseum.com/ (If you want to take your WWI interests a step further, there's a renowned WWI museum in Kansas City which is about a 90-min. drive.)

2) The Walt Disney Musem in Marceline, MO. Learn more at https://www.waltdisneymuseum.org/ People come from all over the world to see artifacts and displays honoring Disney in his boyhood hometown. This museum is very professionally maintained and is really worth a stop.

Also, did you know J.C. Penney (founder of the department stores) is from Hamilton, MO? There's a museum there to honor him but I don't know much about it, so can't say if it's worth visiting. Learn more at http://www.cityofhamiltonmo.com/jcpenney/museum.htm The quilt shops may be more worth your time.

Be sure to get a fried pork tenderloin sandwich while you're in the area. Decadent and delicious.