The 12 Best Road Trips from St. Louis (Our Mega Guide)

best road trips from st louis mo

St. Louis might be landlocked, but don’t let that fool you! From short day trips to longer excursions in bigger cities or national parks, there are plenty of super fun destinations within driving distance of St. Louis.

If you’re trying to plan a road trip from St. Louis, we’ve got you covered! This guide compiles our 12 favorite road trips from the Gateway City, and you will even notice some information about our favorite stops and attractions along the way.

Happy road tripping!

Short 1 Day Roadtrips from St. Louis (1-2 hours)

Sometimes you just need a change of scenery, so these quick 1-2 hour drives are perfect for an easy day trip from the city. Here are a few of the best short trips from St. Louis.

1. Missouri Wine Country Road Trip: Ste. Genevieve, Missouri

Ste. Genevieve was founded in 1735, making it the oldest European settlement in the state of Missouri. While this little town only has a population of about 5,000 people, don’t let it fool you! Ste. Genevieve is beautiful and has tons of things to do.

The downtown area is home to several boutiques, historic sites, wineries, and restaurants. A short drive from the center of town, you can find even more wineries, so this is a fun little day trip for those who want to experience Missouri’s wine country. 

The drive:

Only a quick hour-long drive from St. Louis, this road trip is super easy. To get out of St. Louis, you’ll hop on I-55 South and follow it to State Highway O, at exit 154. From there, you will take US-61 to Ste. Genevieve.

With such an easy, short drive, you likely won’t need to make any stops. However, if you want to enjoy a different winery on the way to Ste. Genevieve, you can make a pit stop at Villa Antonio Winery in Hillsboro, Missouri.

  • Distance from St. Louis: 62.9 miles
  • One-way driving time without stops: 1 hour, 1 minute
  • Recommended stops: 
    • Villa Antonio Winery (40 minutes)

2. The Small-Town Getaway: Hannibal, Missouri

If you like to read, you’ve likely read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, both written by Mark Twain. Also known as Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri (and I grew up only about 20 minutes away, so I’ve explored Hannibal about a thousand times!).

This charming little town, located in northeast Missouri, is home to The Mark Twain Cave Complex, which served as the inspiration behind some of the stories from his novels. You can also tour The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, the historic Rockcliffe Mansion, or cruise the Mississippi River on the Mark Twain Riverboat. 

The downtown area is incredibly adorable, home to breweries, restaurants, boutiques, and coffee shops. I particularly love Java Jive, a cozy coffee shop serving ice cream.

The drive:

I go through Hannibal every time I visit my family, and it’s a straightforward drive from St. Louis. You’ll take I-64W to get out of St. Louis, which will eventually turn into US-61 N, which you will drive until you reach Hannibal.

If I’m being completely honest, there’s not much to see along this drive, besides cornfields and cows. I always make a bathroom stop in Bowling Green, which is the halfway point.

  • Distance from St. Louis: 116 miles
  • One-way driving time without stops: 1 hour, 53 minutes
  • Recommended stops: 
    • Bowling Green, MO (1 hour, 23 minutes)

3. A College Town Getaway: Columbia, Missouri

Home to the University of Missouri, also known as Mizzou, Columbia is a bustling college town with plenty of bars, restaurants, and things to do. You can catch a Missouri Symphony concert, walk through the Mizzou Botanical Garden, or check out an exhibit at the Columbia Art League

If you’re in more of an outdoorsy mood, several parks and conservation areas are nearby, like Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, Shelter Gardens, and Finger Lakes State Park. You’re bound to work up an appetite with all of those things to do, so don’t forget to stop by Shakespeare’s Pizza before you leave. This joint is known for having some of the best pizza in the state!

The drive:

Follow I-64 W out of St. Louis, where you will eventually veer left to get onto I-70 W Thiswill take you all the way to exit 126 in Columbia- it’s that easy!

About 30 minutes before you get to Columbia, you’ll find Ozarkland, a specialty gift shop that sells jewelry, candy, and other unique specialty goods. This is a great spot to snag a snack, make a pit stop, or buy a road trip souvenir.

