Parkville Nature Center is a wildlife preserve and educational center located in Parkville, Missouri. Open every day, from sunrise to sunset, you can relax by a small waterfall or walk around the many trails that wander into the hills. Benches, like the ones by these waterfalls, offer a relaxing place to hide away. This is the bottom area of the waterfall, so you can walk up and cross that bridge to go to the upper part. The white noise offered by the sound of the running water can help relax you and help in focusing, concentration and emotional stability. Need inspiration for creating your latest masterpiece? Here’s a free site located near Kansas City.

Don’t live near KCMO but still want to find a place to regenerate? Find a national or state park near you.

Where to find it? (Map)

The Missouri Rhineland winds through the Missouri River Valley from the suburbs of St. Louis to Jefferson City. This region is called “wine country” due to the soils that line the southern bank of the river. The soils are excellent for growing wine, grapes, and (of course) corn. The Rhineland was named for its similarities to the Rhineland region in Europe. Some of the oldest wineries in America were founded here, especially near Augusta and in Hermann at Stone Hill. During Oktoberfest, you’ll find towns that still celebrate their German heritage in style.

This tour will take you through Missouri wine country to see the industry that has won multiple national awards. Even if you are not a fan of wine, it’s still a beautiful area with rolling hills, vineyards, and rich earth. The German heritage is also seen in its architecture that that still stand over 150 years later.

How long?  About 123 miles or a minimum of three hours. The hills are steep, and the roads are usually two-lanes with speed limits of 35 m.p.h. at times. Best advice? Slow down. You’ll also find tiny little “German villages” on the route to explore. The bridge on Highway 94 in Hermann is under construction so you must take local road P as an alternate and it also goes through some great places, but the road is not one to be speeding on.

Add 30 minutes if you are leaving St. Louis to drive to St. Charles, Missouri.

If you are starting from the Kansas City metroplex, add an additional two hours and a half hour to drive to Jefferson City and reverse the directions. (Or, you can simply drive four hours to St. Charles and then start the tour.] Plan for a full day of driving.

Time of Year?  The best times to visit are from April to November as the roads can get dangerous in the winter months. Check for any flash flood watches or warnings as some of the roads can be closed by heavy flooding. You will see signs everywhere warning about low water crossings.


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Missouri Rhineland / Wine Country Itinerary

Start from St. Louis, Missouri

Side-trip. If you are driving from St. Louis, Missouri, why not stop off in Florissant, Missouri, to view the oldest church in Missouri. Old St Ferdinand Shrine at 1 Rue St Francois, Florissant, MO 63031. The parish was established in 1789 and the original part of the church was built in 1821.

Historic Downtown St. Charles (since 1769)

230 S. Main Street, St. Charles, MO 63301

St. Charles, Missouri, was once the last outpost for westward-bound pioneers and where Lewis and Clark launched their expedition to the Pacific. French-Canadian settlers called the spot Les Petites Cotes after “the little hills” in the 1700s. Settlement of the city dates to 1769. The city also served as the nation’s first state capitol. Little Hills Winery in historic St. Charles used to operate in a building erected in 1805. It is the first recorded deed on file and was one year after Lewis and Clark arrived in the area. Unfortunately, the shop closed in early 2018, but it is still interesting to see one of the oldest structures in the region. The historic downtown district also has shopping, restored historic structures, and other sites to help you get into the mindset to go back in time through the Rhineland of Missouri.

Since no wineries are left in downtown St. Charles, drive up and down Main Street to view some of the oldest parts of the city.


Chandler Hill Vineyards

Chandler Hill Vineyards, 596 Defiance Rd, Defiance, MO 63341

The history of Defiance, Missouri, goes back to 1804 with explorer Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and Daniel Boone. The Daniel Boone Home, a four-story, Georgian-style home, can still be explored today. In addition to a long history, four wineries also operate within a two-mile radius and nearly a dozen more wineries operate over the next 15-miles on the way to Dutzow. This area, that goes to Augusta, Missouri, is the oldest wine district in the United States. Chandler Hill Vineyards is a young winery, operating since 2008, but it has some of the most picturesque views of the region.

Additional wineries in this area include:


Mt. Pleasant Estates and Winery

5634 High St, Augusta, MO 63332

When Germany immigrants flooded the area back in the 1800s, they brought with them their love of flowers, Teutonic architecture, and their wine-making skills. Eleven wineries operated near Augusta until the Prohibition era when they were closed. Time moved on and many of the wineries reopened. The area outside of Augusta was designated as the first American Viticultural Area (wine growing) in 1980. Brothers George and Frederick Muench founded the winery in 1859 and built the cellars in 1881. The winery still uses the cellars today to age the wines and Augusta Ports.

