Weekend Road Trip {Missouri, Illinois, & Tennessee}

My favorite way to spend a weekend is on a road trip with stops along the way. And this was one such weekend. We made a quick trip to southeast Missouri and instead of coming straight home decided to take a winding way that would allow for stops at a few places. Not only did we enjoy some interesting and beautiful places along the way, but I got to see a little bit of Illinois that I have never been to before. It’s always fun to see where a road trip will take you with the places you’ll see and the things you will learn.

Ozark National Scenic Riverways {Missouri}

The first stop on our route towards home was at the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. This was the first national park area that was created to protect a river system. There are 134 miles of this slow peaceful river to enjoy. But for our visit we settled on two spots along the river.

And what better way to see a river then to see where it begins at Big Springs. What immediately hits you when you see the river is the brilliant, bright blue color of the water mixing in with the mossy greens. A path leads around to the rocky outpour where the river begins next to a small cave in the rock. The path continues around to the other side of the river as one of many great trails to hike.

What is interesting about this river is that it has come up from the ground, almost like a reverse waterfall. As it travels through the rock it collects minerals on the way which gives it that blue color. Next to the cave is also an old US geological survey marker. These markers have been used as accurate reference points across the country since 1879.

Next we drove to see the historic Alley Springs Mill a little further down the road from Big Springs. This mill was once part of a little hamlet town and now serves as a history museum. The town went through many names, but all of them were deemed too long of names for the post office of the time. So it became the town of Alley after a prominent businessman of the day named John Alley.

Inside the mill visitors can still see the mechanisms and machines used in the mill. There are areas that need repair but in order for those repairs and restorations to be completed there would need to be a historical carpenter using the same methods and tools that would have been historically accurate of the time. Carpenters like this are rare in the country and so the mill keeps hoping for the day that the needed projects can be taken care of.

Ste. Genevieve National Historic Park {Missouri}

Next we stopped at the beautiful Ste. Genevieve National Historic Park. This historic park is a town that was first established in 1750, years before America’s independence, by French Canadian immigrants and was the first European settlement west of the Mississippi River. It was also the first settlement in what would become the state of Missouri.

At the time, this area was part of French Louisiana territory and was the civic center of the territory. It would not be until 1810 when the Louisiana Purchase occurred that Americans and then Germans would move into the area. Ste. Genevieve has one of the largest collections of that distinctive French colonial style known as ‘poteaux’ meaning post in the ground. Many of the buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

We ate dinner at the Old Brick House. As the name suggests, this is the oldest brick building west of the Mississippi River established in 1785. It has served many roles over the years, but today it is a local favorite restaurant with a great selection of Midwest, home town food.

In October 2020, Ste. Genevieve joined the national park system when the historic district was listed as a national historic park. But long before becoming a national historic park, the colonial architecture of Ste. Genevieve has been recognized by many preservation and historic groups such as the Historic American Building Survey and the National Historic Landmark District.

There is certainly a beautiful charm to these French influenced colonial buildings and walking through town makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to those early days of the country just as people were starting to move past the mighty river.

The Great River Road {Illinois}

We drove through some of southern Illinois after leaving Missouri and we found ourselves on a small section of the Great River Road. This is a collection of roads running through 10 states that follow the course of the Mississippi River. Beginning in Minnesota and flowing all the way down to Louisiana, this road is listed as a National Scenic Byway and an All-American Road.

I want to come back along this road as it intersects with the Lincoln Heritage Trail. Illinois is considered to be the land of Lincoln and is filled with historic sites connected to the time of his presidency. But that will be saved for a weekend road trip all its own.

Paris Landing State Park {Tennessee}

We continued down through Kentucky along the west part of Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area. We visited Land Between the Lakes a couple of years ago and absolutely loved the long strip of land sitting between the two lakes (you can read on our visit to Land Between the Lakes HERE). We thought about stopping there again on this trip but decided against it and continued down to the bottom tip of Land Between the Lakes until we came to Paris Landing State Park.

Paris Landing sits right on the side of the Tennessee River and is a popular place for boating and other water activities. We went to the newly renovated lodge to eat lunch at the restaurant that overlooks the river. We loved watching the rain cloud slowly come over the river and to watch the rain through the big windows.

Fort Donelson National Battlefield & National Cemetery {Tennessee}

Our last stop before home was a visit to the Fort Donelson National Battlefield and National Cemetery. Because Tennessee was at such a mid point between the Union and the Confederacy of the Civil War, there are many battlefields and historic sites to learn more about this war that forever changed the country. And it was this battle at Fort Donelson that brought then Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant into the national spotlight and what led him to becoming the general of the Union.

