The town of Hannibal, Missouri, has held a place in Americana lore for over a hundred years. Whitewashed fences, hidden treasures, capers in caves and on the Mississippi River — plus all the other escapades of Tom, Huck, and Becky. Take a stroll down Main Street even today and you’re bound to bump into one of the famous trio. (Well, at least someone impersonating them.)
Fictional adventures aside, Hannibal can often be overlooked when it comes to outdoor destinations in Missouri. Sure, you can take in any number of Samuel Clemens tours, but beyond that, much of what the town has to offer can be overshadowed by the yarns (and bushy eyebrows) of Mark Twain.
But, as we discovered on a recent visit, Hannibal is packed with outdoor opportunities, and as it turns out, you don’t have to venture far off Main Street to get started.
Walk and Roll
The Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse stands at the north end of Main Street. Getting to the site takes 244 steps in all, or you can conserve your energy for other activities and drive up to the base. The platform at the top provides a great view of downtown Hannibal and the Mississippi River beyond and includes historical information of the lighthouse and Mark Twain.
If you’d rather roll around town, CoolByke lies a block west of Main Street and offers a variety of rental bikes by the hour, the day, or the week. Swing by and grab a ride, pick up a map, and head out on your own adventure in Hannibal. (Remember to bring your helmet!)
Speaking of wheeled adventures: just south of town on Highway 61 is Huckleberry Park, home to the Hannibal Ramp Park. This multi-use terrain park boasts a mix of drop-ins, banks, rollers, rails, a grind block — plenty of obstacles for skaters, scooter riders, and cyclists to conquer.
Did you know Hannibal has the Bat Cave? (Not that Bat Cave.) The 185-acre Sodalis Nature Preserve features a 2-mile trail adjacent to an abandoned limestone mine, cave system, and caverns cut into the bluffs. These all serve as home to about one-third of the endangered population of the myotis sodalist, aka the Indiana bat. An on-site amphitheater allows you to observe the nightly emergence of the flying critters as they come out to feed (best viewed in the summer months).
Having achieved National Landmark status in 1972, the Mark Twain Cave complex is a mile south of Hannibal on Highway 79. Missouri’s first show cave, it’s been hosting tours since 1886. Plan for an hour when touring Mark Twain Cave or one-and-a-half hours for Cameron Cave — the third largest maze cave in the Northern Hemisphere. There’s a campground here, along with the Cave Hollow West Winery Tasting Room.
The Mighty Mississippi
While not necessarily an active pursuit, a ride on the Mark Twain Riverboat is about as touristy as you can get. Two daily cruises offer opportunities to take in the Mississippi in all its glory. The Sightseeing Cruise is a one-hour trip that includes commentary from the Captain on the myths, lore, and legends of the river. The Dinner Cruise (two hours) includes a buffet dinner, live music and dancing, and scenic views all around.
Rather experience the Mighty Mississippi from shore? Riverview Park rests just north of Historic Downtown Hannibal. This 464-acre wooded recreational area features hiking trails, biking trails, picnic tables, and spectacular views of the waterway. Be sure to follow signage throughout the park, as many of the roads are one-way.
Lovers’ Leap is another well-known park atop a bluff on the south side of town. It’s small (5 acres), but a fantastic spot for a picnic or to watch the sunset over the river.
Hungry for More
After all that activity, you’re bound to have worked up an appetite. Have no fear: Hannibal has all the culinary cache to satisfy even the most ravenous of appetites.
In the mood for a good coffee and a yummy breakfast sandwich? Check out Java Jive for delicious pastries and caffeinated beverages. It also has a full lunch menu featuring salads, sandwiches, and wraps. Expert tip: Just say “yes” to the peanut butter cookies.
The Brick Oven is a family-oriented Italian eatery with wood-fired pizzas, traditional pastas, and calzones on the menu.
LaBinnah Bistro is a bit more upscale, bringing a European flair to Hannibal dining. Impeccable decor and a quiet patio make for a memorable experience. Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends.
In addition to these and other dining options, Hannibal also offers multiple spots where visitors can quench their post-activity thirst.
Mark Twain Brewing Company, located at the north end of Main Street, serves up hand-crafted beers along with home-cooked meals. Try a Huck’s Habanero Apricot Wheat or Jim’s River Rye pale ale.
La Azotea Lounge is a funky spot with cool decor. It has numerous hand-crafted cocktails and often showcases live music on the street-side patio.
Finn’s Food & Spirits has a large outdoor patio shaded by a massive tree. Enjoy live music on the patio or sit inside and beat the heat. It has a full menu of burgers, sandwiches, salads, and stuff for kiddos, too.
As mentioned above, the Cave Hollow West Winery has a tasting room in the Mark Twain Cave complex. A quaint and unique setting, this a great spot to cool off and sample some of the wineries best, like Mischief (a dry Chambourcin) or Satire (a crisp Chardonel and Vidal blend).
Whether for a day trip or a long weekend, Hannibal combines historic attractions and outdoor opportunities for an unforgettable getaway filled with mischief and adventure.
Side Trip: Mark Twain State Park
A 45-minute drive west of Hannibal will bring you to Northeast Missouri’s unparalleled outdoor playground bearing Mark Twain’s name. Nestled in the Salt River Hills, Mark Twain State Park gives visitor access to sprawling Mark Twain Lake and its nearly limitless active opportunities, which include boating, fishing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping — or simply relaxing on the beach. exploremarktwainlake.com
Author: Nick Tilley is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.