In my eyes a proper adventure should involve something (or multiple things) great in the outdoors along with something tasty (e.g. food, treats, and/or beverages). Another thing I find really important in a good adventure is a good effort to reward ratio. Meaning, it shouldn't have to take a lot of work (or boring time in the car) to have a really good time. For a day trip, I don't feel like you should have to drive more than 3.5 hours total or all the driving sucks the joy out of it.

Our 5 favorite day trips…

Great River Road, Pere Marquette State Park, The Loading Dock, and Aries Winery

Start by getting to Alton, IL. From there, take the great river road to Grafton. This is a spectacular drive with the Mississippi on your left and the Palisades (limestone cliffs) on your right. Eat lunch at the Loading Dock with a view overlooking the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers and enjoy an adult beverage, preferably one of their frozen or blended options. The Loading Dock generally has live music on the weekends when its warm out. Next, go hiking at Pere Marquette State Park. Pere Marquette has several amazing views of the Mississippi River valley, lots of historic structures from Roosevelt’s WPA program, and a wide variety of great trails. Wrap the day up by enjoying some wine or other beverage at Aries Winery while looking out over the amazing view from up on the bluffs. If you haven’t had enough (or perhaps you’ve had too much) you can stay in Grafton at a B&B, a cabin at Pere Marquette Lodge, or Camp at Pere Marquette State Park.

Paddle The Huzzah

You can’t really call yourself a St. Louisan until you’ve been on a “Float Trip”. A float trip involves canoeing, rafting, or kayaking down one of the crystal clear Ozark streams to the South-West of St. Louis. This can be a relaxing thing for two, a great trip for extended family, or fun for a large group. Many people like to bring along beverages to enjoy (no glass, clean up after yourselves, drink responsibly). Our favorite place to float is the Huzzah River. Huzzah Valley Resort (a 1.5 hour drive from St. Louis, about 20 minutes from Steeleville, Missouri) is a great outfitter if you need to rent boats and shuttle you around. We bring a large group of friends from our kids’ schools and generally do one of the two 6-mile floats. We stop along the way a lot to let the kids swim in the class I rapids, swing from rope swings, jump off rocks, cliffs and fallen trees, or just relax and eat lunch. It is always a great time and bonding experience. A few of the rapids can be a bit challenging (particularly up by the Scotia put-in) but most folks get a feel for it pretty quickly. Newbies generally have a better experience with rafts and kayaks as canoes take a bit more skill to navigate (little known fact: 2 inexperienced people trying to canoe together on a twisty river has actually been the cause of the start of most major wars). Afterwards, we always enjoy getting burgers and ice cream (unlimited refills!) at Dairy Isle in Steeleville but there are many other great restaurants in Steeleville and Cuba as well.

Hiking at Pickle Spring and dinner in St. Genevieve

Pickle Springs is our favorite hike in the area as it has lots of amazing rock formations, a nice creek with a waterfall, great overlooks, and it’s a perfect length (3 miles) for hiking with kids. Climb around the amazing rock formations, enjoy the stunning views, soak up the fresh forest air, and relax to the soothing sounds of the waterfall. After that, go to the historic section of St. Genevieve, a lovely, small, historic French town and have dinner. A couple years ago, I believe we ate at Sirros and everyone’s food was good, but my oldest got the Chicken and Waffles (which I’m no longer seeing on the menu on the Internet) and it was the best thing any of us had had in awhile. Just a perfect combination of flavors and I’ve never had chicken and waffles anywhere else that compared.

Relax on a Lake Lincoln and Explore the largest Pump Track and Skate Park in the country

Find another family with compatible kids to join you. Load your car up with boats, rafts, tubes, bikes, scooters, skateboards, and a lunch you can grill. Drive to Cuivre River State Park (1 hour from STL) arrive around lunch time. Find one of the many great picnic spots overlooking the lake and make lunch, play frisbee, throw footballs, play washers, … After lunch, park at the Boat Launch. Paddle all the floating crafts to a cove across the lake and hang out there for a couple hours, relaxing and playing. Paddle back and load up the car. Drive to the St. Charles Youth Activity Park and play at the biggest skate park plus pump track in Missouri, it’s right on your way home. Don’t break any bones or die and stuff. Get dinner at East Coast Pizza in Chesterfield Valley on the way home. They have great pizza, nice outdoor dining, and a good selection of adult beverages.

Bike to the Wineries

Load up your bikes and head to Defiance, MO (an easy 45 minute drive). Park at the Katy Trail trailhead parking lot in the heart of defiance. Hop on your bikes and go to the right (Southwest). It is a scenic 7-mile (all flat, packed gravel) ride along the Missouri River. In Augusta, you can hit Augusta Brew Haus, or Mt. Pleasant Estates Winery or the Augusta Winery. Relax and enjoy good food and beverages and then ride back the 7 miles. Clearly, you don’t want to, um, over-sample the beverages with another 7 mile ride at the end. Really hearty folk might want to enjoy more food and beverages at Terry and Kathy’s which often has live music and is right next to the trailhead where you first parked.

Honorable Mentions

Not quite our favorites, but still a great way to spend the day

Play at the Castor River Shut-ins

Head to the Amidon Conservation area in Fredericktown on the Castor River (a 2 hour drive). It’s a smaller version of Johnson Shut ins and nicknamed Pink rock and is perfect for enjoying an all-natural water park. You can fish, camp. It is nearly 2 hrs away though. There’s a neat town pretty close by with 1 of 4 historic covered bridges in Mo. Then, take a tour of Bollinger Mill on the Whitewater river in Burfordville.