The tiny town of Arrow Rock in central Missouri, situated just north of I-70 between St. Louis and Kansas City, is a gem well-worth considering for a day trip or even weekend getaway. The once-busy and bustling river town — a key stop on the Santa Fe Trail– is now a National Historical District, so it really is a living, open-air museum. A trip to this quaint little place is definitely like walking back in time, full of discoveries to find and memories to be made.
Here are a few of the reasons why we think Arrow Rock is so terrific, and why you’re likely to agree!
The Town Is Entirely Walkable
Arrow Rock, with its familiar early-American grid layout and small, compact size, is easily traversed. Every historic point of interest in town is within a quick walking distance. There aren’t any hills, the terrain is even, and due to the fact that early property owners acquired multiple lots when the village was first founded, the entire place has an expansive park-like feel.
If, after you’ve explored a bit, you’d like to add a bit of additional mileage to your visits, head just south of town to the Pierre a Fleche Trail. Built with help from Boy Scouts and located in the adjacent state park, this 1.6-mile path will take you through wooded areas, hollows, and bluffs overlooking the Missouri River valley. It will take you about an hour to complete the loop, and the trail is rated as moderate, so you’ll want to be sure to bring your boots.
Soak In The History
For a village with less than 100 residents, Arrow Rock crams in an incredible amount of history, early American architecture, and charm. Start your time here at the well-considered and entirely worthwhile Visitor Center. Here, you’ll learn all about the area’s first inhabitants — the Osage and Missouria tribes — and the salt works founded by two of Daniel Boone’s sons that put the area on the map in the early 1800s. You’ll see how Arrow Rock played a role in westward expansion, state commerce, slavery, and the Civil War. You’ll also get a feel for how it transformed into the town it is today.
Pro Tip: Watch the 20-minute video, and take your time exploring the thoughtfully curated artifacts. They give you a true sense of how Arrow Rock came to be and its lasting impact on Missouri. It was truly small but mighty!
At the Visitor Center, you can also pick up guides for self-guided walking tours, which are also highly recommended. As you wind your way through the historic streets, the guide will give much-needed context as you take in each of the restored, historic buildings and homes. Of special note: Brown’s Lodge No. 22, established as the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons Lodge, for Black members, back in the 1880s. Today, it houses a museum focused on the experiences of Arrow Rock’s Black residents.
Embrace the Art (And Life!) Of George Caleb Bingham
One of the 19th century’s most celebrated artists, George Caleb Bingham, is still recognized and renowned for his murals and paintings. They were sweeping landscapes that depicted life on the river, with a healthy dose of Missouri politics woven throughout. His family came to Missouri from Virginia and helped found Arrow Rock. In the 1830s, as a young adult, Bingham built a home here as well. He lived here with his first wife for several years before his career began to skyrocket. Despite his many travels and ensuing fame, he always called the central Missouri village his home.
The George Caleb Bingham home still stands, a small red brick Federal-style structure that’s been restored to its original floor plan — two rooms with a wood frame addition in the back. It was a modest beginning for a man who became larger than life in Missouri and well-known around the world.
Take In Some Theater
In a town packed with historic sites, Arrow Rock’s Lyceum Theatre stands out as one of its true, shining gems. Founded in 1961 and housed in a historic old church, the theater entertains audiences in its charming 416-seat auditorium.
The Lyceum is one of Missouri’s oldest professional regional theaters, and in 2019, was the first in the state to receive the “Missouri Historical Theatre” designation. Each year, more than 33,000 patrons enjoy summer-season productions produced by theater professionals from around the country — including big-name musicals and plays.
Single-seat pricing is available, so if you want to include a night at the theater to your Arrow Rock visit, it’s easy to do so. Tickets may be purchased on the Lyceum’s website or by calling the box office directly.
Eat At The Oldest Restaurant West Of The Mississippi
In Arrow Rock, you can even mix history with your dining experience! Plan to grab a bite at the J. Huston Tavern, which dates back to 1834 and is the oldest continually serving restaurant west of the Mississippi River. Originally the Huston family home, Joseph Huston realized he could make some money by offering meals to the thousands of immigrants who streamed through town along the Santa Fe Trail. This entrepreneurial side hustle has endured for more than 180 years, with patrons still able to grab a drink or meal at the historic site.
The tavern has expanded to include three dining rooms; there are also museum spaces in the building that visitors are free to wander through and explore. Known for its delicious comfort food, the menu standout is the Tavern Fried Chicken.
Pro Tip: Be sure to save room after your meal for a quick stop into Badger’s Hideaway. Located right on Main Street, the folks here make their own ice cream on site, with premium flavors that have included bacon bourbon, Moscato peach, and peanut vanilla crunch. Of course, you’ll also find the traditional favorites, too!
Take A Retail Break
For such a small town, Arrow Rock also has plenty to offer when it comes to retail therapy! Its central corridor in and around Main Street features quaint stores, craft stores, boutiques, and antique shops. Arrow Rock Antiques and Mercantile is stocked with fine antiques and home decor items, as is the Arrow Rock Trading Post. Arrow Rock’s Craft Shop features works by local artisans, and A Grand Yarn offers knitters a wide array of specialty, luxe skeins, and knitting supplies from which to choose. A Grand Yarn will soon be located in the Missouri Folk Art Shop and Gallery, which is also well worth a stop. Its collection of art, handicrafts, and antiques is tucked away in a historic home on Main Street.
If you decide you’d like to extend your day trip into an overnight or weekend getaway, Arrow Rock has got you covered. The village has several bed and breakfasts from which to choose, including the Flint Creek Inn, which includes four freshly renovated and modern rooms. The Latch House Barn, offered on Airbnb, is a historic cottage that pairs old and new, with all of the comfortable amenities you’d expect. And if you prefer to rough it, Arrow Rock State Historic Site offers a variety of campsites with basic electric, water, and sewer service quite close to town. Be sure to plan ahead if you want to stay the night in Arrow Rock, as accommodations can book quickly, especially in the busy summer months.
Arrow Rock also makes for a charming and historic home base if you’re planning on visiting the world-famous Warm Springs Ranch, home and breeding farm of the Budweiser Clydesdales. The facility is just a half-hour drive from Arrow Rock; you can read much more about the ranch and its famous four-legged residents here.