It may seem rare for an entire town to be designated a National Historic Park, but that is exactly what has happened with 13 acres of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, which lies about an hour south of St. Louis. The Show Me State’s oldest settlement received the designation in 2018 and will be officially “opened” once the federal government has the required studies, staff, and programs in place.
In the meantime, visitors can still tour the many 18th-century French colonial buildings and associated museums that rest in the heart of the historic district, with neighboring boutiques, art studios, restaurants, and taverns adding to the quaint charm. While you’re visiting, be sure to stop in at any of the dozen wineries that dot the surrounding countryside and constitute the Ste. Genevieve Wine Country.
Those same rolling hills give Ste. Genevieve County an undulating topography that will challenges cyclists on several routes, and the region is also home to some of Missouri’s most impressive state parks and natural areas.
A stay here is a laid-back affair rather than an adrenalized adventure, but one no less attractive if your objective is a romantic getaway or a girls’ weekend or a nature-filled escape. Bed and breakfasts and inns outnumber the hotels — most within walking distance of downtown — and you’ll have plenty of leisure time to unwind between your treks in the great outdoors.
Here are a few of our favorite experiences in Ste. Genevieve, along with a brief look at things for come in this rewarding small-town tourist destination.
Take a Hike
Walking in the woods doesn’t get much better than this. A short drive east of Ste. Genevieve along Highway 32 lie three distinct natural areas that you absolutely must see. Hickory Canyons Natural Area offers two trails: one a short out-and-back to a 40-foot waterfall in a steep-walled horseshoe canyon, and the other a 1-mile loop that circumnavigates tall sandstone bluffs. Hawn State Park has several trails, ranging from 2 to 10 miles, with pristine pine forests, sand-bottom streams, high cliffs, and well-marked paths. The Trail Through Time at Pickle Springs Natural Area can be hiked in an hour and takes you into a narrow slot canyon, through double rock arches, across its eponymous creek, and up to a panoramic view.
On a Roll
Both the TransAmerica Trail and the Mississippi River Trail Bicycle Route pass through Ste. Genevieve County. So, if you’re on a cross-country trek, but sure to build in a rest day or two. (You’ll need them after those punchy climbs in the Ozarks.) In addition, the Ste. Genevieve Welcome Center will provide two-wheeled tourists with a pamphlet that includes six routes, ranging from 4.5 to 49 miles, that use public roads and highways to create loops from flat to hilly. Some of the routes ride right past wineries — perfect for a pit stop — and some hop the Ste. Genevieve/MoDoc Ferry to Illinois for some fun in the Prairie State before returning.
Speaking of wineries, Ste. Genevieve Wine Country showcases no less than 12 of them. Hop on the Route Du Vin wine trail and see six distinctive establishments or cherry-pick a few of the more unique entries. Cave Vineyard features a large, underground patio built inside a natural cavern, where you can listen to live music and cool off on a hot summer day. Chaumette Vineyards & Winery is known for its award-winning French-American hybrids, sweeping hillside views, and the Louisiana-inspired menu at its Grapevine Grill. Crown Valley Brewing & Distilling offers a tasty alternative: handcrafted beer, vodka, gin, hard cider, moonshine, and Fizzy Izzy Root Beer for the kids.
The French Connection
Ste. Genevieve was settled between 1735 and the late 1740s along the banks of the Mississippi River. Its earliest residents were French Canadians who farmed the rich soil and produced salt, minced lead, and trapped furs. Today, the town offers visitors a unique glimpse into the time when France, Spain, and eventually the United States ruled the mid-Mississippi Valley, through explorations of preserved homes and buildings and interpretive museums and historic sites. A trolley will take you through the historic streets in style, and themed excursions like the Ste. Genevieve Ghost Tour provide a different perspective on the storied surroundings.
In with the New
Scheduled to open this summer, two new attractions will add even more options for visitors and residents alike. The Ste. Genevieve Museum Learning Center will dig into the area’s natural history, culture, and art with free-standing exhibits and displays of natural and geographical artifacts. Meanwhile, the Ste. Genevieve County Community Center plans to cut the ribbon on its River Rapids Waterpark, which will include four water slides, a lazy river, a wave pool, a lap pool, a kid play zone, a gazebo area, and a concession stand. Other amenities include a zip line and a 13-foot climbing structure, which already has us contemplating a return trip.