DAY 5 PLAN: Missouri Pickup Day



PICKUP DAY: Meramec, MO activities with option to start DRIVE towards Tulsa, OK

  • CANOE Meramec River (morning)
    2-4 hour canoe trip (starts at 930a, 1030a, or 1130a, must check-in at River Stop Store 1/2 hour prior)
  • HIKE Meramac Caverns (afternon)
    1.5 hour guided tour of cavern (tour starts every 25 minutes beginning at 9am)
  • optional: START DRIVE St. Louis / Rolla / Springfiled (MO) / Tulsa for easier day tomorrow
    (approx. 500 miles / 12 hours, so best if we could do 1 or 2 hours today)
  • (optional: VISIT Tribute to Trail of Tears @ Jerome)
  • Set up camp

NITE: EITHER Dispersed Primitive Camping / Mark Twain National Forest, MO — OR – Developed Park Campsite / Bennett Springs State Park, MO, — OR — campground/motel TBD

(for optional DRIVE segment)

DEP: 1730 – Meramec Caverns MO (heading to Rolla)
(DRIVE: 45 miles / 1.0 hours = 2.0 hours estimated segment time)

ARR Mark Twain National Forest (about 2 hours from Meramec)

ARR Bennett Springs state park (about 2.5 hours from Meramec)





Canoe Trip – Meramec State Park
(see the website for canoe trips in the park)
Call 1-573-468-6519 or 1-888-MERAMEC (637-2632)

  • A scenic float trip down the beautiful and scenic Meramec River is an excellent way to explore the wonders of the Show-Me-State’s wild outdoors. Steep limestone bluffs, caves, and bubbling springs envelope the intrepid explorer along a watery path of aquatic plants, animals, and forests. Whether you have all day or just a few hours, our professional canoe and floating staff will get you on the water and in the fun! The five-mile float is perfect for those seeking a little sun or solitude, or perhaps a picnic after a day of exploration atop the rocky bluffs or a trek through a cave.
  • The Meramec River is a Class I (sometimes II) river that is suitable and safe for all levels of floating experience and expertise. From individuals to families to groups, let us show you a great time on the scenic Meramec River! Warning, always respect the river and areas around you, safety for yourself and others should be your top concern.
  • Directions from within the Park – To the River Stop Store (for floating check-in, Memorial Weekend to Labor Day Weekend): enter the park, make a right at the Y and then a left when you see a sign with a picture of a canoe.
  • Five Mile Floats / (2-4 hours, from Sappington Bridge back to Meramec State Park)
  • Choice of Canoes, 6 Person Rafts and 8 Person Rafts (Please Note: There is a (3) three person MAXIMUM in each canoe.)
  • Floats available Sunday through Friday (Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend): 9:30 am 10:30 am and 11:30 am.
  • You MUST be signed up 30 minutes before each float time. On the day of your float, you must check-in at the River Stop Store at least 30 minutes before your float time to sign-up!!
  • FEE: $5.00 shuttle fee + $40.00/canoe (2 people), plus $5.00 for additional person

Meramec Caverns- Located off Interstate 44, Exit 230, in Stanton, Missouri, approximately 60 miles west of St. Louis.
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 948, Stanton, MO 63079
Telephone: 573-468-CAVE (3166) / Fax: 573-468-2633
(see the website)
e-mail :

  • Beneath the fertile rolling hills of the Meramec Valley, lies a complex of mineral formations preserved in the spectacular sights of Meramec Caverns. Guided tours by trained rangers are conducted along well-lighted walkways. On tour you will see both the rarest and largest cave formations in the world.
  • Standard Tour: Guided-walking tours depart every 25 minutes starting at 9:00 am. Cavern tour takes one hour and twenty minutes to complete covering one mile round trip.
  • Open July – Labor Day 830a –730p
  • FEE: $18.00 – Adults $9.00 – Children ages 5-11

OPTIONAL ACTIVITIES en route from Meramec:

Tribute to the Trail of Tears – take the Jerome exit off of I-44 in Missouri . Take a right at the T intersection and head toward Jerome. The Memorial garden is a few hundred yards from the intersection, on your left as you head east. (Larry Baggett who created the memorial passed on in 2003. The property was sold, but a recent visitor says the memorial is still there and you can just walk behind the gate that blocks vehicle access and visit.

LODGING: OPTION A – Mark Twain National Forest
Cole Creek Trail (near Rolla, about 1 1/2 hrs from Meramec)

For More Information: Houston/Rolla/Cedar Creek Ranger District
108 S. Sam Houston Blvd., Houston, Mo 65608
Phone: (417) 683-4428 Fax: (417) 683-5722
Monday-Friday 8:00 to 4:30
(see forest website)

Between Rolla and Lebanon, MO is a part of the national forest, and according to the website, “Dispersed Primitive Camping is allowed throughout the forest except in day use areas, administrative sites, within 100 feet of springs, stream, caves and other natural features or archeological sites, or where otherwise prohibited. Follow Leave No Trace principles and protect the forest resouces.”