  • Distance from St. Louis: 125 miles
  • One-way driving time without stops: 1 hour, 57 minutes
  • Recommended stops: 
    • Ozarkland in Williamsburg, MO (1 hour, 37 minutes)

Medium weekend road trips from St. Louis (3-5 hours)

If you want to go on a longer drive or weekend getaway, these 3-5 hour road trips are perfect for a few days away from St. Louis. You will notice that each of these destinations offers plenty of things to see and do!

1. For Blues, Barbecue, and Beale Street: Memphis

I took a weekend trip to Memphis a few years back with some friends, and I was surprised by how much I loved this city! As the birthplace of certain forms of blues, rock, and soul music, this is an excellent destination for music lovers. 

You can tour Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley, or check out Sun Studio, where the world’s first rock song was recorded in the 1950s. At night, the bars on Beale Street come alive with great drinks and live music. This city is also known for incredible barbecue, so don’t forget to sample some before leaving!

The drive:

Memphis is basically a straight shot from St. Louis. Hop on I-55 S; four hours later, take exit 1 to get into Memphis.

There are several stopping points along the way. Crown Valley Winery is an easy stop near Ste. Genevieve, Century Casino in Cape Girardeau offers gaming, and Sikeston Factory Outlet Stores has ample shopping. 

  • Distance from St. Louis: 283 miles
  • One-way driving time without stops: 4 hours, 8 minutes
  • Recommended stops:
    • Crown Valley Winery (1 hour, 11 minutes)
    • Century Casino Cape Girardeau (1 hour, 52 minutes)
    • Sikeston Factory Outlet Stores (2 hours, 6 minutes)

2. A Weekend in Music City: Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville is one of my favorite cities ever, and lucky for me, it’s only a short four-hour drive from St. Louis. Home to the Grand Ole Opry, The Country Music Hall of Fame, Music Row, and tons of live music venues, this is another great city for music enthusiasts. 

Besides all of the popular music attractions, you can also visit the Hermitage, the home of President Andrew Jackson, or the Nashville Zoo. For great nightlife and live music, check out Broadway, the center of downtown Nashville. This street is brimming with honky tonk bars, clubs, and neon lights.

The drive:

You’ll follow I-64 E out of St. Louis and continue for about 74 miles. From there, merge onto I-57 S and keep going for 47 miles. Take exit 44 onto I-24 E toward Nashville, and stay on it for 175 miles. From there, take exit 44A to merge onto I-65 S toward Nashville. 

There are many places to stop along the way, but Paducah, Kentucky is one of the best pit stops. You can explore the Paducah Riverwalk, street murals, wineries, and the National Quilt Museum. 

I have also stopped in Clarksville, Tennessee several times. Clarksville has a super cute downtown area, home to Blackhorse Pub and Brewery, which has incredible pizza and craft beer.

  • Distance from St. Louis: 309 miles
  • One-way driving time without stops: 4 hours, 46 minutes
  • Recommended stops:
    • Paducah, KY (2 hours, 54 minutes)
    • Clarksville, TN (4 hours, 19 minutes)

3. A Road Trip Across the State: Kansas City

One of my friends describes St. Louis as having an East Coast vibe and Kansas City as having a West Coast vibe- I think he’s on to something! Kansas City feels laid back and trendy with cool architecture, street art, fountains, and delicious barbecue. 

Visit The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to enjoy a gallery of over 40,000 pieces, or learn more about jazz at The American Jazz Museum. The historic River Market area is an excellent place for shopping and browsing locally-made goods and boutiques.

The drive:

Take I-64 W to get out of St. Louis, then merge onto I-70 W. From there, it’s a straight shot across the state to Kansas City!

Columbia, Missouri is about at the halfway point, which is a great place to get out, walk around, and have a bit to eat. 

If you want to make a slight detour, you could check out Jefferson City, just a few minutes out of the way. This city is a great spot to tour the state capitol building, and then make an ice cream stop at the state-renowned Central Dairy

  • Distance from St. Louis: 248 miles
  • One-way driving time without stops: 4 hours, 6 minutes
  • Recommended stops:
    • Rock Bridge Memorial State Park (2 hours, 2 minutes)
    • Jefferson City (2 hours, 6 minutes)

4. A Weekend at The Lake: Lake of the Ozarks

On weekends throughout the summer, residents from all over the state flock to the Lake of the Ozarks to enjoy swimming, fishing, boating, and soaking up the sun. The nearby Ha Ha Tonka State Park has some beautiful hiking areas, and there are also a variety of cave systems throughout the Ozarks if you’re feeling extra adventurous. 