Additional wineries include:


Blumenhof Vineyards and Winery

13699 South Highway 94, Dutzow, MO 6334

Dutzow is Missouri’s oldest Germany settlement, founded in 1832. The vineyards at Bluemnhof were established in 1979 with the first vintage in 1986. Blumenhof, which means “Court of Flowers” in German,” has won a wide variety of awards at prominent wine competitions. Near the old town of Pinckney on MO-94 is St. John’s United Church of Christ that was built in 1870 and is one of the few remaining structures in the area that survived the floodwaters of 1993.

Historic Downtown Washington, Missouri

123 Lafayette St, Washington, MO 63090

In the middle of Missouri wine country sits Washington, Missouri, a charming small town on the Missouri River. The town was the site of the San Juan del Misuri, established in 1796. The renamed town was plotted out in 1829. Thanks to the influx of anti-slavery Germany settlers, Washington, Missouri was a union holdout in a state that supported the Confederacy during the Civil War. There are over 40 wineries within an hour of the town, but since we’ve already explored so many, I figured it was time for a history break. Here are a few of the historical sites to see in this old German settlement.


Stone Hill Winery

1110 Stone Hill Hwy, Hermann, MO 65041

Sign for Stone Hill Winery in Hermann, Missouri. Taken on a Missouri wine tour.

Hermann, Missouri, is one of the state’s hidden gems. Founded in 1837 by German immigrants, Hermann, Missouri, is considered the heart of the Missouri Rhineland region. The town’s German-American heritage can be viewed at the Deutschheim State Historic Site and in its downtown. The Pommer-Gentner house was built in 1840 and the Carl Strehly house, built in 1842, are two of the oldest surviving buildings in town. Stop at the Hermann Riverfront (free parking!) for a great view of the Missouri River. Hermann is a great weekend get-away in and of itself.

The oldest winery in Hermann is Stone Hill Winery, established in 1847. Norton, Missouri’s official state grape, is grown here. The winery has won more than 4,000 awards since 1988. Stone Hill Winery offers guided tours and tasking, along with a vintage restaurant that specializes in German and American cuisine.

Additional wineries include:


Canterbury Hill Winery and Restaurant and Jefferson City

1707 S Summit Dr, Holts Summit, MO 65043 (winery)

201 W Capitol Ave, Jefferson City, MO 65101 (capitol building)

As you near the capital of Missouri, you’ll see the northern edge of the Ozark Plateau and the southern part of the Missouri River. The capitol dome rises from a bluff overlooking the river in historic Jefferson City. Sitting on the western edge of Missouri wine country, the city has several wineries within a short drive.

Additional wineries and nearby places include:

Have some spare time after visiting Jefferson City? Go south and explore the Missouri Ozark Country.

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Plan Your Next Adventure


Just twenty miles east of Kansas City, Independence, Missouri, is a city with a mixed reputation. When I first moved to the KCMO metro, people warned me to avoid the city due to crime rates, industrialized neighborhoods, and “it’s boring.” I ventured into the city once in April to attend to a writer’s group at the city library. It was in the northwest part of town known for higher crime rates. I could kind of see what they were talking about. Yet, I was curious to see what else was in the area. I’m kind of stubborn that way.

With coastlines on both Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, Wisconsin draws nature lovers who enjoy plentiful lakes, wooded forests, and coastal views. There are also more than 15,000 inland lakes and the Mississippi River to explore. Take a drive down the Wisconsin portion of the scenic Great River Road and then follow the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. Madison is the capital city with its own lakefront convention center and domed capitol building built in a neoclassical style. Visit Milwaukee during Summerfest to visit the city on a Great Lake with architecture that has a heavily French influenced architecture.

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National Parks & Historic Sites

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Lake Superior, WI

Ice Age National Scenic Trail

Madison, WI

North Country National Scenic Trail

Various; one option is Chequamegon National Forest at Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin

Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway

Saint Croix Falls, WI, MN

Looking for more attractions in Wisconsin? Visit Travel Wisconsin

Plan Your Next Adventure


Paola, Kansas, is a charming small town about forty minutes south of Kansas City, Missouri, with a history that goes back to 1832 when it was originally settled by Native Americans. The town itself was founded in 1855 as the Paola town Company; the city was incorporated in 1859. Unlike many of the downtowns in these smaller communities, the downtown in Paola still has several unique stores and restaurants that surround the park square with a historical past. It makes a good day trip (even morning trip) from Kansas City.

