Nestled in the heart of Missouri, Jefferson City is often thought of solely as the seat of state government. Yet along with housing the stunning Missouri State Capitol, the community of 43,000 also is home to notable attractions like the Governor’s Mansion, the first museum in the US dedicated to veterinary medicine, and the infamous Missouri State Penitentiary (the latter chock full of allure as the formerly oldest operating prison west of the Mississippi River).
These landmarks stand tall next to Lincoln University, established in 1866 by soldiers and officers of the 62nd Colored Infantry with a vision to provide education for all. Along with this historic portfolio, there is much to be explored in the rolling hills that surround the city and the incredible Missouri River. For those feeling a strenuous bike ride, a casual stroll, or a night under the stars, “JCMO” has activities for every level of outdoor enthusiast.
One must-do way to experience Jefferson City is via Missouri’s big kahuna: the Katy Trail. Stretching from Clinton to Machens, the crushed limestone path spans 240 miles east to west and allows adventurers to take in some of the most scenic areas of the state. Gorgeous in every season, visitors can enjoy the longest rail-to-trail conversion at their own pace.
Gliding along the banks of the Missouri River, the Katy offers a picturesque view of the Show-Me State’s capital city skyline and is located just a short distance from downtown. It’s a short jaunt across the Missouri River Pedestrian and Bike Bridge, which not only provides a unique view as you travel over the “Big Muddy” but also brings you into JCMO’s center, full of shops and boutiques, in addition to the tempting scent of multiple food and drink options.
From downtown, visitors can access Jefferson City’s newest crown jewel: the Bicentennial Bridge. This 12-foot-wide pedestrian/bike bridge connects the Missouri State Capitol complex to 32-acre Deborah Cooper Park, located on the riverfront. Equipped with a life-size chessboard, hammocks, art, paved paths, and nature trails galore, the park is prime for a day of fresh air — not to mention the best views in town; you can see the sun rise over the Missouri River, watch the trains go by, or experience the sunset over the Missouri State Capitol.
If lovely views are what you seek, head over to Runge Conservation Nature Center, where you can enjoy the natural wonders of Missouri and the fish, forests, and wildlife found here by strolling through exhibits inside the center or hiking through two miles of nature trails. Follow the trails to the 60-foot fire tower for a panoramic look at the city and the area’s striking landscape.
JCMO boasts a multitude of parks, each offering a perk different than the last. Community Park, located in the historic Foot District, features art that tells the story of the cultural heart of Jefferson City’s Black community during times of segregation. To honor and preserve the district’s rich history, informational plaques adorn multiple sculptures throughout the park. Community Park also features a state-of-the-art splash pad for kids and adults alike to cool off on a hot summer afternoon. The park leads to the segment of the paved Greenway Trail, which loops throughout 17 miles of Jefferson City. It allows for leisurely outings and is designed for walkers, runners, skaters, and cyclists to enjoy the sights of the city. It’s also a great way to interact with the locals.
Explorers can hop on another chunk of the Greenway Trail on the east end of Jefferson City, which is home to the Ellis-Porter Riverside Park, which lives up to its name by overlooking the Missouri River. The Capital Region MU Healthcare Amphitheater lights up summer nights here with concerts and events all season long. The open-air space features a modern stage and backdrop, stadium seats up close, and open lawn seating for guests to throw down a blanket and enjoy the show.
Binder Park offers a smorgasbord of activities for those looking to escape to the outdoors. Feeling a hike? You got it. A short row in your kayak or canoe? You betcha. You can even try your hand at disc golf at one of two courses. Binder’s picturesque, 155-acre lake sits as a stunning backdrop for family picnics, paddling, and sailing expeditions in addition to serving as the perfect quiet spot for anglers of all ages and expertise. If these aren’t quite the right speed, 15 miles of trails throughout the park allow visitors to weave their way through the trees by foot or mountain bike.
More experienced mountain bikers will enjoy hillier terrain through 3.1 miles of Frog Hollow Nature Trail. With several segments to choose from, riders can craft a different experience every time with jumps, hills, and a few rocky areas to keep participants on their toes. Pedals aren’t the only way to get around on the trail — feel free to walk, jog, or run. Afterward, hop on the nearby Greenway Trail and head up to Last Flight Brewery, where you can enjoy a local brew, listen to musicians, and grab delicious eats from that evening’s food truck rotation.
Those wanting to fall asleep to the sounds of nature have several choices to cap off their day. Enjoy a campfire next to the majestic Missouri River in one of the primitive camping spots at Noren River Access, or head down the road and try the views where the Maries and Osage rivers come together at Mari Osa Delta Campground. Don’t want to travel with camping gear? The Osage Campground Retreat has you covered with RV and tent rentals in addition to available kayaks and canoes to hit the water.
If you have an inkling to be outside but not really in the mood to take to the trails, there are more options for fresh air and sunshine. Golf enthusiasts can practice their swing at Turkey Creek Golf Center or take in a casual game of putt-putt at the 18-hole mini golf course. Situated between the majestic bluffs northeast of Jefferson City, Turkey Creek includes two nine-hole, par-three courses in addition to an 18-hole mini golf course and a driving range.
Built with accessibility in mind, the Ken Lanning Golf Course is one-of-a-kind, featuring 8-foot-wide cart paths to accommodate motorized and non-motorized wheelchairs or carts. It possesses a maximum grade and cross slope of less than 2 percent to allow for easy navigation. Additionally, the course has four lakes, the largest of which is two acres, stocked with fish, and equipped a handicap accessible dock.
Another boon for travelers: Jefferson City’s central location makes getting here a breeze. Whether your plans call for riding the rails or hiking the trails, you’re sure to be captivated by the majestic Missouri River, the tree-lined bluffs, and the welcoming attractions of this capital destination.
For more info about the adventures and great outdoors surrounding Jefferson City, Missouri, head to visitjeffersoncity.com.
Author: Brianna Murphy.
Top Image: Tyler Beck Photography.