Because this is a tourist hub, there are several great places to eat, including Pappo’s, which serves some of the best pizza I’ve had, and J.B. Hook’s, an upscale seafood restaurant with lovely al fresco dining.

The drive:

Most of the drive is on I-44 W, which you will drive out of St. Louis and follow for 154 miles. Take exit 135 and turn right onto State Highway F, then 4 miles later, turn right again onto MO-5 N, which will lead you to Lake of the Ozarks.

As you drive west on Highway 44, you’ll likely see about a million billboards for the Uranus Fudge Factory. The billboards claim that “the fudge is always better in Uranus!” (and yes, the pun is intended). If you like fudge, or just want a laugh, it’s worth a stop along the way. 

  • Distance from St. Louis: 191 miles
  • One-way driving time without stops: 2 hours, 57 minutes
  • Recommended stops:
    • Uranus Fudge Factory and General Store (1 hour, 56 minutes)

5. Best Family Vacation: Branson, Missouri

I went to Branson countless times as a kid, as did most other locals that I’ve met. Branson is a great place to bring the kids, mainly because of Silver Dollar City, along with the variety of mini-golf courses, go-karting tracks, kid-friendly shows, water parks, and several other attractions. 

Table Rock Lake and Lake Taneycomo are located nearby, meaning that you can spend long summer days with the whole family enjoying swimming, boating, and fishing.

The drive:

Take I-44 W out of St. Louis and all the way to Springfield, Missouri, where you will take exit 82A to merge onto US-65 S. Follow this highway for about 41 miles, and it will take you to Branson.

Other than a stop at the Uranus Fudge Factory, Springfield, Missouri is a great pit stop. This city is home to countless museums, like the Springfield Art Museum and Wonders of Wildlife Museum, along with several coffee shops and restaurants. You can also find many caverns and nature trails in the surrounding area. 

  • Distance from St. Louis: 252 miles
  • One-way driving time without stops: 3 hours, 45 minutes
  • Recommended stops:
    • Uranus Fudge Factory (1 hour, 56 minutes)
    • Springfield, MO (3 hours, 17 minutes)

Longer 5-7 day road trips from St. Louis (5+ hours)

Each destination below is about 5 hours or longer from St. Louis, making these places perfect for family vacations, week-long getaways, or extended road trips. If you’ve got some extra time for a longer holiday, check out the areas below!

1. The Big City Experience: Chicago

As one of the largest cities in the U.S., Chicago is worth the drive from St. Louis. Or, if you’re like me, you can avoid the 5-hour drive by taking the Amtrak train! 

There are countless things to do in the Windy City, including The Art Institute of Chicago, the Willis Tower (over 1400 feet tall), and Navy Pier, a waterfront destination with food, shopping, and a Ferris wheel. Home to several metal sculptures, including the iconic Bean, Millennium Park is a must-visit attraction while visiting downtown Chicago.

The drive:

Driving from St. Louis to Chicago is a surprisingly direct drive (other than the traffic you’ll hit when you get to Chi-town). Take I-64 E out of St. Louis and then continue on I-55 N until arriving in Chicago.

Along the way, you will drive through Springfield, Illinois, home to everything Abe Lincoln. You can visit Lincoln’s tomb, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, or the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. Other great stops include the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, located in Collinsville, Illinois, and Kankakee River State Park in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

  • Distance from St. Louis: 297 miles
  • One-way driving time without stops: 4 hours, 53 minutes
  • Recommended stops:
    • World’s Largest Catsup Bottle (22 minutes)
    • Springfield, IL (1 hour, 28 minutes)
    • Kankakee River State Park (3 hours, 41 minutes)

2. The Wisconsin Experience: Milwaukee

Known for fantastic breweries, great food, and major league baseball, there is plenty to do in Milwaukee! Start by catching a Brewers game at American Family Field, then head to the Milwaukee Public Market to enjoy some local food vendors. Other popular attractions include the Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee County Zoo, the Harley-Davidson Museum, and the Lakefront Brewery. 