Paola Park Square

19 S Pearl St, Paola, KS 66071

Historic gazebo in Paola Park Square
Historic gazebo in Paola Park Square
Water fountain and downtown buildings in Paola Park Square
Water fountain and downtown buildings in Paola Park Square

In the center of Paola is a historic park square with a gazebo, water fountain, and a park-like setting. The square is flanked on all sides by the downtown shops and restaurants. The historic museum and courthouse are also close by. The original Native American tribes of the area used the square as their primary gathering place and it was given to the Paola Town Company by Baptiste Peoria as a treaty of peace with the stipulation that a building never be built on it. A bust of Baptiste and his wife Mary Ann Isaacs rest near the gazebo. It is one of the only known monuments in the United States featuring a Native American and his wife. The original gazebo was a bandstand that was built in 1867 and was rebuilt in 1913 by the current gazebo.

Miami County Historical Museum

12 E Peoria St, Paola, KS 66071

Miami County Historical Museum, Paola, KS

Located just off the park square in one of the older buildings is the Miami County Historical Society. The museum covers everything from the prehistoric life to the local Native Americans to the struggling surrounding slavery in this free state. One interesting exhibit is the history of the ghost towns and early community in the Miami County area (in case you want to go exploring).

Miami County Courthouse

120 S Pearl St, Paola, KS 66071

Exterior of the Miami County Courthouse in Paola
Exterior of the Miami County Courthouse in Paola

The Miami County Courthouse was built from 1898 to 1899 and is still in use today. It is a beautiful structure with a combination of Victorian and Richardsonian Romanesque design. Outside of the courthouse, you can visit the flower garden and view markers with historical facts about Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War.

Ursuline Convent and Academy

901 E Miami St, Paola, KS 66071

Ursuline Convent and Academy exterior as you begin driving on to the campus in Paola, KS.
Ursuline Convent and Academy exterior as you begin driving on to the campus.

Built in 1896, the Ursuline Convent and Academy has been closed since the sisters left in 2008. The exterior of the 36-acre former convent is still accessible to the public. Like many of the buildings in the area, the use of local limestone can be seen in the structures and in the three-story main structure. The main convent is 64,000 square feet, and as you drive around the main building, you can see the architectural details that went into the construction. On the grounds are the three-story brick motherhouse building, the school buildings, the boarded-up grotto, and the old shrine. Apart from the shrine, you cannot go into any of the buildings, you can drive around the campus to view it. Plans are in the works to turn the campus into an academy for foster children.

Old Sacred Heart Shrine

901 E Miami St, Paola, KS 66071

Exterior of the Old Sacred Heart Shrine in Paola.
Exterior of the Old Sacred Heart Shrine in Paola.

Outside of the old Ursuline Academy, sits an old, abandoned shrine on the northeast corner of the campus. Built in 1916, the shrine is a mini replica of the Rheinstein (or “Rhinestone”) Castle on the Rhine River in Germany (itself built in 1316). The shrine is constructed of petrified-formation stone. The original statue of Jesus at the Sacred Heart used to sit on the altar but is now gone as of July 2018. It’s small, probably little less than fifteen square feet. However, the stone and workmanship of the shrine itself is impressive.

Lake Miola Park

22470 W 299th St, Paola, KS 66071

Mineola Lake Park boat ramp.

Lake Miola is a 560-acre park with a 200-acre lake, playground, hiking trails, and camping areas. It is not as large as the nearby Hillsdale Lake, but it is in a peaceful setting within the city limits. Drive around the lake and park just to relax after a hectic day. If you like to swim, there is a small sand beach swimming area. The campground is closed November 1st until April 1st. 

He looks nervous but I was far away enough that he stood still.

Hillsdale State Park & Lake

26001 255 St, Paola, KS 66071

Hillsdale Lake outside of Paola, KS

Located between the Kansas City metroplex and Paola is one of the reservoirs in Kansas, Hillsdale State Park, and Lake. There are 51 miles of shoreline and 4,500 acres of lake in this 12,000-acre park. You can visit the playground area, go for a nature hike and walk, or visit the small beach. You can also take in the sights of the area’s rolling hills from the lake or campgrounds.

One word of caution. The park is near the Hillsdale Range and Training Facility. If you go to the main park, where the playground area is, you may hear gunshots. It can be unnerving unless you are expecting to hear them. We weren’t. It’s not that it’s unsafe, but not a great way to unwind and listen to nature. (Also, welcome to 2018.) If you have children or pets (or watch the evening news way too much), I would personally go to the Lake Miola Park instead, even if it is smaller.

