The Missouri River, the nation's longest river, flows 553 miles through Missouri and meets the Mississippi River in St. Louis. The river played an important role in Native American culture, the Lewis and Clark expedition and westward expansion. The river hosts some of the oldest settlements in the state and many historic sites. Today the river provides water sport, fishing and outdoor recreation venues. High bluffs, farmland, wineries and heritage filled towns frame the river and provide scenery for drives and day trip destinations.
Nicknamed Big Muddy, the Missouri is a silt-filled river popular for fishing and water sports. A variety of catfish are caught on the river, as well as crappie, bluegill, bass, carp, drum and walleye. Conservation areas along the river provide public use boat ramps for recreational boating, sailing, waterskiing, canoeing and kayaking. Private concessionaires offer boat rentals, docks, marinas, camping, restaurants, and live music on the river.
The Missouri River goes through the state's two largest cities, Kansas City and St. Louis and the state capital, Jefferson City. An exploration of the smaller towns and cities along the Missouri River, by bike, foot, auto or train, offers a glimpse into past and present day river life. Many of these towns have historic buildings and antique and craft shopping.
The Katy Trail State Park is a long-distance biking and hiking trial that covers 225 miles from Clinton to St. Charles. Built on former railroad tracks, the trail starts southwest of the Missouri River. At Boonville, where Isle Capri provides riverboat gaming action, the trail crosses the river and from there to St. Charles follows the river through a variety of landscapes. Some of the best views are along the river bluffs during spring and fall. Bald eagles are often spotted in the wintertime. Trailheads provide parking and the towns along the way offer bike rentals, restaurants, antique shops, bed and breakfast and other amenities. The trail from Boonville to St. Charles has been designated as a section of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
The Missouri section of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail can also be undertaken by auto. The Lewis and Clark trail follows the Missouri River across the state with stops at historic sites like Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis and the Lewis and Clark Center in St. Charles. St. Charles also hosts the Lewis and Clark Rendezvous each May in its historic downtown area.
Highways 94 and 100 provide scenic routes to explore Missouri's wine country east of Jefferson City. River towns, Augusta, Defiance, Dutzow, Hermann, Washington, Marthasville and others, have German backgrounds. Festivals, like Hermann's Maifest, in May, and Octoberfest, weekends in October, celebrate wine and German culture. The winery area is popular in fall when changing leaves and the river valley make hilly, winding roads especially scenic. Amtrak train service through the area is available out of St. Louis and Jefferson City.
The Missouri River flows along the northwest border of Missouri through St. Joseph. At Kansas City, the river turns east and flows through Jefferson City and on to St. Louis. It is accessible via many state highways as well as Interstate 29 in northwest Missouri, and Interstate 70 across the middle section of the state. There are many lodging options along the river in the bigger cities: Saint Joseph, Kansas City, Jefferson City and St. Louis. Smaller towns along the river also offer hotels, campgrounds and bed and breakfasts.