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Located in the heart of the country, the Show-Me State is often preceded in reputation by the metropolitan cities that flank its borders: Kansas City to the west and St. Louis to the east. But dig a little deeper, and Missouri’s significance to American history and geography begins to surface. In the early 19th century, it earned a reputation as a “gateway to the West,” as it was the last stop on the way to the new frontier.
From the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Oregon Trail and even the Pony Express mail service, St. Louis was an important hub for American explorers heading West to stake their claims. Modern-day Missouri’s famous Gateway Arch — the world’s tallest — is a grand symbol of its role on so many crosscountry journeys, and the state is still known for its impressive network of trails. Along with its reputation for regional barbecue, live entertainment, a rich brewing history, and wild natural features, there’s more to Missouri than meets the eye.
Despite the fact that Missouri hosts the country’s busiest rail centers, traveling across the state by train isn’t all that convenient. Most Missourians travel by car, though big cities like St. Louis and Kansas City have walkable neighborhoods, and the latter has a downtown streetcar. Arriving in Missouri from elsewhere in the country is fairly easy thanks to St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) in the east, and Kansas City International Airport (MCI) in the west. If you’re planning to spend time in the southern part of the state, Springfield-Branson National Airport (SGF) has connecting flights from elsewhere in the Midwest; similarly, Columbia Regional Airport (COU) in the middle of the state offers quick flights to major hubs like Chicago, Dallas, and Denver.
Because of its geographical position unprotected by mountains or oceans, Missouri experiences extreme temperatures at both the freezing-cold and scorching-hot ends of the scale. The upside of its dramatic weather is that all four seasons are true to definition. Missourians celebrate the warmer months with festivals and fairs, including Hannibal’s famous BBQ Fest in late July St. Charles’s weekend-long Riverfest, and Ste. Genevieve’s popular Summer Music Series. Throughout the year, locals celebrate events that mark its early French heritage.
Missouri’s massive Ozark Mountains are technically a pair of mountain ranges — the St. Francois Mountains and neighboring Arkansas’s Boston Mountains. The area, which covers 47,000 square miles, lives large both geographically and culturally for Missourians. Beyond their network of lakes, streams, and rivers, the Ozarks represent a rich history with Irish and German roots that’s passed down through generations of Missourians via folklore, square dances, and tall tales.
If you’re seeking entertainment, head south. Perched in the Ozarks on Missouri’s southern border, Branson is the live-entertainment capital of the state — or maybe the universe, as it was once declared. Theaters began opening in town in the 1930s and snowballed in mid-century as stages got bigger, costumes got more elaborate, and local competition fueled the entertainment factor. From massive outdoor amphitheaters to major production stage shows, you’d be remiss not to get tickets to something while in town.
One of the Midwest’s most beloved cities, St. Louis is a manageable size for short visits, but there’s so much to do here. In the shadow of the famous Gateway Arch are arts and culture institutions and a thriving music scene, especially when it comes to jazz, blues, and ragtime. But few things rival support for the baseball team — one of the winningest in the country.