Wisconsin is well-known as a leader in the dairy industry, so you’ll want to try some cheese curds and frozen custard while you’re here. I particularly love Kopp’s Frozen Custard, which has been around since 1950.

The drive:

While you can choose to route through Chicago, I usually avoid going that way due to the city traffic. It is easier to take I-55 N until you get to Bloomington, Illinois, where you can merge onto I-39. You’ll take this highway until you reach Wisconsin, where you will get onto I-43 N, which you will take to Milwaukee.

Besides the Lincoln tourist attractions in Springfield, Illinois, Rockford is another great stop while driving to Milwaukee. This charming little town has a quaint downtown area and several museums, parks, and public gardens.

  • Distance from St. Louis: 382 miles
  • One-way driving time without stops: 5 hours, 41 minutes
  • Recommended stops:
    • Springfield, IL (1 hour, 28 minutes)
    • Rockford, IL (4 hours, 16 minutes)

3. An Underrated Getaway: Des Moines

As the capital of Iowa, this colorful city boasts a rich culture, history, art, and attractions. One of the most popular museums in Des Moines is the Des Moines Art Center, home to sculptures, paintings, photographs, and other art forms. 

If you’re here on the weekend, take a stroll through the Des Moines’ Downtown Farmers Market, where you can browse local goods, crafts, artwork, and bakery items. 

For history lovers, Salisbury House & Gardens is open for tours. This home was built in 1928, and modeled after a replica of a king’s house. The vast grounds, incredible architecture, and stunning art pieces make this a popular attraction in Des Moines.

The drive:

You’ll take I-64 W to drive out of St. Louis, eventually turning into US-61 N, which you will stay on for 197 miles. You’ll continue onto MO-27 N, and eventually turn left on IA-16 W. When you get to Ottumwa, get onto US Highway 63, which will lead you to Des Moines.

Other than exploring the Mark Twain landmarks in Hannibal, Missouri, you can also stop at the American Gothic House and Center, located in Eldon, Iowa. This home was the backdrop of the iconic painting, “American Gothic,” by Grant Wood, making this the perfect site for a photo op!

  • Distance from St. Louis: 341 miles
  • One-way driving time without stops: 5 hours, 34 minutes
  • Recommended stops:
    • Hannibal, MO (1 hour, 53 minutes)
    • American Gothic House and Center (3 hours, 47 minutes)

4. The Closest National Park: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountain National Park is worth the drive from St. Louis for those who love outdoor activities. There’s a reason that this land is the most-visited national park in the United States! With lush forests, blooming wildflowers, majestic mountain scenery, and several scenic viewpoints, hiking opportunities and outdoor activities abound in this park. 

You could easily spend two weeks here and not cover everything this area offers. Several rental cabins are located near the park, so you can enjoy the mountain scenery the entire time you’re there. Nearby, Gatlinburg, Tennessee offers plenty of family-friendly attractions and places to eat and drink, so you’ll never be bored!

The drive:

Follow I-64 E out of St. Louis, taking exit 3 to head towards Louisville. Keep going on I-64 E for 74 miles, then continue on I-57 S. Take exit 44 to merge onto I-24 E towards Nashville, where you’ll stay until you reach the signs for I-40 E towards Knoxville. Stay on I-40 for 163 miles, then take exit 376 to merge onto I-140 E. About 14 miles later, several twists and turns will lead you to US-321, which eventually will take you to the park.

There are several stops along the way; besides Paducah, Clarksville, and Nashville (which I’ve already mentioned), Knoxville, Tennessee is another great city for a pit stop. To explore blocks of 19th-century buildings, check out the Market Square District. You can also find several historical sites in Knoxville, including James White’s Fort and the Museum of East Tennessee History (home to many Civil War artifacts).

  • Distance from St. Louis: 508 miles
  • One-way driving time without stops: 7 hours, 50 minutes
  • Recommended stops:
    • Paducah, KY (2 hours, 54 minutes)
    • Clarksville, TN (4 hours, 19 minutes)
    • Nashville, TN (4 hours, 46 minutes)
    • Knoxville, TN (7 hours, 21 minutes)