Park grounds at the Hillsdale Lake Park.
Park grounds at the Hillsdale Lake Park.

Wallace Park

E Osage St & Wallace Park Dr, Paola, KS 66071

Started in 1910, Wallace Park is a 42-acre park that has a playground, tennis and basketball courts, baseball and softball diamonds, and a large family swimming center. There is also a skateboard park with ramps, half pipe, and other amenities. You can easily drive in and loop around the park to find plenty of parking and restful areas.

Entrance to Wallace Park in Paola, KS

Wine Tours

Miami County, Kansas, is also home to several excellent wineries. Paola has two wineries located in the city limits in addition to a couple of pubs.

Flowers at Hillsdale State Park.

Where to find it? (Map)

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The area in Northwest Illinois called the Driftless area is also called the Land the Glaciers Forgot due to its high bluffs and land of rolling hills along the Mississippi River. In geological terms, the 10,000-square mile area is called that because of the absence of glacial drift. This stretch of land also reaches into northeastern Iowa and southwestern Wisconsin. Most of the Prairie State is known for its flatlands, so this area is renowned for its scenic beauty and is a great weekend getaway from the Chicago or Madison areas.

How long? The itinerary starts in Galena, Illinois, which is approximately three hours from Chicago, Illinois and a little under two hours from Madison, Wisconsin. It ends in the town of Fulton, Illinois. The route itself is around 100 miles and can take a little over two to three hours if you stop and explore. This can easily be a one-day road-trip depending on how long it takes you to get there.

Time of Year? The most beautiful time of year would be in the Fall, especially as the leaves begin to turn. However, it is popular year-round.


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Illinois Driftless Area Itinerary

Start in Galena

Galena History Museum

211 S Bench St, Galena, IL 61036

Galena was a 19th-century boomtown that was the site of the first major mineral rush in the United States. Most of the town has been preserved as a living history museum. You can find a charmingly restored brick and limestone mansions and the main street that still reflects the historical architecture of the area. The Galena History Museum is a great place to start your tour of the town. Other attractions include the Belvedere Mansion, Dowling House, or Old Market House. The outside of the Vinegar Hill Lead Mine is also interesting, but I think it’s closed now so you can’t go inside.

Scales Mound

Council Hill Station, 6521 N Hill Rd, Scales Mound, IL 61075

The drive from Galena to the village of Scales Mound follows the Stagecoach Trail. As you drive this route, you will find a collection of carefully preserved houses and businesses near and in the village of Scales Mound. The town started as a tavern (Scales Mound Tavern) in 1830 and had one of its first schools in 1831. The present town was started in 1853 and 90% of the town is on the National Register of Historic Places. Go two miles northeast of town for Charles Mound, the highest spot in Illinois at 1,234 feet. Access to the Charles Mound is limited due to it being on public property; public access is limited to the first weekend June through September.

Apple River Canyon State Park

8763 E Canyon Rd, Apple River, IL 61001

Continuing the Stagecoach Trail, you will pass the town of Apple River and find the Apple River Canyon State Park, a 1,907-acre park with limestone cliffs and deep ravines. It is an excellent place to go bird watching and to trace the river along the babbling stream. The pitted canyon walls are carpeted with mosses and lichens and rare ferns.

Long Hollow Scenic Overlook

2918 US Hwy 20 W, Elizabeth, IL 61028

Right outside of Elizabeth, Illinois, pause at the Long Holly Scenic Outlook for a scenic view of the county of Galena and Jo Daviess. You can see the visible crest of Charles Mound to the northeast with green hills and shade trees can be seen all around. It’s not someplace that you need to linger, but it does have picnic tables, shelters, and restrooms.

Hanover Bluff Nature Preserve

Hanover, IL 61041

This nature preserve is the first dedicated preserve to represent the Illinois portion of the Driftless Area. The preserve covers 1,100 acres. The large forest areas are a great place to see the scenic wonders of the geological landscape. Trails and parking are available on S. Hanover Hill Road.

Mississippi Palisades State Park National Natural Landmark

Mississippi Palisades – National Natural Landmark, Savanna, IL 61074

Your next stop will be the stunning Mississippi Palisades State Park, a 2,500-acre park with tree-lined bluffs along the Mississippi River. The park is rich in Native American history, and if you follow the routes on the southern part of the park (search for the Mississippi Palisades National Natural Landmark and enter from the south end), you will find an easy walking trail to oversee the area. There are twelve miles to the top for the more experienced hikers; many of which trace the old paths followed by the Native Americans of the past.