One area that looks like it is promising in terms of accessibility to the road (place to leave the jeep) is the Cole Creek Trail (it is mostly a horseback riding trail, but can be used for hiking and primitive dispersed camping. Cole Creek Trail is a primary route for horseback riders. This trail is open to horses, mountain bikers, and hikers. The terrain is typical Ozark hill country covered in oak/hickory vegetation. There are 3 ponds on or near the trail. The trail is marked with grey diamonds. Horse users are not limited to developed trails and if a longer ride is desired, woods roads can be used on surrounding National Forest land leading into some relatively remote areas. This 11 miles in 2 loops trail can be accessed at several different points. The West loop is 4.90 miles, the East loop is 5.28 miles and the connecting trail is 1.04 miles giving visitors the option of planning an overnight or a day trip.

Considerations: There are no developed facilities along this trail. Camping along the trail is “primitive”. Bring your own drinking water or be prepared to sterilize water you find along the trail. Ponds along the trail provide water for stock. Practice “leave no trace” camping techniques.

Trail Location: From Waynesville, MO on Interstate 44, turn south at Hazelgreen, Mo onto Hwy AB. Take the first gravel road to the right to Hwy K; travel about 6 miles to the junction with Hwy AC. Turn left on Flagstone Road; go about a mile and turn north on first gravel road to left. Cole Creek trailhead is about a quarter-mile on the right.

If you wish to camp at places other than designated campgrounds, please follow these procedures:

  • Camp at least 100 feet from any trail or water source.
  • If you build a fire, please use deadfall. It will provide the best wood.
  • Cutting any standing timber, dead or alive, or any other shrubs or vegetation is prohibited.
  • Safety: During temperate months, be prepared for biting insects, poison ivy and high temperatures. Be advised of hunting seasons. Avoid using the trail during excessively wet periods.
  • Emergency Contacts: Laclede County Sheriff and Ambulance: 911 / Laclede Co. Med. Center: (417) 532-2136

LODGING: OPTION B – Bennett Spring State Park
26250 Hwy 64A_Lebanon, MO 65536
Phone: 417-532-4338
(see park website or state park main website for this park)

Another potentially good place to camp the night we leave Meramec — It is about a two hour drive from Meramec state park, and puts us closer to Springfield MO. (Mapping program says it is then about 4 hours to Tulsa – but that is taking the interstate)

Campgrounds 1-4 are all reservable (Reservations 877-422-6766). Campground 5 is non-reservable, and has 52 sites – all with electric.

From St. Louis: Bennett Spring State Park is 161 miles from the I-270 and I-44 interchange; the trip will take about 3 hours 15 minutes depending on traffic. Go west on I-44 for 148 miles to Exit 129; you are now in Lebanon. At the top of the off ramp, turn right onto Hwy. 5 /Hwy. 32. Stay straight on Hwy. 5 for 1.5 miles, until you reach the intersection of Hwy. 64 and Hwy. 5. Go straight on Hwy. 64 for 10.5 miles then turn left on Hwy. 64A. Travel for one mile until reaching the state park.

FEE: $21 or $23/night


11 JAN 2010: i think we should plan on trying to get a little further down the route, if we can, after doing the Meramec activities. So instead of spending a second night at the park, we can try to drive an hour or so and plan on picking up a lodging on the way. Here are some potential places to consider:

Click on the view larger map icon below to see map with locations of campgrounds pinpointed:

View Larger Map

Locations of the caves along the route

Locations of the caves along the route (coming from St. Louis)

On around day 5 of the trip we will be in the St. Louis area and will likely be staying at the Meramec State Park and the current plan is to spend part of the day canoeing the river, and then do a guided tour of the Meramec Caverns

In doing some research about the area and looking at our trajectory i see some options:

Apparently Missouri is a state with lots of caves (second only in the nation to Tennessee), and right nearby in the State Park where we will be staying is Fisher Cave, and not far away is an additional state park with another cave/cavern (i am still not sure what the difference is between a cave and a cavern)…

It seems people have mixed reviews of the Meramec Caverns (see reviews here), and according to their own site, the cavern tour takes visitors on “well-lighted, walkways”… and the whole location seems like something very kitsch (which could be charming and part of the route 66 experience) with a motel, a campground, a riverboat ride, their own canoe rentals, panning for gold, etc…

Fishers Cave has a positive review (as a more “real” cave visit), and i actually called the park and spoke to a woman at the information desk there who said the cave tour at the park is definitely more “naturalistic” than a visit to Meramec, but still a solid 90 minute visit that includes about a mile or more of walking…

There is also the Onodaga Cave state park with a cave and a cathedral cave tour… it is a little further from St. Louis…

So question is… which cave/cavern do we want to visit…

here are the issues as to how they relate to our trip:

First, do we want something kitsch-y and touristic and definitely a Route 66 icon (Meramec), or do we want a more naturalistic experience (Fisher or Onodaga)…?

