The St. Louis area offers lots of easy day trips. So get out of town and have some fun without springing for a hotel room. These adventures are good, wholesome fun — and even educational. Give your kids fresh memories to write about when their teachers assign those “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” essays.
St. Charles

Downtown St. Charles is only an hour from the city, but it’s a world apart. Cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages take you to another era. St. Charles is a popular destination for couples, but there are some children’s activities tucked away amongst the romantic streets. Kids love racing around the Boschertown Grand Prix Racing track, playing laser tag at Adrenaline Zone, or checking out the vintage automobiles at Fast Lane Classic Cars. Cram in a little education at historic sites like the Old Courthouse or Daniel Boone Home, then fuel up in one of St. Chuck’s charming eateries, like Alice’s Tea Room or Tuscano’s Brazilian Grill.

Springfield, IL

Springfield is a popular field trip destination for Illinois schoolchildren, so the city has filled itself with kid-friendly educational attractions. Lincoln’s New Salem is a living history village, a reproduction of the town where Lincoln lived in a log cabin. The cabins are populated by costumed characters who will demonstrate blacksmithing, candlemaking and other skills of the time period. The Illinois State Museum is another popular stop for families, with lots of hands-on displays for kids. Learn about archeology, dinosaurs, and so much more.


Children who’ve read about Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher might enjoy a trip to Hannibal, where author Mark Twain created the fictional characters. The Mark Twain Riverboat and the Cave Complex bring the river and cave settings of the books to life. Afterwards, stop in for an ice cream at Becky’s Ice Cream Parlor. Hannibal is also the home of the Unsinkable Molly Brown, and you can learn more about her at the Molly Brown Museum. If the kids get bored with all this history and literature, take them to the Hannibal Aquatic Center to cool off on the waterslides and splash pools.

Related: Top Lakehouse Getaways Near St. Louis

Iron Mountain Railway
Jackson, MO

St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway is a very special place, worthy of the two-hour drive from the city. The railway is run by rail enthusiasts, who maintain historic train cars along with diesel and steam engines, as well as offering up some very unique experiences. Your train ride will include storytelling, coloring contests, face painting, and all kinds of other entertainment. Kids love the Jesse James option, in which masked men on horseback overtake the train in a cloud of gunsmoke and come aboard to rob you. After the robbery, everyone disembarks to check out a little mock Western village, then ride back to the starting point in comfort. This is a fun way to experience some American history in the Wild Wild West. Bring a picnic, or have some pizza at the station before you depart.

Johnson’s Shut-Ins
Middlebrook, MO

Get your kids out into the great outdoors to enjoy some nature and exercise for the day. Most St. Louisans have happy memories of visiting the Shut-Ins as children, but when you come back with your own kids, you’re going to see danger lurking everywhere — the Shut-Ins are nature’s water slides, but nature doesn’t offer any safety features. Bring water shoes to protect everyone’s feet from the rocks, and bring a first aid kit just because you’ll feel better if you have one. Also pack swimwear, towels, insect repellent and a picnic. If you plan to hike as well as swim, bring hats to protect you from ticks and good solid shoes to navigate the rocks. Food isn’t allowed inside the park, but you can picnic by the entrance.

Related: Family Guide to St. Louis’s Aquatic Events

Lauren Haas was the founder and publisher of The St. Louis Area Family Gazette magazine. Now, Lauren is a full-time freelance writer who travels the world, using St. Louis as her base. Visit her blog at