Thomson Causeway Recreation Area

Potter Rd, Thomson, IL 61285

This little island is situated on the Mississippi River and is a peaceful spot for wildlife viewing, camping, or picnics. It is adjacent to the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, so you can easily see many water-loving creatures that live on this sandbar. There are also miles of walking and hiking trails if you feel the need to get out and shake off the long drive.

Lock and Dam No. 13 Recreation Area

Lock and Dam No. 13, Fulton Township, IL 61252

If you’ve ever wanted to view the sight of a barge locking across the Mississippi River, you can do so at No. 12 from a visitor’s observation platform. From here, you can watch the ships enter and exit the Lock, including tugboats that push the barge down the river. In the winter months, there is also a high likelihood of seeing the multitude of Eagles that are in the area.

Heritage Canyon

515 N 4th St, Fulton, IL 61252

Heritage Canyon, with its smithy and one-room schoolhouse, lies at the north end of the town of Fulton. The 12-acre nature walk has wooded structures dating back to the 1800s. You can find these structures by looking for the numbered yellow arrows on the brick paths.

Dutch Windmill

415 10th Ave, Fulton, IL 61252

This authentic working windmill is a great place to finish your tour along the Mississippi River and the Driftless Area. The windmill was manufactured and pre-assembled in the Netherlands and then constructed on the flood control dike in Fulton, Illinois. You can also visit the Cultural Center and see some Dutch Culture first hand.

If you’re making the trip in August, you can go on down to Port Byron for the Port Byron Great River Tug Fest along the banks of the Mississippi.

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Far from the wooded areas of eastern Kansas, the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway traverses west-central Kansas in the Smoky Hills. The Smoky Hills provide visitors with the opportunity to view experience the transition from the mixed-grass prairie more like the grass from the Flint Hills from the short-grass prairie of the plains. A variety of native wildflowers, such as red-and-yellow Indian blanket flowers, coneflowers, yucca, and sky-blue pitcher sage dot the area that is named for the hazy, blue-gray appearance at dusk and dawn. For people from central and western parts of Texas, the area also has a striking resemblance to parts of this region (the oil rigs only add to the impression).

Springfield, Illinois, is the state capital of Illinois with lots of historic sites, gorgeous architecture, many memorials, and more. Springfield is often called the Land of Lincoln, with good reason. You can step back in time to see historical sites where Abraham Lincoln lived and worked, raised his children, and was laid to rest. Looking at some of the classical architecture that frames the buildings and memorials, Springfield could also easily be called “little DC” (without the harrowing traffic).

Nicknamed the Sooner State, Oklahoma’s parks and natural attractions include a diverse range from flatlands to hills, lakes and forest in the east to grasslands in the west. Oklahoma has more distinct ecologically diverse areas than any other state. There are also four mountain ranges for you to explore, from the Arbuckle Mountains, the Wichita Mountains, the Ozark Mountains and the Ouachita Mountain with the Flint Hills stretching into the state. Oklahoma is also a state of over 39 American Indian tribes and nations, including the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, and Comanche. View authentic cultural and museum displays that celebrate their rich cultural heritage.

As you begin heading East on I-70 out of Manhattan, you might notice some road signs that say “Native Stone” byway. I was not in a hurry to head back to Kansas City. I turned off the road and began following the signs to a small town called Alma. Alma, Kansas, located in the Flint Hills, was first settled in 1858 by Swedish, English, Irish, and Germany settlers. Most of the buildings in the small city are also made of the native limestone from the nearby hills. It is, as the road signs said, a city made of native stone.

Native Stone Scenic Drive

Alma is part of both the Scenic Mill Creek Drive and the Native Stone Scenic Drive. You can see remnants of the old stone fences that the government paid farmers to build back in 1867. Downtown, the main buildings still retain their historical look. The limestone blocks were often hauled to the site by heavy wagons and horses and were put in place by hand with heavy ropes.

Where to find it? (Map)

Note. The photos were taken with an old iPhone. The pixelation in a lot of these pictures is a good example of a digital zoom vs optical zoom. So, this trip is what made me reconsider purchasing a new point and shoot so that I didn’t have to carry around my large DSLR on short trips, but one that still took higher quality photos.

For more information about the historic places (and more stone buildings) in the city, visit the City of Alma, Kansas website.