Travel routes & sites of interest for meandering MO-to-TN road trip?
August 27, 2016 10:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning a week-long road trip for me and my dad for the coming spring. The tentative plan is to drive from St. Louis to the small town of Waverly, TN. That's a trip of only 280 miles if we take the shortest route, and could easily be completed in one afternoon... but that's no fun. The Duffell family likes to take leisurely, meandering road trips. Help us take this thing off the interstate and enjoy the scenery. Don't be afraid to take us out of our way.

Here are some things we like:
  • Picturesque drives and beautiful scenery.
  • State parks, national parks, historical sites, and monuments, especially (though not exclusively) those that are less-visited or not as well-known.
  • Things that we can't just see anywhere; natural or man-made attractions that are unique to the region.
  • Silly tourist traps. The Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD and Wall Drug are among the more memorable stops we made when I was a kid.
Here's what we don't much care for:
  • Roads and highways that don't show us much of the surroundings; crowded/clogged interstates.
  • Glorification of the Confederacy.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
  • We have a whole week to make a trip that we could make in one afternoon. This really doesn't need to be a straight shot. We could venture into parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, or Mississippi if desired.
  • My dad is getting up there in years and can't get around as quickly or as easily as he used to. (This is part of the reason for "taking our time"--we'll probably limit drive time to 4 hours a day, and no more than 2 hours in one stretch.) Sites or stops that require a fair bit of "physicality" may not work so well.
Here's what I'm hoping you can recommend:
  • Specific sites or stops (guided by the above caveats)
  • General regions/areas to visit (and why!)
  • Stretches of road to take
  • Places to stay along the way
  • Anything you think we should avoid, and why
Don't feel like you have to plan out our whole trip--anything you can provide in the way of guidance, tips, etc. would be useful. Thank you for your help!
posted by duffell to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total)
If your chosen route takes you through Paducah KY don't miss the National Quilt Museum. It is really wonderful, even if you're not in to quilts! And Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is gorgeous. If you don't mind driving a few extra hours you could visit Mammoth Cave National Park too! It is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service if you need an excuse! ;) Happy travels!
posted by pjsky at 10:43 AM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

My folks are from near Waverly. Let's see...

If you're near Union City, TN, there's Discovery Park of America, which has a little something for everyone, with both indoor and outdoor exhibits on history and science. I'd give it about 4-5 hours to explore.

If you're in Paris, TN, there's a 1:20 scale replica of the Eiffel Tower.

A Camden, TN, there's a memorial near where Patsy Cline crashed.

And obviously if you're in or around Sikeston, MO, you need to eat at Lambert's, Home of the Throwed Rolls. It's totally worth the wait. Southern comfort food, and the waitstaff will toss your dinner rolls at you from across the room. Fantastic, and so entertaining!
posted by mochapickle at 10:50 AM on August 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh! And there's a river crossing that might be fun: The Dorena-Hickman Ferry, which crosses the Mississippi between Dorena MO and Hickman KY. Might be fun to cross that, then mosey down to Reelfoot Lake, gaze at the waterlogged cypress (very pretty!) and then stop for catfish at either Boyette's or Lakeview.

(I would not do Lambert's and Boyette's/Lakeview on the same day -- salt overload.)
posted by mochapickle at 11:07 AM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

A few ideas:

Giant City State Park in Southern Illinois is great — rock formations, a climbable water tower lookout, a nice old lodge building. Good stuff.

Chester, Ill., along the Mississippi River, is the Home of Popeye.

Cairo, Ill., at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, is a pretty incredible place. It's a small town that could conceivably have been a major metropolis given its location. You can still go to Fort Defiance Park at the confluence and watch two major rivers converge, or go to the opposite end of town and check out the gate that was built in 1914 to seal off the town in case of major flooding, leaving it an island. Shemwell's BBQ is good stuff.
posted by brentajones at 11:26 AM on August 27, 2016

Roadside America is a great resource for kitschy and funky things.

The Hocking Hills of Ohio may be further out of your way than you would like, although the scenery is beautiful. Fun fact: Car and Driver tests cars on the twisties there. Also out of your way but well worth a visit is Columbus IN. The architecture there is definitely not what you'd expect for a small Midwest city. And Parke County IN is home to several covered bridges.
posted by DrGail at 12:49 PM on August 27, 2016

Have you been to Memphis with a tourism agenda before?
Graceland, the Stax museum, Sun Studios, the excellent Memphis Zoo, the Mud Island River Park (seasonal, features a scale model of the lower Mississippi river), an NBA team that plays downtown, historical Beale Street, the Peabody hotel (watch the ducks!) and Rendezvous BBQ (originators of ribs without sauce--you can get sauce on your ribs at most other places in Memphis).

South of town: Oxford, MS, where you can visit Ole Miss and/or Faulkner stuff. You could also go down highway 61 through the Delta to Clarksdale, though I have not done this.

East of town: the Shiloh Civil War battlefield, where the Rebels surprised Grant, were unable to capitalize--he would capture Vicksburg the next year; also Jackson, TN has some rail-related stuff and a Casey Jones museum (I also haven't been there), a couple of wineries, and a safari park.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:30 PM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Couple ideas from our vacation stops in the area:

- Jack Daniels distillery - Lynchburg, TN - Fun time! In addition to the interest in seeing the inner works, the property and surrounding areas are very scenic.
- Churchill Downs in Lexington, KY. Very surreal to be there and see all of the history behind one of the biggest sporting events of the year. Bonus if you can go during live racing meets (though it will be busy!).
- Lookout Mountain in TN - very scenic, driveable the whole way with lots of stops to sightsee if you want. They also have an incline railway that we didn't ride but looked fun.

One thing I would mention about Mammoth Cave - I do recommend this experience, but consider the physicality of the cave tour. The pace is slow and there are plenty of opportunities to rest, but it's not a cakewalk either - there are many stairs. The park itself is pretty, though.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by SquidLips at 9:55 AM on August 28, 2016

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