Second, which is most interesting? Meramec seems like the bigger, more elaborate (3rd largest something in the US, Jesse James hideout, a cavern versus a cave) choice for sure… but will the theatrical lighting and walkways make it less interesting than a more “natural” cave experience with flash lights and dirt floors (Fisher)… or will it conversely make it BETTER…

Do we want to take advantage of some of the other kitschy activities… like panning for gold… at Meramec Caverns… or is it more convenient to do everything at the State Park (canoe trip from there and cave tour without having to leave and drive to another location)… if we want to we can also choose to consolidate at Meramec Caverns (they have a campground and canoe rentals/shuttle for trip downriver which is probably about the same as the one offered from the park, though their campground might be a bit more “packed together”… think about the place we stayed that one time on a private campground in virginia… however, i cannot guarentee that the State Park is any “better” in terms of campground spacing)…

If we are staying at Meremac State park, going back to the Caverns requires us to backtrack a little bit (not that long, so we can do it if we want to), and if we wanted to go to Onodaga, it is even further away from St. Louis… (but as it is an end-point of the day, i would probably prefer closer to St. Louis, unless there was a real reason we preferred the idea of staying at Onodaga)…

see the relative locations and distances on here: View Google Map

17 JAN 2010: After discussing this briefly with Cactus Killer today we decided to stay with the original plan, and do the Caverns. The idea being that “kitcsh” is a big part of this segment of the trip… and the caverns themselves should probably be pretty impressive…

01 MAR 2010: After talking further about the length of the drive between St. Louis and Tusla, we decided that we will try to split this segment of the trip with shorter drives over a few days rather than trying to do St. Louis to Tulsa in one day, then have a rest day, then do Tulsa to Amarillo in one day, followed by a rest day, as our original plan indicated (and we can always go back to that formula if we come across something super interesting to do in a specific location).

So, on Day 5, we are spending the day canoeing at Meramec state park, then visiting the Meramec Caverns. The ideal scenario would be, if after visiting the Caverns, we can get a start on the next day’s drive by moving forward about an hour and a half or two hours (not sure how far we can get, depending on hour tired we might be, but any mileage we can do will make the next day a bit easier).

We have the great list of campgrounds put together by the folks at Route 66 News, but i decided to research the National Forest and State Park campgrounds in Missouri and Oklahoma as we might prefer more primitive camping options.

Was able to come up with a workable list of state parks/national forest areas that could make good stopping points along the way (none are that far off the Route 66 itinerary, though they may not exactly be “on” the route itself).

state park locations along the segment from St. Louis to Tulsa to Amarillo.

state park locations along the segment from St. Louis to Tulsa to Amarillo.

Here’s the best scenario (with some options):

The first possible National Forest stop is near Rolla MO, about an hour and a half west of Meramec state park. At the Mark Twain National Forest, dispersed camping is allowed. According to the main campsite page for the forest:

<< Dispersed Camping areas have few, if any, amenities or other facilities. Primitive Camping is allowed throughout the forest except in day use areas, administrative sites, within 100′ of springs, stream, caves and other natural features or archeological sites, or where otherwise prohibited. Follow Leave No Trace principles and protect the forest resouces. >>

Depending on time, we could try to find our own spot, but might be best if we head for the Cole Creek Trail, which is actually for horses, but hikers are welcome and primitive camping is allowed along the trail. The reason i suggest this, is because we have written directions to the trailhead, and if we tried to find our own location, we might spend a lot of time driving around looking for an entry point, etc. If we chose Cole Creek Trail, we will have to leave the jeep at the trail head and hike in a bit…

If we can drive a little bit further, about 2 hours west of Meramec (and a little bit east of springfield MO), is Bennett Spring State Park, in Lebanon MO.

So we sleep at one of these locations, then pick up the route in the morning of Day 6 that much closer to Tulsa…

17 MAR 2010: Spoke to a ranger at the Mark Twain National Forest this afternoon, to find out how we could do the dispersed camping option on their land, and she explained to me that we could camp anywhere in the forest EXCEPT at developed and day use sites (which we would recognize because there would be picnic tables or swings or whatever), and at least 100 feet away from the hiking/horse trails. Other than that we are free to pick our own spot. We are allowed to have a campfire but must be careful with it, and not make a big one, or not make one at all if it is too windy etc. We can just pull the jeep off the road to set up our site. She said we could do this anywhere along the “Forest” roads (which are actually numbered)… so with that information there looks to be a number of options down that state road J that we can see on the map.