The battle at Fort Donelson was a major victory for the Union troops. This fort controlled the access to the Tennessee River and to a major rail line. Union leaders knew that the key to winning the Western Theater of the war would be determined by control over the three majors rivers of the area. With the Union victory here, the Confederates were pushed out of Kentucky and Western Tennessee and it opened up the path into the south. The rivers and rail lines of this area became vital federal supply lines throughout the rest of the war.

Driving through the park, it was interesting to see the many signs that designated Confederate trenches there in the hills. There was also a monument to Confederate troops. So often the only monuments are for those of the Union soldiers. It was a powerful reminder that there were thousands of lives lost on the other side that are no less important from being on the losing team of the war.

We walked through the national cemetery that is a little ways down the road from the battlefield. This cemetery is laid out in sections with some honoring those from the battle of Fort Donelson while other honoring those from WWI and WWII and other wars. It was a moving tribute to those lost to the tragedy of war and a sad reminder of how much war there has been and continues to be throughout the world.

It is estimated there were 1,400 Confederate soldiers and 2,700 Union soldiers who were killed in this battle at For Donelson. While the victory paved the way for the Union to win the south, the cost of the victory was high.

With that, our weekend road trip had come to an end. We had driven through 4 states in just a couple of days and had gotten to see some interesting places from there to here. And it gave us some ideas for future road trips as well. What a great weekend it was.

If you have enjoyed these national historic places, then you may also be interested in these:

Gauley National River- West Virginia

Shiloh National Military Park- Tennessee

Thank for coming along on this weekend road trip through Missouri, Illinois, and Tennessee. May your weekend be long and your gas tank be full as set out for adventures unknown.

23 responses to “Weekend Road Trip {Missouri, Illinois, & Tennessee}”

  1. You sure fitted a lot into your weekend and saw so many places. That river is stunning, the colours are wonderful. The lives lost in that civil war was truly terrible. I like the look of Genevieve, very cute town

  2. You really saw a lot Meg! This region was completely unknown to me, so much to absorb. An incredible amount of beauty and history amid the nature and buildings you saw. Love the colour of the water at Ozark and the deep red of the mill. It’s that same colour of some of the covered bridges I saw in Madison County. The setting for the Fort Donelson Battlefields is just incredible. Am I right in thinking that you had most of these places to yourself? How was the food at The Old Brick House and the lodge at Paris Landing? (By the way, we saw that Ryan Adams is playing at The Ryman later this month. Arrrrgh).

    • It’s a sign from the universe to book your ticket to Tennessee! The Ryman is calling and you must go 🙂 It was wonderful to see these hidden gems of places on our way home. We did have them mostly to ourselves which made it all the better. The blue water is so striking against the red of the mill. The food at Paris Landing was great! The food at the Brick House was good…but nothing to write home about. But the old time feel of the Brick House made up for it.

  3. My US history knowledge is clearly lacking, because Missouri never struck me as a place with colonial buildings! Your information on the Old Brick House had me googling the oldest building in Minnesota, and it’s disappointingly new: 1820s. 😉 A really interesting read, Meg!

    • Thank you! I never would have guessed that Missouri would have such a cute town of colonial buildings either. I loved that all the buildings had very French names posted on the side of them. What is the oldest building in Minnesota? I may have start a new travel goal of seeing the oldest buildings in every state 🙂

      • Oh, that’s a great goal! I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone having that goal. Tallest point? Every state? Every national park? Those I’ve heard, but not oldest building. My super quick search said it was Fort Snelling (near the MSP airport) built in the early 1820s. If you come, we of course have to meet up! 🙂

  4. You covered a lot of ground on your weekend road trip, and saw many beautiful places. The Ozark National Scenic Riverways and the red mill are truly captivating. It looks like the parks were mostly empty during your visits? Either that, or you’re a master at capturing photos while the throngs of tourists are out of range. Regardless, your photos are beautiful! Thanks Meg!

    • Thank you so much! We were lucky to have the parks mostly to ourselves which was great. I really love the striking contrast of the bright blue water and the red mill like it is just begging to be painted. Have a great weekend 🙂

  5. You saw so much in such a short space of time 🙂 I love the red mill and the water looks so blue. I find civil war history fascinating, I really need to discover more on it.

    • The blue water was so pretty, especially next to the old mill. 🙂 Tennessee is such a great place to delve into the history of the Civil War because it was such a central point of the conflict. I realize more and more that where a person grows up in the states influences how they are taught about the Civil War so it has been an education in itself.

  6. You pretty much described my ideal weekend as I’m such a fan of road trips. Looks like you hit up some scenic spots along your weekend road trip and got to mix some history in there as well. I love the red building that’s part of Alley Springs Mill.

    • There is just nothing better than a good road trip. 🙂 Beautiful places, some history, and good company makes for a great weekend. The Alley Mill was really beautiful next to that bright blue water of the river.

  7. oh wow, the contrast of colours in the first photo! that river path looks similar to Kamačnik in Croatia:) same blue colour of river

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: